The eighteenth century architects and antiquarians of Rome's French Academy elevated altar tripods to equal status alongside columbarium sacred urns and ancient vases as a subject worthy of study and reinterpretation (see Giovanni Battista Piranesi, Diverse Maniere dAdornare I Cammini, 1769; Vasi, Candelbari, Cippi, Sarcofagi, 1778 and H. Moses, A Collection of Antique Vases, Altars, Paterae, Tripods, Candelabra, sarcophagi, etc, 1814).
This pattern was invented as an altar tripod-vase candelabrum by the Rome-trained architect James Stuart (d.1788), celebrated as author of the Antiquities of Athens, 1762, and as the architect adopted by the famed assembly of connoisseurs, known since the 1730s as the Society of Dilettanti.
Here Stuarts' novel Pan tripod bears the head of the ruler of the poets paradiscal Arcadia displayed within the Pan-reeded medallion of its tazza, whose antique-fluted pilasters incorporate Egyptian sphinx monopodiae, the stately-dressed nymphs with Dyonisiac/bacchic lion-paws. This was Stuart's recreation of an Olympic vase suitable to the Grecian choragic monument of Lysicates, popularly known as Demosthenes lantern, that he featured amongst the Grecian temples in The Antiquities of Athens (see M. Snodin, James Stuart's Metalwork, forthcoming catalogue of the Bard Graduate Center for Studies in the Decorative Arts, Design and Culture, 2006). Stuart introduced this pattern for rose-crowned vases accompanying Hymen's altar at London's Spencer House, for his 1750s Drawing Room apartment celebrating loves Triumph and The Roman Marriage (J. Friedman, Spencer House, London, 1993). It also served for the rooms ormolu candelabra, whihc remain in the collection of the Earl Spencer at Althorp House, Northamptonshire. This pattern of Olympic/Arcadian vase-candelabrum, raised on a triumphal Grecian palm-flowered stepped marble plinth, lit the silver-plate and Roman bronze vases displayed on Sir Nathaniel Curzon's altar-sideboard in the Basilica-niche of his banqueting-room at Kedleston, Derbyshire. The latter was drawn by the architect Robert Adam (d.1792) for his proposed publication celebrating Sir Nathaniel's patronage of the Arts.
The original design for this tripod is amongst the Adam manuscripts in Sir John Soane's Museum (Adam Mss Vol. 25, nrs. 89, 90, 91), and it is believed to be by James "Athenian" Stuart (1713-1788). The design relates to James Stuart's suggested reconstruction of the missing tripod from the Choragic Monument of Lysicrates, published in the 1st volume of his and Nicholas Revett's Antiquities of Athens, 1762. There is also a sketch by Sir William Chambers in the Victoria & Albert Museum of a very similar perfume burner (N. Goodison, Matthew Boulton: Ormolu, London, 2002, fig. 74).
Other versions of this design are a perfume burner with three candle branches at Kedleston Hall, Derbyshire (see Goodison, op. cit., fig. 56, and J. Cornforth, "A splendid unity of arts", Country Life, June 13, 1996, p. 128) which features in Adam's original "Design of the West end of the Dining Room with the Nich and Sideboard", 1762 (see E. Harris, The Genius of Robert Adam, London 2001, fig. 42); and a perfume burner in the Victoria & Albert Museum, previously at Wentworth Woodhouse (see Goodison, op. cit., fig. 65, and Hans Ottomeyer and Peter Pröschel, Vergoldete Bronzen, 1986, p. 270, plate 4.10.2).
This bronze tripod perfume burner was probably commissioned by William, 2nd Earl of Bessborough (1704-63) for Parkstead House, Roehampton which was designed by Sir William Chambers. He was a trustee of the British Museum and a noted collector of antiquities. Although, as yet, there is no direct evidence to connect him with Stuart, it is interesting to note that he was both a member of the Society of Dilettanti and a subscriber to the 1st volume of Stuart and Revett's Antiquities of Athens, as were all the original owners of these other tripods, Sir Nathaniel Curzon, John Spencer and the Marquess of Rockingham.
It is also tempting to associate this tripod with lot 50 in the sale held after his death by Christie's at Roehampton in 1801, "An Essence Tripod of Metal, from an elegant design of the Athenian Stuart with a Marble Altar".