These magnificent candelabra belong to a celebrated group with variations to the designs of the branches. Of these
-four from the collection of the Princes Borghese, are reputedly in the Borghese Palace, Rome
-a further two, also originally Borghese and subsequently inherited by the Sicilian Princes Mocada di Paternò, are now in a Private Collection
-another pair, also with a Borghese provenance, was with Galerie Kugel, Paris
-and finally a set of four four-branch candelabra and another set of four with three branches are at the Museum für Angewandte Kunst, Vienna. These were acquired in Bremen in 1944. A pair were shown in the Kerzenleuchter aus acht Jahrhunderten exhibition in Frankfurt am Main, 2 December 1987 - 31 January 1988 and are illustrated in the catalogue of the same name by H. Hoos et al.
Although conclusive documentary evidence is lacking, the Moncado di Paternò and Borghese candelabra are believed to have been given originally to Principe Lanza by Queen Maria Carolina of Naples and Sicily (1753-1814). Queen Maria Carolina was the daughter of the Empress Maria Theresa of Austria and sister of Queen Marie-Antoinette. She married the Bourbon King Ferdinand IV of Naples in 1768 and through her familial ties commissioned exceptional furniture and objets d'art, mirroring her sister's taste for lacquer furniture in Paris by Riesener, as well as in Vienna. This suite of candelabra, with the subtle variations in design, may conceivably have originally been commissioned for diplomatic or Ambassadorial use.
Prince Lanza della Trabia, of the well known Sicilian noble family, was an erudite collector. An intimate of the Queen, he was appointed segretario per gli Affari di Guerra or Minister of War in around 1800. A celebrated connoisseur, his passion for antiquities is well demonstrated by his letter to Professor Sciná, as published in 1815, where he discusses the unique qualities of an Ancient Greek gold patera in his collection, which probably came from Agrigento in Sicily.
'Tra i miei pezzi di antichità ho la fortuna di annoverarne uno, di cui nei gabinetti di Napoli, di Roma, e di Firenze un simile non vidi, e che meriti perciò l'attenzione de' dotti antiquarj. È desso una patera d'oro,,,' ('Among my antique works of art I have one, the like of which I have never seen before, not in the cabinets of Naples, or Rome or even Florence, this is certainly worthy of the attention of the finest antiquarians. I speak of a gold patera...'). This fascination with Antiquity suggests that these candelabra would have been very much to his taste.
These golden candelabra are designed in the late 18th Century Antique/Egyptian fashion, and evoke 'Love's triumph and lyric poetry'. Fettered serpents, emblematic of the powers of darkness and signifying the triumph of the sun-deity Isis, emerge from the Roman foliage of tripodic horn-scrolled candle-branches to guard the laurelled 'Roman-candelabra' that issue from the candlesticks' festive urns. The latter, of reed-gadrooned 'krater' shape, are raised on herm-tapered pillars, whose octagonal form echoes their 'Venus' pearl-wreathed 'altar' plinths. Such pearl-strings reflect the 'Etruscan' fashion promoted in England by the Rome-trained architect Robert Adam (d. 1792). While the candlestick-pillars, with their striated sunk-tablet pilasters and rectilinear Roman-tablet capitals appear to have evolved from an 'antique' pattern introduced by the Parisian doreur-ciseleur Pierre Gouthière (d.1813). The latter was adapted in the late 1760s by Messrs Boulton and Fothergill of Birmingham for their bacchic 'lion' patterned candlesticks on eight paw feet (N. Goodison, Ormolu: The Work of Matthew Boulton, London, 2002, p. 187 figs 133 and 134). Writing of such ornamental 'Furniture' and vase-candlesticks Boulton stated, 'whether it be French, Roman, Athenian, Egyptian, Arabesk, Etruscan or any other...I would have elegant simplicity the leading principle...'(Goodison ibid p. 66).
The candelabranches' theatric fusion of urns and serpents recalls the inspiration of Egyptian ornament in engravings published by the antiquarian G.B. Piranesi, as well as the 'Egyptian' scene engraved by Ignaz Alberti of Vienna for the 1791 edition of the libretto of Wolfgang Amadeus Mozart's, Die Zauberflöte (see J. S. Curl, Egyptomania, 1994, p.149).