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A Berlin Ironware Figure of The Prince Regent

The present figure signifies the alliances between Great Britain and Prussia during the Napoleonic Wars in general and more specifically during the War of the Sixth Coalition which saw Napoleon driven out of Germany after the battle of Leipzig, and French Forces expelled from the Iberian Peninsula by the Duke of Wellington; and the Seventh Coalition which ended in Allied victory at Waterloo. It shows the Prince Regent, later George IV, (1762-1830) modelled in British Field Marshal’s uniform adorned with the Garter star and the Order of the Golden Fleece at his neck; his cocked hat under his left arm and resting upon a cane.

The manufacture of fine Berlin ironware has a long and interesting history. It was the result of technical advances made since the sixteenth century in the foundries established by the Prussian nobility. Iron as decorative material received a boost in the 1790s in Revolutionary France, when jewellery made from iron salvaged from the wreckage of the Bastille, inspired Prussian manufacturers to produce intricate black iron jewellery from the purest available iron. Detailed shapes were carved in wax and  placed in molds filled with fine sand. Molten metal was poured in to create objects that, when cooled and hardened, were hand finished and coated with linseed oil to prevent rust.  

In 1804 the opening of the Royal Berlin Factory, the Königliche Eisengießerei on the city’s northern outskirts further identified Berlin ironware with the state. Production soon expanded to cover a range of decorative objects that included small statues and figurines, as well as architectural features such as the iron bridge in Berlin's Charlottenburg Park. When Napoleon invaded in 1806 the means of production along with much else of economic value were stripped from the Royal factory and shipped to France, sparking a fashion for ‘Fer de Berlin’ that spread throughout Napoleon’s occupied territories.  Meanwhile in Prussia members of the nobility sold their gold and silver jewellery to fund the German resistance movement and wore in its place iron jewellery, often inscribed with such phrases as ‘Gold gab ich für Eisen’ (I gave gold for iron) and 'Eingetauscht zum Wohle des Vaterlandes’ (Exchanged for the welfare of the Fatherland).

© The Armoury of St James's 17 Piccadilly Arcade London SW1Y 6NH