Lot 15
  • 15

A pair of Louis XVI ormolu-mounted alabaster marble vases circa 1765-1770

120,000 - 180,000 USD
bidding is closed


  • marble gilt bronze
  • height 14 1/2 in.; width 9 1/4 in.
  • 37 cm; 23.5 cm
the everted rim over an elongated concave neck mounted with an ormolu foliate rim; the gadrooned lower body issuing serpentine ormolu handles terminating in acanthus leaves, raised on an alabaster socle and base mounted with leaf-tip cast ormolu.


One with a restored crack to lower section of body with small areas of infill; lip with a restored chip (approximately 1 1/2 inches. Other with an approximately 1 1/2 inch restored chip to lip. Small chips to edges of vases; surface scratches and abrasions consistent with use and age. Ormolu mounts with very minor oxidation, surface dirt, and surface abrasions and scratches. Overall in good condition with nice coloration to alabaster.
In response to your inquiry, we are pleased to provide you with a general report of the condition of the property described above. Since we are not professional conservators or restorers, we urge you to consult with a restorer or conservator of your choice who will be better able to provide a detailed, professional report. Prospective buyers should inspect each lot to satisfy themselves as to condition and must understand that any statement made by Sotheby's is merely a subjective qualified opinion.

Catalogue Note

The shape of this pair of vases derives from Greek fourth century B.C. Attic vases of the Calyx Krater type. Originally produced in bronze or pottery, they were intended to hold wine. Not only is the shape distinctive but also the vase is characterized by the two upturned handles positioned on opposite sides of the lower body.

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.