THE SHARDELOES SIDEBOARD VASES
Roman grandeur and the cult of Bacchus is evoked by these vases on 'altar' pedestals that formed the focal-point of William Drake's grand dining-room at Shardeloes, Buckinghamshire, that had been designed by George III's Rome-trained court architect, Robert Adam (d.1792) in the early 1760s. They were originally painted white to harmonise with the room's Roman-stuccoed decoration and the elegantly-carved frame of the sideboard-table. Adam's initial sketch design for the 'cooper' vase, inspired by the marble wine-krater vases of antiquity, survives in a private collection (Exhibited at Osterley Park, The Age of Neo-Classicism, 1968 (Typed catalogue in Victoria & Albert Museum Furniture Department)). His 'vase and pedestal' design was published in The Works in Architecture of Robert and James Adam, 1778, pt. II, pl. VIII, which helped spread the fame of the brothers' 'Adamite' or 'Adelphic' style (Harris, op. cit., pp. 160 and 161, fig. 231). Such vases, like the commemorative urns of a Roman 'vestibulum', proved an important element of Adam's banqueting halls and eating-rooms and of the 'antique' style, with which he claimed to have revolutionised the English interior.
Their form derives from an antique marble vase, also with strigilated body, that Adam had probably acquired through Govanni Battista Piranesi, author of Della magnificenze ed architettura de' Romani, Rome, 1761 and of Il campo marzio dell'antica Rome, 1762, which was issued with a dedication to 'Il Signore Roberto Adam' (Harris, op. cit., p. 107). Adam exhibited his vase on an altar-drum pedestal inscribed 'Roma', at the Mayfair premises he established in Lower Grosvenor Street in 1758. A few years later, in 1762, he was also considering the publication of some designs for related sideboard pedestals and silver 'fountain' vases at Kedleston Hall, Derbyshire (J. Fleming, Robert Adam and his Circle, London, 1962, p. 251, fig. 13; Harris, op. cit., p. 219, fig. 324 and p. 33, fig. 43).
The strigil-fluted and palm-wreathed vases are of wine-krater form to evoke the Roman wine-god, Bacchus, while their brass handles comprise voluted trusses borne on the heads of the goat-bodied satyrs, attendants at the Feast of Bacchus in antiquity. Their step-topped pedestals have antique-fluted friezes displaying 'Etruscan' pearl-wreathed libation paterae, that evoke the corn-goddess Ceres, while their 'commode' doors are festooned with triumphal laurels to recall the poetry-deity Apollo.
The lyre-bearing deity was also represented by the Shardeloes dining-chairs, which were carved with 'lyre' backs after a pattern invented by Adam for Osterley in 1767 (Hayward, op. cit.., fig. 133). One Shardeloes vase (like the Roman prototype krater vase that served for holding spring water with which the wine was mixed) was intended to hold water to be used for rinsing glasses, and a tap was originally fitted in its plinth.
The present vases, commissioned in 1767 by the connoisseur William Drake (d. 1796), were ornamented in keeping with Shardloes' dining-room ceiling, which Adam had designed in 1761 with stuccoed ornament alluding to Bacchus and Ceres. The same patterned ceiling had been introduced at Osterley Park, the Middlesex villa of Robert Child (d. 1782) and it was the Osterley vases which provided the prototype for those at Shardeloes, which were likewise executed by the Berkeley Square cabinet-maker and upholsterer John Linnell (d. 1796).
Linnell invoiced them on the 2nd October 1767 as :-
'To making and carving 2 coopers the tops in the form of vases and large brass handles like Mr Childs.
One lined with lead to hold water and the other top sham and a potcupboard underneath and painting the same all compleat...30.0.0.'
Like the Osterley vases, it is likely that the foliage on the present vases was also gilded. The Osterley vases were described in John Linnell's 1782 inventory as:
'Two very elegant Pedestals and vases carved and Japanned White and Gold' (M. Tomlin, Catalogue of Adam Period Furniture; The Victoria and Albert Museum, London, 1982, C/3) .
John Linnell's artistic training had taken place at the St. Martin's Lane Academy before his establishment, in partnership with his father William Linnell (d. 1763), in fashionable cabinet-making premises in Berkeley Square. However an important influence in his career was his role as a principal 'artificer' working alongside the Adam brothers at houses such as Kedleston Hall, Derbyshire.
His design of these furnishings also indicates their close working relationship at Shardeloes.