These bacchic vases, displayed on Grecian stepped plinths, celebrate lyric poetry; with their egg-shaped wine krater bowls festooned with Apollo laurels draped from sacrifical ram-heads and recalling sacrifices at loves altar in antiquity. Their pattern derives from the ormolu-enriched marble vases manufactured by the celebrated Birmingham industrialist Matthew Boulton (d.1809), in particular a sketch from Boulton and Fothergill's Pattern Book I, page 171, fig. K, reproduced here. The earliest record of the sale of this model of vase is 1768 when Mrs. Yates ordered from Boulton '1 pair of goat's head vauses light blue cheny or enamelled' (N. Goodison, Ormolu: the work of Matthew Boulton, 1974, p. 155-156). The goat's head vase was one of Boulton's more commercially successful models, popularised by their retail at Christie's in the 1770s. Boulton produced the vases in a wide variety of body colours and materials: silver-mounted richly-figured blue john; gilt copper; and green or blue enamel are recorded.
This exotic vase-garniture would have been commissioned to embellish fashionable bedroom apartments that were decorated in the antique Etruscan Colombarium fashion promoted from the 1760s by the Rome-trained court architect Robert Adam (d.1792). Vases, richly wrought in lacy silver, also formed part of the fine 'India and other Curiousities' displayed in glazed china-cabinets such as that designed by Adam for Sarah Child's 'gold filigree' displayed in her apartment at her Thames-side villa Osterley Park, Middlesex (see M. Tomlin, 'The 1782 Inventory of Osterley Park', Furniture History, 1986, p. 117).
Little is known of the origin of such filigree decoration, particularly because filigree objects seldom incorporate a plain flat surface upon which a hallmark could be struck. Origin is therefore invariably difficult to ascertain, being largely based on style and opinion. Generally, filigree was a more popular medium in the Far East than in Europe, and it is thought to have been exported via Colonial trade routes. Two extraordinary silver filigree toilet sets which belonged to Catherine the Great, recently exhibited at the Hermitage, Amsterdam, on loan from the Hermitage, St. Petersburg, were identified as being Indian and Chinese in origin: a set of each. The closest comparable to these cassolettes included in the exhibition was a pair of chandals (candlesticks) in the Indian Toilet set of Catherine the Great, which display a similar spiralled socle (see Silver Wonders from the East: Filigree of the Tsars', Exhibition Catalogue, Hermitage Amsterdam, 27 April-17 September 2006, p. 58, catalogue number 51).
A pair of filigree cassolettes identical to the present lot, was offered anonymously, Christie's, London, 25 November 1992, lot 58. A similar pair of silver-gilt Anglo-Indian cassolettes was sold in 'Out of the Ordinary - Christopher Gibbs and Harris Lindsay', Christie's, London, 10 May 2005, lot 70 (£19,200).