Lot 26
  • 26

Italian, probably Rome, circa 1790-1830

60,000 - 80,000 GBP
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  • Pair of Marble Vases
  • white marble, on white and Nero Portoro marble bases
  • Italian, probably Rome, circa 1790-1830
one a copy of the Warwick Vase; the other based on the Warwick Vase with figures representing the muses of Arts and Music


Overall the condition of the marble vases is very good with minor dirt and wear to the surfaces consistent with age. There is minor stable veining to the marbles consistent with the material, including a few slightly open veins: in particular note those to the handles of the vase with youthful heads which resemble small fractures but are most probably merely naturally occurring veins. There are a few small chips and abrasions to the upper edges of the vases. There are a few minor losses, including to the tip of the central woman's nose on the vase with youthful heads. There are a few small chips to some of the foliage (tendrils and leaves) to the undersides of both vases. One of the beads on the beading of the vase with youthful heads is lost. There are minor chips and nicks to the feet of both vases. There are residues of silverish dirt or paint to one side of the faithful Warwick vase copy at the upper moulding to the left between the heads. Some further minor paint residues to the vases. Some of the corners and edges of the mouldings on the plinths are lost. There are further small chips and abrasions particularly at the edges. There is prominent yellow-pink natural veining to the bottoms of the bases. There are minor dirt and paint residues. There is veining to the marble plinths consistent with the material, and a few minor naturally occurring inclusions. One of the corners of the plinth of the Warwick vase copy is reattached.
"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

This exceptional pair of marble vases is inspired by one of the most revered antiquities discovered in the 18th century: The Warwick Vase. The first is a faithful facsimile of the Roman original, but in a reduced scale; the second a playful improvisation adorned with heads of wreathed gods and goddesses. Exceptionally carved, the vases are borne out of the Neoclassical tradition in Roman sculpture in the second half of the 18th century and early 19th century, which saw sculptors achieve new levels of perfection in marble carving. The vases are likely to have been bought by Sir William Forbes, 7th Baronet, during his Grand Tour to Italy in 1827, although they were probably made prior to that. At this time, the Warwick Vase had become the most famous antiquity in Britain prior to the arrival of the Parthenon marbles.

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