A pair of Louis XVI ormolu-mounted alabaster marble vases circa 1765-1770
- marble gilt bronze
- height 14 1/2 in.; width 9 1/4 in.
- 37 cm; 23.5 cm
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It is easy to see how this antique form would have appealed to fashionable men or women of culture undertaking the Grand Tour in Italy. The rediscovery of the ancient cities of Herculaneum (1738) and Pompeii (1748) and the subsequent excavations had awakened an interest in acquiring objects which could be identified with the ancient world, particularly sculpture. The interest in vases is best illustrated by the collection of Sir William Hamilton, British envoy to Naples. Sir William sold his two collections of antiquities, primarily consisting of vases, to the British Museum in 1772 and to Thomas Hope in 1801. These were displayed at his residence in Naples and undoubtedly influenced his many visitors. The publication of the first volume illustrating his collection by d'Hancarville in 1767 had a huge impact on scholars, artists and collectors and launched the vase as an icon of Neoclassicism.
Very possibly this pair of vases was purchased in Italy by a French Grand Tourist. The choice of alabaster, possibly claimed at the time to be ancient, would have heightened the antique associations. The mounts, added in Paris in the late 1760s reflect the early neoclassical idiom of the time which had superseeded the goût grec style as best exemplified by the designs of Delafosse. The shape of the handles conforms to that of the typical Calyx Krater vase confirming that they were commissioned by a knowledgable collector. An Egyptian porphyry lidded bowl, circa 1770, in the J. Paul Getty Museum shows identical ormolu handle mounts (see G. Wilson, Summary Catalogue of European Decorative Arts in the J. Paul Getty Museum, 2001, p. 140, fig. 283).
Interestingly, this model of vase had already been popularized in France by Jean-Claude Duplessis at the Sèvres porcelain manufactory. Orry de Fulvy is recorded as having seven vases of this form on loan from the Vincennes manufactory. A Vincennes vase by Duplessis of 1753 was exhibited "Un défi au goût, 50 ans de création à la manufacture royale de Sèvres 1740-1793," exhibition catalogue, Louvre, 1997, no. 29. A further example, dated 1753/4 was sold Christie's New York, October 24, 2012, lot 34.