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Dr Alan Borg Director, Victoria & Albert Museum, on the occasion of the opening of the Zuloaga exhibition 1997
The preservation of damascening in Spain was almost entirely due to the genius of a single family, the Zuloagas.
The town of Eibar, remote in the mountains of the Basque country became, through their efforts, the centre of European damascening in the 19th century. Interestingly, the impact of the Zuloagas was, for a brief period, even greater in England than in Spain itself. The Collection has been fortunate to be able to acquire the most important pieces commissioned of Plãcido Zuloaga, the supreme damascener of that family, by the great 19th century English collector Alfred Morrison. The Morrison pieces establish a benchmark by which we may evaluate all that follows. The Khalili Collection contains many fine examples of Spanish damascene, but none quite so fine as those made by Don Plãcido and the disciples he trained in his workshop in Eibar during the latter half of the 19th century.
It was inevitable that the generation of great patrons should come to an end, and in order to ensure the continued survival of the art itself, its practitioners were obliged to seek a different outlet, a new type of consumer. While the quality did not diminish, the objects themselves were transformed by circumstances. Gone for ever were the single monumental projects requiring a team of artisans of various specialities and several years to complete. Smaller pieces directed towards a broader clientele became the goal of this small but exclusive industry, though never to the detriment of quality. The Khalili Collection is rich in these objets d’art , jewellery, and elegant everyday items that illustrate the manner in which the damascener’s art became accessible to a different public, and thereby acquired renown worldwide. Unfortunately, today the Fabergés, Falizes, and Zuloagas are gone, together with the awe and appreciation of past generations for manual artistry coupled with genius. Not only is this Collection unique in the number of Spanish damascened objects that it contains, but it provides an excellent perspective of Spanish damascening in the art and industry so evident in the pieces.
The Khalili Collection of Spanish damascene metal is unrivalled in its quality and depth. With over 100 pieces, 22 of which are signed by Plãcido Zuloaga himself and include such well documented pieces as the magnificent casket and pair of alhambra-shaped vases from Fonthill House, made by Plãcido Zuloaga for Alfred Morrison.
Dror Elkvity Curator and Chief Co-ordinator
James D. Lavin Special Advisor