Curator's Choice: Annie Kemkaran-Smith of Eltham Palace chooses a 16th century roundel

Annie Kemkaran-Smith interviewed by Ed Sexton | 07 September 2009
a woman wearing purple gloves holding an elaborately decorated plate

Annie Kemkaran-Smith with the 16th century Maiolica roundel. © Culture24

Curator’s Choice: In her own words… Annie Kemkaran-Smith chooses a 16th century Maiolica roundel from the original collection of Stephen Courtauld at Eltham Palace which is soon to go back on display in the former Art Deco home of the Courtauld family.

"My favourite piece from the collections is a Maiolica roundel or plate that dates back to the 16th century and is a piece of tin glazed ceramic. It was part of Stephen Courtauld's ceramic collection and is listed in the 1939 inventory of Eltham Palace and has good provenance.

Stephen Courtauld bought it from the Henry Oppenheimer Collection at Christie's in 1936 so we do know a lot about the piece's history. It dates back to 1510 and was made in Caffaggiolo in Italy and is a good quality example of early Maiolica.

Stephen Courtauld had around 30 pieces in his collection and these are now spread out all over the world. The Courtauld’s Maiolica collection was of a very good quality and constituted an excellent collection of decorative art. Popularity of certain works of art changes but in the 1930s buying these ceramics would have taken substantial sums of money.

When Stephen died in the 60s he left his Maiolica collection to politician and relative Rab Butler who decided to sell it on in 1975. However when the collection was put up for sale at Sotheby's, the roundel was left out of the sale."

an elaborately decorated plate

16th century Maiolica roundel. © Culture24

"We don’t know why it was left out, but Sotheby's have held onto the roundel since 1975. As with all legal matters, the situation eventually came to a point and the executors of the Courtauld estate wanted to give it back to Eltham Palace and were more than happy to return it to its home.

Despite being fragile ceramics these pieces are not hugely rare and most major museums would have a collection of them. They do not need to be kept in any special light or humidity conditions – they are quite happy to sit in a display case – you are fine just as long as you don't drop them!

It is possible that if any of the other pieces from the original collection were to come onto the market we could look at acquiring them – however we would have to secure funding for them.

A major task at the moment is finding where various items of the collection are now and if they are moved, where they are going to – knowing their whereabouts is essential if we are to acquire any of the other pieces.

I do have a real interest in ceramics – I am no expert but have previously worked with the Wernher collection at Ranger's House, which sparked the initial interest, and I would like to produce some catalogues in the future.

The roundel will shortly go back on display in the drawing room with some of the other original objects in the cupboards and niches either side of the doors as you enter the drawing room."

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