A PAIR OF LATE LOUIS XVI PATINATED-BRONZE AND ORMOLU-MOUNTED ALABASTER VASES
A PAIR OF LATE LOUIS XVI PATINATED-BRONZE AND ORMOLU-MOUNTED ALABASTER VASES

CIRCA 1790-1800

Details
A PAIR OF LATE LOUIS XVI PATINATED-BRONZE AND ORMOLU-MOUNTED ALABASTER VASES
CIRCA 1790-1800
Each ovoid body surmounted by a leaf cast and gadrooned neck flanked by four entwined snakes, on a waisted socle and square plinth
19 ¾ in. (50 cm.) high
Provenance
Acquired from Etienne Lévy, Paris, September 1994.

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Paul Gallois
Paul Gallois

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Lot Essay

This elegant pair of alabaster vases, with striking snakes’ handles, exemplifies the taste for hard-stone ‘objets montés’ during the neoclassical period. Snake handles derive from Antique decorative vocabulary and can be found on Antique Roman marble vases, such as a vase dated 2nd half 2nd century A.D., now in the Metropolitan Museum, New York (acc. num. 2007.31a, b). Symbolising Earth, snakes were associated with chthonian powers, and the Greeks and Romans regarded them as guardians of sacred places, houses, and tombs. The revival for such snake handles occurred in Europe in the 17th century under the influence of the architect Stefano della Bella’s (1610-64) who designed vases with snake handles in his ‘Raccolta di Vasi Diversi’, published circa 1646. Those depicted in the engravings had carved handles that were part of the vase body. In the early Neoclassical period in France, from the late 1760s, these snake handle appear as bronze mounts. One of the first known example is a porphyry vase with mounts cast and chased by the goldsmith Robert-Joseph Auguste (1723-1805), probably formerly in the collection of Blondel de Gagny, now in the Wallace Collection (F355).

A pair of vases of identical shape, also with patinated bronze snake handles but surmounted by lily branches, is recorded in 1781 in the sale of the collection of the marquis Jean-Baptiste-François Thomas de Pange, lot 95: ‘deux vases d’albâtre moderne, ornés d’anses de serpents, entrelacés de cuivre couleur de bronze, garnis de gorges, piédouches à culots, & surmontés chacun d’une girandole à trois branches figurant des pieds de lys, le tout de bronze richement ciselé, & doré d’or moulu.’
In 1796, two pairs of the same model are listed in the sale of the collection of citoyen Gonteau, lots 40 and 41: ‘Deux vases en albâtre, à anses de serpent en bronze couleur antique, ils sont garnis de piédouche, socle & gorges, & portent des branches de lys, formant girandoles à trois branches en bronze doré; hauteur totale 40 pouces… Deux autres pareilles, de formes & de grandeur’.

A similar pair of vases but with a body in dark blue porcelain instead of alabaster is now in the Victoria and Albert Museum (acc. Num. 982&A-1882). These candelabra were attributed to the workshop of the French bronzier Pierre Gouthière (1732-1813) by his biographer, Jacques Robiquet (Gouthière, sa vie, son oeuvre, 1912, p. 174). In the 1924 catalogue of the gilt-bronze objects in the Jones bequest to the V&A, the author was more cautious giving no attribution, although he does describe the candelabra as 'truly magnificent pieces with burnished gilding of the finest quality' (1924, pp. 51-2).
This late 18th century model continued to be much admired during the 19th century as demonstrated by a design after an 18th century vase of this model, by Emmanuel Alfred Beurdeley, now in the Musée des Arts décoratifs, Paris (inv. CD/6499/54).

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