A vestal kneels beside the libation patera, displayed on the stepped 'altar' plinth of this encrier and bears cornucopiae. Appropriate to an inkstand, these vine-wreathed 'horns of abundance' recall the fertility deities, Bacchus and Ceres and thus symbolise the presence of Venus, goddess of Love (inspired by Terence's celebrated quotation from his play 'The Eunuch': 'Sine Cerere et Baccho friget Venus').
Related bronze sculptures were manufactured in Rome in the late 18th Century by silversmiths and bronze manufacturers such as Giuseppe Valadier (d. 1839) for service as chimneypiece garnitures etc. Moreover, this figure represents the romantic interest in Egyptian culture encouraged by Napoleon's 1790s Egyptian campaign and later by its history published in Dominique Vivant Denon's Voyage dans la Basse et la Haute Egypte, 1802. The taste for writing-table garnitures in the antique or Egyptian manner was encouraged around 1800 by leading marchands merciers and furniture dealers of Paris and London, and also by connoisseurs such as Thomas Hope (d. 1842), who illustrated the interiors of his London mansion museum in Household Furniture and Interior Dectoration, 1807. Hope expressed particular admiration for the work of the French 'bronze and ormolie [sic] manufacturer', Alexis Decaix (d. 1811) of Rupert Street, who was also patronised by George, Prince of Wales, later George IV. In 1803 Decaix supplied a variant of the present model, featuring a marble-figured wood plinth with a concealed drawer fronted by an Egyptian lioness mask, to the Panton Street goldsmith Robert Garrard (d. 1818), who recorded it in his ledger as 'An inkstand of Yew Tree with female figure in bronze holding cornucopia' (M. Levy, 'Taking up the Pen', Country Life, 23 April 1992, pp. 60-62).
A closely related model, formerly in the collections of the Earls of Elgin, acquired around 1804, was sold by the 11th Earl of Elgin and 15th Earl of Kincardine, Sotheby's, London, 13 June 1992, lot 307; a further example was sold anonymously, Christie's, Paris, 24 June 2003, lot 336 (EUR 14,100 including premium). A yew-wood-plinthed model with rhyton, attributed to Alexis Decaix and possibly supplied by Dupasquier was sold from the Humphrey Whitbread Collection, Christie's, London, 5 April 2001, lot 384 (£52,875).