Pierre Gouthière, 1732-1813.
The pair of vases of this magnificent garniture is identical to a pair of vases in the J. Paul Getty Museum and also to a further pair now in the musée du Louvre, which was sold from the remarkable collections of the duc d'Aumont in 1782. His legendary sale took place on nine consecutive days in December of that year at the Hôtel d'Aumont, beginning on the 12th and ending on the 21st. It was organised by the marchand-mecriers Philippe François Julliot and Alexandre-Joseph Paillet and the public viewing lasted for nearly a month prior to the sale. Exceptionally for an 18th Century catalogue, line engravings were employed to illustrate the principal lots. The Louvre vases were included as lot 3, and the catalogue description reads:
PORPHYRE DE PREMIERE QUALITÉ.
3 Deux Vases, forme de Médicis, parfaitement taillés, et évidés d'une grande légéreté d'épaisseur; posés sur socle carré, entouré de fil de perles, à panneaux renfonccés à entrelac à rosettes, de bronze doré d'or mat, G.; hauteur compris le socle, 13 pouces sur 8 pouces de diamètre. Voyez la planche no 3.
On ne peut s'empêcher de répéter ici que ces deux Vases, faits à Rome, entièrement pareils à ceux sous le no 437 du Catalogue de M. de Boisset, sont de morceaux de haute curiosité, tant par la beauté de leur espece que par le chef-d'oeuvre de l'art; leurs socles de bronze sont d'un fini précieux.
They were bought by Julliot on behalf of the King for 3,134 livres (Julliot, pour le Roi...3,134 liv.)
As James Parker pointed out in the definitive introduction to the recent reprint of Baron Davillier's 1870 edition of the original sale catalogue (Le Cabinet du Duc d' Aumont, Acanthus Books, New York, 1986), much of the extraordinary fame of the duc d' Aumont's collection emanates from his objects and furniture made from hardstones, created for him between 1770 and 1782 in the workshops he had set up at the Hôtel des Menus-Plaisirs. This reputation was greatly enhanced by the fact that the majority of these were acquired at the sale by Louis XVI and Marie-Antoinette. Of the 383,322 livres realised, over half of this (251,420 livres) had been spent by the King and Queen, and they acquired 56 lots between them. However, whilst the Queen's purchase of five lots, was for her own cabinet and were paid for from her Privy purse, the motivation for the King's extravagance was philanthropic. Since 1768, there had been a plan to establish a public museum in the galeries du Louvre, and these purchases, including the Medicis vases, were intended as an endowment for the newly-born musée du Louvre. They are illustrated in A. Pradère, French Furniture Makers, Paris, 1989, p. 396.
THE DUC D'AUMONT
An ancient noble family from Beauvaisis, the d'Aumont's were raised to the dukedom in 1665. Louis-Marie-Augustin d'Aumont Rochebaron, duc de Villequier, was born in Paris on the 28 October 1709. Of almost exactly the same age as Louis XV, he succeeded as duc d'Aumont in 1723 and took up his family's hereditary position as Premier gentilhomme de la Chambre du Roy. This position was held by four Dukes and embraced a wide range of responsibilities, chief amongst which was the supervision of the menus-plaisirs. The menus-plaisirs was responsible for the organisation of all Royal festivities and State occasions, as well commssioning, according to the King's wishes, any Royal gift or item for the Royal wardrobe and, following the reorganisation of 1763, each of the four premier gentilhommes took overall charge in succession for one year. Within the hôtel des menus-plaisirs in the rue du Faubourg-Poissonière were the ateliers of the craftsmen they employed, and part of the duc's responsiblities was the appointment of artists and craftsmen to the menus-plaisirs. It is, therefore, extremely pertinent that d'Aumont signed the warrants for both François-Joseph Belanger (1744-1818) and Pierre Gouthière, appointed doreur ordinaire des Menus-Plaisirs in 1767, as well as that for the architect Pierre Adrien Paris, to whom the duc had turned for the refurbishment of his hôtel in the place Louis XV, now the hôtel Crillon, in 1775.
The duc's interest in ancient and precious marbles had apparently been fired by his purchase from the maréchal de Richelieu of two antique porphyry vases brought back from Italy. A passion shared by a number of his contemporaries- particularly Marie-Antoinette- the marbles from which the duc's objects were created had been mined in antiquity, and the fulfiment of this passion was only made possible by the rich pickings gleaned from archaeological excavations in Italy in the 18th century. As the Observation or introductory text in the sale catalogue reveals, M. le Duc d'Aumont, jaloux de donner le plus grand caractère à son Cabinet, a fait les plus grandes recherches pour se procurer à Rome et dans tout l'Italie les marbres les plus rares..'.
When the duc decided to set up a workshop in 1770 at the hôtel des menus-plaisirs to cut and polish precious marbles and embellish them with gilt-bronze mounts, he turned to those he had already worked with at the menus-plaisirs. Thus, while Belanger was appointed as architect-designer, a Genoese sculptor, Augustine Bocciardi (fl.1760-90) was responsible for cutting and polishing and the sculptor Guillemin is credited with inventing a new technique for giving marbles a 'polis ferme et brillant'. The gilt-bronze mounts, however, were all created by Gouthière, whose fame, like that of Boulle and Riesener, has never diminished and indeed the d'Aumont sale catalogue itself paid tribute to this reputation by annotating every lot that he had contributed to with the initial 'G'. In all, the duc commssioned 51 pieces from Gouthière, and whilst we have already seen that the latter was owed the enormous sum of 76,955 livres on his patron's death, interestingly Belanger's claim was by no means insubstantial, petitioning for 24,000 livres for 'un grand nombre de plans, dessins et esquisses par lui faits pour le feu duc.. tamt pour l'architecture de bâtiments que pour vases...et autre objets de curiosité de son cabinet'.
It is intriguing that the lot description for the duc d'Aumont's Medicis vases mentions an identical pair, which was sold from the collection of the celebrated amateur Pierre-Louis Randon de Boisset, whose sale in 1777 can also be regarded as one of the landmark auctions of the 18th Century. They were purchased by Paillet for 2,431 livres., and may correspond to the pair now in the J. Paul Getty Museum, which are illustrated in A. Sassoon/G. Wilson, Decorative Arts, The J. Paul Getty Museum, Malibu, 1986, p. 95, fig. 206.