Every enthusiast had to possess a collection of marble and hard stone objects and vases, which are often precisely described and classified by mineral. Numerous auction catalogues list these highly decorative objects and the collection of the Duc d’Aumont which was dispersed in 1782, is proof of this passion. The most illustrious bronze artists of the time were inspirited to create and enhanced these cleverly crafted artifacts with gilt bronze mounts. The artisan Pierre Gouthière is mentioned in several documents during this era (see Appendix 1 in C. Vignon and C. Baulez, Pierre Gouthière, ciseleur-doreur du roi,, 2016, New York).
Among the ornamental vases with certain stylistic analogies are a fluorite pair at the Cognacq-Jay Museum in Paris (inv. J 303, see fig. 3) and a pair of brown veined marble vases of the same size, from the former J. Ortiz-Patiño collection, Sotheby's, London, Treasures, 9 July 2014, lot 45 (fig. 5).
The Demidov Collections in San Donato
The Russian aristocrat Anatoly Demidov, born in St. Petersburg in 1812, was one of the great art lovers and collectors of his time (fig. 1). Born into a dynasty of arms suppliers for the Imperial troops and owner of mining companies in the Urals and Siberia, his family was rewarded with a title of hereditary nobility in 1720. Anatoly's father was the true founder of the family collection. Shortly after his wife’s death in 1818, he settled in Rome with his son, Anatoly, and in 1822 bought a large estate in San Donato, near Florence, where he built a palace to house his collection (fig. 2). His numerous works of charity earned him the title of Count of San Donato, granted by the Grand Duke of Tuscany. The colossal fortune of the Demidovs enabled Anatoly to continue, on yet a larger scale, the work begun by his father, and he bought, from across Europe, paintings by Old Masters and decorative arts intended to adorn his luxurious villa. A great benefactor and relentless collector, Anatoly was also passionate about the Napoleonic reign. His marriage in 1840 to Princess Mathilde, daughter of Jérôme Bonaparte, Napoleon’s brother, former King of Westphalia, only increased the prestige and fame he was constantly seeking. The marriage failed, but Anatoly Demidov pursued his quest for artistic acquisitions, bringing together an impressive array of 18th-century French furniture and decorative art objects.
During his lifetime, he proceeded to auction off some of the collection in Paris to elevate the status of his collection. He died on 29 April 1870, the day after the last sale. His nephew Pavel Pavlovitch inherited all his property and continued his uncle's endeavours by reigniting the renowned splendour at the Villa San Donato. In 1880, Pavel Pavlovitch decided it was his turn to sell the contents of the villa and at this legendary auction, these vases were then sold as item no. 1559 (fig. 4).
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