This sublime porphyry vase is the perfect manifestation of the art of the marchand-merciers, the innovative taste-makers of Paris who daringly combined novel and luxurious materials such as porcelain, lacquer and hardstones with specially commissioned gilt-bronzes. In this case a 17th century vase navette of gently curving boat-shaped form has been combined with delicate mounts in the fashionable goût arabesque of the 1780s.
THE DESIGN OF THE PORPHYRY
With its elegant boat-shaped form and boldly gadrooned base, this vase relates to a distinct group of vases produced in Rome in the mid-17th century, when this sumptuous imperial stone was highly prized by French collectors such as Cardinals Mazarin and Richelieu and the king himself, Louis XIV. A number of related vases navettes remain today in the Galerie des Glaces at Versailles, many of which were acquired through the agent Abbé Elpidio Benedetti (circa 1610-1690), who after the death of Mazarin in 1661 supplied directly to the king. The form of a vase navette appears in a sheet of drawings of vases by Benedetti, which are precisely measured and are thought to represent a cross section of what was currently available on the market in Rome, to show to prospective clients (now in the Bibliothèque Nationale de France and illustrated here; see also P. Malgouyres, Porphyre, La Pierre Pourpre des Ptolémées aux Bonaparte, exh. cat., Paris, 2003, p.138, fig.65, and for related vases at Versailles, see P.Arizzoli-Clémentel, Versailles, Furniture of the Royal Palace, 17th and 18th Centuries, vol. 2, Dijon, 2002, pp.171 and 173, no.56, and P.Arizzoli-Clémentel, La Galerie des Glaces, Dijon, 2007, p.95).
THE DESIGN OF THE MOUNTS
The elegant arabesque mounts of this vase, with their spiral-fluted handles issuing from acanthus and the distinctively pierced frieze, are strikingly similar to the mounts created for the celebrated ‘vases à monter’ created at the Sèvres porcelain factory in the 1780s under the direction of the marchand-mercier Dominique Daguerre. A drawing for such a vase in the Sèvres archives, dated 20 April 1784, is inscribed ‘Vase cassolette pour Être Monté par M. Thomier (sic for Thomire)’, while a further drawing dated 1786 is inscribed ‘Vase de Monsieur Daguerre’, making it clear that Daguerre can be credited with both the design and evolution of this model. Thomire was the principal supplier of bronzes to the Sèvres factory in the 1780s, although Daguerre also worked extensively with the bronzier François Rémond, and it is interesting to note a mounted porphyry vase in the Queen's Gallery, Windsor Castle (RCIN 4605, possibly acquired by George IV through his confectioner François Benois) which features the same pierced frieze of confronting crescents and flowers and whose bronzes are closer in spirit to those of Rémond or even his famous contemporary Pierre Gouthière. A similar pierced frieze features in other documented work by Rémond, for instance on a pair of griffin-supported candelabra supplied to Princesse Kinsky in 1782, now in Versailles, illustrated in C. Baulez, 'Le Luminaire de la Princesse Kinsky', Estampille L'Objet d'Art, May 1991, p. 86, fig. 7. The same frieze also features on a pietra dura-mounted secretaire by Adam Weisweiler, almost certainly supplied by Dominique Daguerre, illustrated in P. Lemonnier, Weisweiler, Paris, 1983, p. 69, cat.69.