This elegant piece of silver is both modern and ancient. Not only does it connect to designs by Hoffmann in other media, such the glass vase with fluted base he designed for Lobmeyr and a fluted sidewall paper created by his follower Dagobert Peche, but it also relates to the classic designs of ancient Greece and Rome. Look at the flutes! They mimic the flutes of marble columns from the Ionic and Corinthian orders used in Greek temples.

The antiqvities of Athens
The antiqvities of Athens. Stuart James. f NA280 .S9X (Image credit: Smithsonian Libraries.)

These orders were routinely presented in books, beginning in the Renaissance, whenever the fashion for antiquity or classical proportions resurfaced. Despite Hoffmann’s interest in creating a design that was fresh, his work was based on his training in historical design, which he adapted and updated. Hoffmann also referenced designs from the neoclassical era of the late 18th century: English teapots of the 1780s had fluted sides. (Paul Revere created almost identical teapots in 1790s Boston, which reflects the widespread appeal of this decorative element.) Although Hoffmann was not looking to Paul Revere, he may have seen English fluted silver.

Despite the similarity of Revere’s and Hoffmann’s flutes, there are technical differences. Revere’s flutings were formed in sheet silver, a more “modern” mechanical technique that was the latest contribution of the industrial revolution in 18th-century England. Sheets of silver were first rolled flat; the silver was then formed into a fluted cylinder shape and seamed to make a teapot body, with a separate piece soldered to the sides for the base. Hoffmann wanted to get away from mechanization, so his bowl employed an old-fashioned method of hand raising the silver, which entailed beating it out of a block of silver into the oval shape, with flutes created by pinching the silver at intervals.

Today is Josef Hoffmann’s birthday.

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