According to his wishes, an ancient porphyry urn acquired from the Bailiff of Breteuil would hold his ashes. He wrote in his will that those close to him would “find in (his) garden in Paris a porphyry tomb that he (would) not give to the king. If they were to use it for this purpose, it should bear no trace of paganism, and it may decorate any church.” (G. Faroult, C. Leribault, G. Scherf, op. cit.). In 1766, the Marquis of Lignerac, Caylus’s heir, requested of the Académie that Soufflot, the architect, and Vassé, the sculptor, be entrusted with building the monument that would hold the porphyry urn. On 23 November 1769, a service in honour of Caylus was held in a chapel of the church of Saint Germain l’Auxerrois, where the monument had been erected. It was dismantled during the French Revolution but is known to us through descriptions made at the time and from a print by Pierre Chenu (Bibliothèque nationale de France, inv. no. Ef 3; fig. 2). The ancient urn today in the Louvre (in. no. MR 905) was placed on a pedestal of black veined marble and topped with an oil lamp. Our bronze medallion stood atop the monument, above the epitaph Caylus himself had written “Cy git Caylus” (Here lies Caylus). In a letter to Falconet written on 16 August 1767, Diderot penned a caustic witticism in response to the epitaph of his rival: ‘Here lies an antiquarian bitter and brusque: / Ah! How well he is lodged in this jug étrusque. (G. Faroult, C. Leribault, G. Scherf, op. cit.).
The son of the sculptor Antoine-François Vassé, Louis-Claude studied under Pierre Puget and Edme Bouchardon. He won the Grand Prix de Rome for sculpture in 1739 and travelled to Rome, where he stayed at least until 1745. He joined the Académie Royale de Peinture et de Sculpture in 1748, and was made a full member with his Berger Endormi (Sleeping Shepherd), which is in the Louvre Museum (inv. no. MR 2111). He held the post of assistant professor, and then professor at the Académie, and exhibited his works at the Salons from 1748 to 1761. Although he was the protégé of Count Caylus and–with the aristocrat’s help–worked for influential clients, his short temper and all-devouring ambition earned him the antipathy of his fellow artists. In addition to several royal commissions, Vassé also worked in Russia on commissions for Frederick the Great. He specialized in funerary monuments–as attested to by our medallion–including that of Stanislas Leczinski, which was only completed after the artist’s death by his pupil, Félix Lecomte.
Our medallion, saved from the destruction of the Revolution, shows a perfect marriage of the idealization of antique profiles and the realism that stems from observation from life. Vassé portrays the aging features of Caylus with subtle details such as the prominent vein at the temple, the wrinkles across the forehead, the flesh hanging from the chin, and the folds at the nape of the neck. The exceptional chiselwork and the hammering of the surface, accentuated by a deep patina, highlight the effigy of the scholar of the antiquarian. Only two other examples are known: a marble signed and dated from the Salon of 1767 (ENSBA, Paris, inv. no. MU 7603; fig. 1) and a terracotta at the Bibliothèque Nationale de France that was accidentally destroyed. The Année Littéraire journal commented on the reception of the medallion of Caylus at the 1967 Salon, saying “The portraits of Elizabeth of Russia and of Caylus are notable for their resemblance […] In the first, Vassé’s elegant chiselling is admirable, but it is chiefly Caylus who draws the attention of the public and of the connoisseurs” (X. Dufestel, op. cit., p. 32).
Please call 1-800-555-5555 to order a print catalog for this sale.
Online Registration to Bid is Closed for this Sale. Would you like to watch the live sale?Watch Live Sale