N. Mosley Penzer, “The Warwick Vase”, Part. I, Apollo, n° 62, 1955, p. 183-188 ; Part. II et III, Apollo, n° 63, 1956, p. 18 et 22 et p. 71-75.
A. González-Palacios, “Ristudiando I Righetti”, Il gusto dei Principi, vol. I, Milan, 1993, p. 303.
G. and R. Valeriani, Bronzi Decorativi in Italia, Bronzisti e fonditori italiani dal Seicento all’Ottocento, Milan, 2001, p. 238, cat. n° 67. and pl.330-336.
This impressive pair of vases carved in a marble known to have been used in antiquity and known as pietra nefritica o ponderaria, lapis or aequipondus lapys martyrum, and quarried during the Roman period on the Tyrrhenian coast, has been executed after models of two famous monumental and iconic vases, the white marble vase known as the Warwick vase (now to be seen in the Burrell Collection, Scotland, fig.3) and also the vase known as the de Lante vase, (now forming part of the collection of the Dukes of Bedford, at Woburn Abbey Bedfordshire. fig.4). These originals both date from the second century BC, and were found around 1771 on the site Hadrian's Villa at Tivoli, near Rome. Both were subsequently engraved by Piranesi and published by him in his famous work, Vasi, Candelabri, Cippi, Sarcofagi, published in Rome in 1778 (illustrated fig. 1 and 2).
The present vases are of an exceptional quality of craftsmanship. The bronzes are finely chiselled and gilded and suggest the authorship of a very highly skilled manufacturer and strongly indicate a firm such the Milanese firm of bronze makers, Strazza and Thomas (1815-1881). The firm began working in the early 19th century and produced bronze and marble vases and other objects of great quality and definition of antiquarian inspiration including works for the Austrian and Italian monarchies of the time following the tradition of other bronze makers such as Valadier, Righetti and Manfredini. The mounts on the present vases can be compared with a group of bronze vases and sculpture by the Strazza and Thomas manufactory which form part of the collection in the Biblioteca Ambrosiana in Milan, donated by Giovanni Edoardo de Pecis in 1827. The collection of bronzes is illustrated in Enrico Colle, Angela Griseri and Roberto Valeriani, op. cit., pl.334-344 and clearly shows the range and exceptional quality of their work which is consistent with that of the present vases. The vases and other items in the collection are also clearly inspired by antiquarian originals as in the present case.
The present vases are decorated with attributes to Bacchus and also with Bacchic masks arranged in profile and with handles formed of interlaced branches of vines (in the case of the Warwick Vase), and theatrical masks arranged frontally, reminiscent of those of the Propylon Sebasteion discovered at Aphrodisias (Asia Minor) between 1981 and 1983, and flanked by curved double branch handles (in the case of vase Lante). The grotesque masks which decorate the bowl are connected with the festivals of Bacchus and each vase has two magnificent handles channelled throughout and ornamented with Ferula Graeca, Greek fennel, a plant dedicated to Bacchus.
The Warwick Vase
The antique vase known as the "Warwick Vase" is one of the two vases presented here and is probably the model of archaeological vases that most fascinated collectors and artists while doing their 'Grand Tour' during the last third of the 18th century. The original was a huge vase of antique Roman white marble, flanked by two handles interspersed with enriched bacchanalian heads and various emblems. This vase was discovered amongst the ruins of the Villa of Emperor Hadrian in Tivoli, near Rome, 1771, by Gavin Hamilton (1723-1798), a famous Scottish painter and antique dealer in Rome. Hamilton, who enjoyed most of his career in the Eternal City, where he settled after 1756, was a pioneer of the European neoclassical movement. He started primarily as an archaeologist but soon turned to painting. Hamilton teamed up with Thomas Jenkins (1722-1798), a painter based in Rome from 1753, but quickly launched into the much more lucrative business of supplying the elite of the time with antiques and which led to him becoming one of the leading bankers of Rome.
In 1770, Hamilton was given a license to excavate at Hadrian's Villa. Many important sculptures were recorded as having been found there but no record of a full vase was ever made. This is probably because it was excavated in fragments, as explained by Norman Mosley Penzer in his study of the Warwick vase. The costly restoration of this monumental vase was paid for by Sir William Hamilton (1730-1803), the famous Scottish aristocrat, British diplomat, antiquarian, archaeologist and volcanologist, then ambassador to the court of Naples, who had just acquired the famous Porcinari collection of Greek and Etruscan vases, which he sold to the British Museum in 1772.
Sir William Hamilton turned to his nephew, George Greville (1746-1816), 2nd Earl of Warwick, who at that time was renovating his house, Warwick Castle, Warwickshire, who purchased it as part of these renovations. It was transported to England and placed on a pedestal in the park along the axis of the house. A greenhouse was built around it in order to protect it. This extraordinary vase caused a great sensation. One of the first mentions of the Warwick Vase was published in England, in the Gentleman's Magazine in 1800, and a second, in 1802, in a book entitled Richard Warner Tour Through the Northern Counties of England. A more detailed description was given in a book by William Field, Town and Castle of Warwick, published anonymously in 1815. Since 1978, after the Metropolitan Museum of Art tried to acquire it, the Warwick vase was acquired for the nation and is now part of the Burrell Collection in Glasgow (fig.3).
The Lante Vase
The Lante vase is the other form of vase presented here and like the Warwick vase was also discovered in fragments in excavations made in the ruins of Hadrian's villa. Following restoration to its original form, it was removed to the Villa Lanti near Rome where it remained for many years attracting considerable interest. In the late 18th century it was purchased by the great connoisseur and bibliophile, the Right Hon. Lord Cawdor and brought to England. It was subsequently sold at the sale of his museum in Oxford Street on 6th June 1800 for 700 guineas and was bought by Francis, 5th Duke of Bedford, and removed to his seat at Woburn Abbey, where it remains today (fig.4).
Both vases caused a sensation following their discovery. In their first publication in 1778 by Piranesi, the Warwick and Lante vases were to deeply influence artists, silversmiths and major collectors of the last quarter of the eighteenth century and early 19th century and many copies were made. A pair of Warwick and Lante vases in white marble, placed on pedestals with antique green marble borders and mouldings of white marble, was commissioned before 1808 for the Chateau de Villiers, in Neuilly-sur-Seine, the property of Marshal Murat. They were acquired in 1808, at the same time as the chateau by Napoleon I, and then were sent two years later, in 1810, to the Château de Compiègne, where they adorned and still adorn with their pedestals, the dining room of the Emperor. The present Lante vase can be closely compared with various other important examples in various collections. A Lante vase, also in antique marble and gilded bronze, executed in Rome between the late eighteenth century and early nineteenth century, and attributed to Francesco and Luigi Righetti by Alvar González-Palacios, op. cit., and which rests on a patinated bronze group of the Borghese Three Graces is now preserved in the collections of the Museo di Capodimonte e Gallerie Nazionali Naples (fig.5). Another related example sold by Sotheby's London (Treasures, Princely Taste, 6 July 2011, lot 2, £265,250) rests on a circular base and alabaster antique green marble with bas-reliefs in gilded bronze belonging to the known repertoire employed by Francesco and Luigi Righetti. The vases of course had a great impact in England where they especially fascinated collectors as they appeared in two of the largest private collections of antique marbles, that being the Warwick Castle collection, and the Woburn Abbey collection. The celebrated silversmith Paul Storr was particularly inspired by the vases. Eight Warwick vases in silver were delivered, for example, to the Prince Regent, later George IV of England, by goldsmiths Rundell of the Crown, Bridge & Rundell and now belong to the collection of Her Majesty Queen Elizabeth II.
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