Sunday 24 September 2017

What’s the story behind the Venus Rosewater Dish at Wimbledon?

It was first introduced in 1886 and has since been presented to the winning woman each year.

(Steve Paston/PA)
(Steve Paston/PA)

By Zaina Alibhai

Venus Williams and Garbine Muguruza will battle for it on Sunday in their Wimbledon final – the big platter has been presented to Wimbledon’s ladies’ singles champions for 130 years now, but poses the question: why do female winners get a plate while their male counterparts a cup?

The ladies’ singles trophy – officially known as the Venus Rosewater Dish – is a sterling silver salver that’s partially gilded and decorated with an intricate mythological design.

A female figure – the representation of the virtue temperance – is seated in the middle of the plate, with a lamp in one hand and a jug in the other. She’s surrounded by the four elements while on the rim are the seven liberal arts: grammar, rhetoric, logic, geometry, arithmetic, music and astrology.

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The dish was made by Birmingham silversmiths Elkington and Co in 1864, and while it may look unlike any other sports trophy handed out, it’s actually a replica of a plate by German metalworker Caspar Enderlein, which itself is a model of a 16th century pewter made by French carver Francois Briot.

At the time of its creation, the trophy was at the height of modernity. The dish was created using a contemporary process called electroforming, due to the pewter industry’s slow decline, and its design inspired by one of the most influential works of the era.

The role of women in much of the 19th century was primarily to oversee the domestic duties in the house and, given the home is where females had the most power, the dish is often speculated to be a symbol of this.

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So how old is it? The first Wimbledon championships were held in 1877, though at the time only men were allowed to partake.

Women were invited to join the championships seven years later in 1884, with the Venus Rosewater Dish first presented in 1886.

The men’s singles champions receive a fully gilded silver cup with an inscription that reads: “The All England Lawn Tennis Club Single Handed Championship of the World”.

Names of former champions are engraved into the bowl of the cup, which comes alongside a black plinth with a decorated silver band.

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Much time has passed since the first ladies’ championships – 130 years in fact – which urges the question: is the Venus Rosewater Dish simply a continued tradition, or is it in fact a symbol of sexism?

Until they’ve won it, it seems likely the only thing Williams and Muguruza will be concerned with is getting their hands on the thing.

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