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image icon Mounted Great Exhibition medallion, c1860

Mounted Great Exhibition medallion, c1860
Art Gallery of South Australia


This is a piece of commemorative silverware made in Adelaide around 1860 by Julius Schomburgk (1819-93) as an elaborate display stand to hold a presentation medal that was made in London in 1851. The central feature is a bronze medallion with a low-relief portrait of Queen Victoria and her husband, Prince Albert, which was awarded to exhibitors of South Australian wheat at the Great Exhibition held in London in 1851. It is set within an elaborate and richly decorated silver surround that incorporates (on each side) two cornucopias spilling with fruit. At the top sits a variation on the Australian coat of arms - an emu and kangaroo holding a shield form on which appear the words, 'Great Exhibition Works of Industry of All Nations 1851'. The medallion and its surrounds are mounted on a dark polished timber column that stands on a four-footed timber base surrounded by three silver shields featuring leaf borders and inscribed with images and text. Each foot of the base is tipped with a sculptural head in silver depicting a bearded Indigenous Australian man. The stand measures 26.8 cm (height) x 18.0 cm (width) x 15.5 cm (depth).

Educational value

This resource is useful because it:

  • is a fine example of the work of the German-born silversmith Julius Schomburgk - Schomburgk was born in Germany in 1819 and arrived in Adelaide in 1850; he established a reputation as a designer of gold and silver jewellery and decorative items that were remarkable for their intricacy of detail and technical achievement; his best-known work was an epergne (a very large and elaborate table centrepiece) that was presented to John Ridley, the inventor of the reaping machine; in 1862 this spectacular item was exhibited at the International Exhibition in London
  • incorporates a specific link to the Great Exhibition of 1851 - the Great Exhibition was the world's first great trade fair; it was staged at the Crystal Palace, a specially designed building in Hyde Park, London; the project was organised by Prince Albert and Sir Henry Cole (later the first director of the South Kensington Museum, the forerunner to the Victoria and Albert Museum) and was intended to demonstrate the industrial, military and economic superiority of Great Britain; 28 countries, including Australia, participated and the Exhibition was visited by more than 6 million people
  • references the role played in the Australian colonies by several intercolonial and international exhibitions during the second half of the 19th century - these exhibitions enabled the craftspeople working in a diversity of materials, including precious metals, to show off their design and technical skills; work by Australian silversmiths, including Julius Schomburgk, was most conspicuous at these exhibitions and the objects exhibited were frequently virtuoso technical displays of the maker's skill, both as designer and manufacturer
  • is an example of the very high quality of design and silverwork made by silversmiths who came to Australia from continental Europe around the mid-19th century - one of the outcomes of the large numbers of German immigrants to South Australia at that time was that several German-trained silversmiths, including Julius Schomburgk, settled in Adelaide and established reputations as the finest silversmiths working in Australia at the time
  • demonstrates particular jewellery-making methods - the kangaroo and emu were formed by casting (pouring molten silver into moulds) before being added to the centrepiece; the floral forms spilling out of the cornucopias were made from sheet silver that was shaped, curved and engraved before being soldered to the main structure
  • references the mining of silver, gold and other metals in colonial Australia - it is also a reminder of the relationship between the number of highly skilled silversmiths working in colonial Australia in the mid to later 19th century and the ready availability of silver and gold, fresh from the diggings and mines.