This tea and coffee set bears the Rothschild coat-of-arms and would have likely been a lavish commission or gift. The design incorporates decorative plaques by John Flaxman R.A. (1755-1826), one of the most important British artists of the late 18th and early 19th century working in the neoclassical style. After enrolling in the Royal Academy School in 1770, Flaxman worked for Josiah Wedgwood designing friezes, reliefs and cameos for ceramic production, but in 1801 began suppyling designs to Rundell, Bridge and Rundell, the successful silversmithing firm bearing the royal warrant.
Depicting allegories of Britain’s naval supremacy, the plaques celebrate the Element of Water and recall the legendary contest between Athena (the Roman Minerva) and Poseidon (Neptune) who vied for control of Athens and its surrounding region. The coffee pot is embellished with a triumphant Athena riding a hippocamp, while on the teapot, Poseidon controls the water and drives his hippocamp quadriga (chariot). The sugar bowl and milk jug feature plaques with trumpeting tritons, celebrating the union of Poseidon and the sea goddess Amphitrite. Such decoration proved to be highly successful for the firm: the same plaque designs were used to adorn lavish wine coolers supplied to George IV in 1826, while the designer Thomas Hope purchased a service of this model from Rundell’s in 1828-9.