Italian, probably Rome, circa 1790-1830
- Pair of Marble Vases
- white marble, on white and Nero Portoro marble bases
- vases: 51.5 by 77cm., 20 1/4 by 30 3/8 in. and 59cm., 23 1/4 in. diameter
bases: 119cm., 46 7/8 in. and: 122.5cm., 48 1/4 in.
The fragments of the original Warwick Vase, now in the Burrell Collection in Glasgow (accession no. 42.20) were discovered by Scottish painter Gavin Hamilton (1730-1797) during excavations of the remains of Hadrian’s villa, near Tivoli, around 1769-1770, and date back to the 2nd century AD. Gavin Hamilton had been in Rome for many years, working in the very profitable business of procuring and selling Roman antiquities. However, restoring the pieces of the Warwick Vase into a newly unified whole proved to be beyond his means, and he offered the pieces to renowned collector Sir William Hamilton (1730-1803). Sir William then commissioned Giovanni Battista Piranesi (1720-1778) to design and model the vase in stucco with the fragments inserted, after which the vase was re-created from Carrara marble. Sir William offered the restored vase to the British Museum, but they were unable to buy it. Eventually, it was sold to Hamilton’s nephew George Greville, 2nd Earl of Warwick, who had it on display at Warwick Castle by 1774. The design drawings by Piranesi were donated to the British Museum by Sir William in 1775 (inv. no. 1775,1103.1-3). These drawings, combined with the vase on display at Warwick Castle and a description in Gentleman’s Magazine in 1800, all contributed to the great popularity of the vase. Throughout the early 19th century, a variety of objects were made after the vase, including silver and bronze editions, serving as soup tureens, wine coolers, ice pails and bowls. One such copy, a silver-gilt edition, was sold in these rooms for £82,900 (lot 40, 6 November 2014).
The present vases fit into the Anglo-Italian Neoclassical tradition that had developed through the course of the second half of the 18th century in Rome. Italian sculptors such as Bartolomeo Cavaceppi (circa 1716-1799) had become renowned for the restorations of antiquities and high quality reproductions with dazzling, highly polished surfaces and precision carving. Cavaceppi's pupil, Carlo Albacini (fl. 1770-1807), established an international reputation for producing the finest quality copies in this aesthetic for leading British aristocrats, who had the funds but not always the opportunities to acquire antique originals. Within this context, sculptors including Thomas Banks, John Deare and John Flaxman journeyed from England to train in the technique of Neoclassical Roman sculpture, producing - both in Rome and in Britain - some of the greatest examples of British sculpture made to date. The present vases are products of this tradition. Their crisp, characterful heads and superb array of decorative detail - from the diadems in the hair to the scrolling vine leaves and sinuous tendrils - are typical of the work of the finest marble carvers trained in Rome, both Italian and British. The presence of Nero Portoro bases for the columns, which appear to be contemporary to the urns, strengthens the argument that the vases were executed in Rome. Given that Sir William Forbes was in Rome in the 1820s, acquiring many art works, it seems likely that his Warwick vases were bought at that time and date to the first decades of the 19th century. The palmette motifs on the columns - although an ancient classical motif - fit perfectly with a Regency aesthetic, and indicate that the vases were made between circa 1790-1830. The identity of the sculptor has - regrettably - remained elusive, but it should be considered that, given the Scottish patron, the vases could have been made by a Roman trained British sculptor, either in Rome or in the United Kingdom. The ability of the sculptor is underscored by the fact that he has carefully copied the antique original whilst inventively creating a new design, which playfully pays homage to other antiquities such as the Apollo Belvedere, whose head appears on one of the sides.
Pairs of classicising urns of the finest quality on a grand scale and in near original condition are very rare. The present vases represent a unique opportunity to acquire an intensely elegant set of all'antica objects which epitomise the Grand Tour taste and preserve one of the most significant antiquities in Britain: the Warwick Vase.
J.P.S. Davis, Antique Garden Ornament, 300 Years of Creativity: Artists, Manufacturers & Materials, 1991, pp. 143-147; I. Jenkins and K. Sloan, Vases and Vulcanoes: Sir William Hamilton and his Collection, British Museum Exhibition Catalogue, 1996, no. 128