Lot 149
  • 149

A large Guadalajara earthenware two handled amphora vase, probably late 17th century

20,000 - 30,000 GBP
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  • pottery - earthenware, mahogany
  • overall height 112cm., 44 1/8 in., the vessel approximately 86cm., 33 7/8 in. long
of amphora form with a rounded base and flaring rim, the shoulder affixed with two loop handles, decorated with a scene of a figure on a two-mast ship on water, flanked by flowering trees and a line of swimming birds above, the reverse side with dense flowering and fruiting vine containing a stylised lion, birds and other animals, picked out in ochre, green, black and traces of red, with a later mahogany base with four carved dolphin legs, Neapolitan, circa 1830,


Related Literature
González-Palacios, Il tempio del gusto: Il Granducato di Toscana e gli stati settentrionali, Milan, 1986;
Heikamp, Mexico and the Medici, Florence, 1972, nos. 50-53;
Tudela, ‘Tibores colonials mejicanos en los palacios reales de Italia’, Revista de Indias, XLI, 1940, pp. 603-5.


A section of the rim, measuring 6in. wide and approximately 1/2in. deep is broken and missing, which is visibly an old loss. Otherwise typical wear and patination to the surface, there appears to be a thin lacquer to the surface. The decoration on the side showing animals in foliage is in a better preserved state than the side showing a ship. The mahogany stand in reasonable condition, with marks and scratches consistent with age, and some old restorations to the veneer, as well as some sparse losses. There are shrinking cracks to the base. The original leather lining to the inside of the ring sustaining the vase is worn and torn in places.
"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. Prospective buyers should also refer to any Important Notices regarding this sale, which are printed in the Sale Catalogue.

Catalogue Note

These impressive vessels known variously as tinajas, tibores or archibúcaros were originally used to store water. They were celebrated for their fine fragrant clay body, which being slightly porous, infused the water they were storing with scent and flavour. It was even believed that the vessels had a cleansing quality and were able to purify water, which was so often polluted. The flavour was so liked, particularly amongst fashionable Spanish society that Ladies were known to eat small fragments of clay and rub it into their skin for its supposed medicinal qualities and to improve their complexion.

Mexican objects were considered a significant component of the European Kunstkammer. These larger vessels were exported to Europe, where they were especially popular among the aristocracy. Known in Spain as búcaros de Indias (fragrant earthenware from Latin America), similar vessels of the type are well recorded in Spanish still lifes of the period.

Examples similar to the present form still survive decorated with the Hapsburg eagle which illustrates the syncretism of Mexican culture, taking the place of the Holy Bird of the Mountains of the pre-Colombian religions. The Medici in particular collected several of these, two of which are still in the Museo degli Argenti, Palazzo Pitti. These amphorae arrived in Florence in 1693 (cf. AGP, vol. I, p. 193) for Grand Duke Cosimo III and were installed in the so-called ‘Stanza delle Porcellane’. They were probably imported by the Ginori family, who was active in exporting goods from the New World. Others are found at Palazzo Ginori, Florence (cf. AGP, vol. I, p. 193, and vol. II, p. 218, ill. 418); an example is in the Royal Palace, Turin, in the Sala delle Guardie del Corpo (ill. in AGP, vol. II, p. 219, ill. 421 and reproduced here in fig. 1); and two more are in the Palazzo del Quirinale, Rome, in the Sala delle Virtù.