Tiffany and Company
American, founded 1837
The Geneva Tribunal Testimonial
Punch bowl: 41.9 x 67.3 cm
Candelabra: 77.4 x 43.2 cm
Wine coolers: 35 cm
Punch Bowl and Candelabra: Gift of the Antiquarian Society through Mr. and Mrs. William Y. Hutchinson Fund, 1985.221a–c
Pair of Wine Coolers: Gift of the Antiquarian Society, 1996.15.1–2
Because of its remarkable craftsmanship and scale, as well as the importance of the occasion for which it was made, this set of silver is one of the most significant presentation suites produced by an American firm in the 19th century. After the Civil War, the United States government commissioned three identical sets to present to neutral arbitrators in a lawsuit the U.S. brought against Great Britain. Among other things, the suit accused Great Britain of building and selling five war vessels to the Confederate government. Dubbed the "Alabama Claims," the lawsuit sought reparations from Great Britain for insurance costs, aiding in the pursuit and destruction of Union ships, and prolonging the war. Arbitrators from Brazil, Italy, and Switzerland met in Geneva, Switzerland, during the winter of 1871–72, found Great Britain to be legally at fault and ordered its government to pay $15 million to the United States.
The Art Institute's version of the Geneva Tribunal Testimonial was presented to the Brazilian arbitrator. Before presenting the suites, Tiffany and Company exhibited them at the Vienna Exposition in 1873, where they were greeted approvingly by the press. Figures and symbols on the suite, executed in a Classical revival style, represent ancient Greek themes. The handles of the punch bowl, for instance, depict Dionysus, the god of wine, who can be identified by the grape vines encircling his head, the bemused expression on his face, and the lion skin tied around his neck. The figures holding the candle cups represent Ariadne, wife of Dionysus. Each wine cooler features two unsigned chased plaques. On one, Demeter holds a sheaf of wheat and a plowshare. On the other, a personification of commerce holds a globe of the world.