Originating in ancient greco-roman artistic traditions, ram’s masks are prevalent design motifs of the Louis XVI period, when the interest in the antique greatly influenced artists and craftsmen. Making their debut during the goût grec phase of Neoclassicism, ram’s heads were popularized and disseminated by draughtsmen such as de Wailly, Vien and Delafosse. In the 1760s these masks were conceived in a realistic way with and tightly integrated within the composition of the work they were decorating. For a design of a vase conceived in this manner by Delafosse, circa 1765, see H. Ottomeyer and P. Pröschel, Vergoldete Bronzen, vol. I, München 1987, p. 183, fig. 3.8.6. Ram’s heads were very often cast in ormolu and fastened to porcelain, wood, marble and other precious materials, such as porphyry. For a porphyry vase mounted with ormolu rams’ masks in the goût grec taste in the Wallace Collection, see P. Hughes, The Wallace Collection, vol. III, London, 1996, p. 1981. As Neoclassicism grew more graceful and eventually matured into its goût étrusque phase in the 1780s, ram’s masks became more fantastical with exaggerated features: horns grew longer and thinner to comply with the new taste for the grotesque. The gracefully elongated shape of the phorphyry vase iteself also reflects this shift in taste towards form considered "Etruscan" at the time. For an amazonite brûle-parfum with ram’s heads growing such extravagant horns, see ibid., p. 1346. The creator of the ormolu masks of the present lot followed Louis XVI models of the 1770s, when ram’s masks had already departed from the more restrained goût grec models but were not yet fantastical in a goût étrusque way. The maker was probably familiar with the "Duc d'Aumont vases," now in the Louvre, as the masks found on those are almost identical to the ones found on this lot, see P. Malgouyres, Porphyre, Paris, 2003, p. 173. Also, the other extremely similar ram’s mask appear on a pair of Louis XVI chenets from circa 1775, illustrated S. Eriksen, Early Neoclassicism in France, London, 1974, fig. 232. The floral garland connecting the masks, which is very similar to those found on the abovementioned chenets, the large acanthus leaves and the ormolu mounts of the base are also typical design elements of French Neoclassicism of the 1770s. The ram's head motif was particularly popular in Russia and northern Europe as illustrated by a closely-related pair of vases with similar masks, garlands and acanthus leaves was formerly in the Stroganoff collection and sold by the Soviet government in May, 1931 (lots 143 and 144) and a another one executed at the Kolyvan stone-cutting workshops circa 1789, see A. V. Alexeieva, et al., Pavlovsk: The Collections, Paris, 1993, p. 205.