This magnificent pair of royal vases in Chinese export porcelain are the only survivors in private hands of a highly important gift to King Philip V. The only other example known (from what may have been a set of four or possibly a set of six) is a single vase in very poor condition in the Museo de Cerámica, Barcelona.
PHILIP V OF SPAIN
Philip V (1683-1746) was just 17 when he was installed as the first Bourbon on the Spanish throne by his grandfather, Louis XIV of France, following the death of the last Spanish Habsburg King, the childless Charles II. Philip's grandmother had been the Spanish Habsburg Maria Teresa, first wife of Louis XIV. Having grown up in the highly controlled France of Louis XIV one of Philip's first efforts in Spain was to unify and centralize the Spanish rule, which had been diffused among a number of local kingdoms and governmental entities. In fact, his royal coat-of-arms are themselves a brief geo-political history of the Spanish throne, reflecting elements of Leone and Castile, Aragon and Aragon Sicily, Austria, Old Burgundy, Modern Burgundy, Brabant, Granada, Flanders, Antwerp and France.
PHILIP AND THE SPANISH POSSESSIONS
Philip V also turned his attention to Spain's very important possessions in the New World, where the long-established silver mines and the Manila galleon trade with China were highly significant drivers of the Spanish economy. His close attention to these Spanish Empire possessions led in the appointment of a number of significant royal ministers charged with carrying out his decrees. Among the most important of these was Fernando Valdés Tamón, who became Governor and Captain-General of the Philippines in August 1729. Philip directed Valdés Tamón to found the School of Civil Law and the School for 'Orientals' in Manila, as the King desired a local clergy. Under Philip, Valdés Tamón also worked to better fortify the Philippines, promoting ship-building, modern weapons, and better battlements. He commissioned a map of the islands from the Jesuit Pedro Murillo Velarde and himself drew the fortifications of Manila and nearby Cavite. Valdés Tamón also intimately involved with the Spanish China trade, which was largely conducted in the markets of Manila, and under orders from the King carried out a controversial 1734 Royal Warrant which allowed the greater importation of Chinese silk (much resisted by the silk merchants of Spain). This warrant also increased the allowance for Acapulco-bound Manila galleons cargo to half a million pesos and for the return from New Spain to a million pesos.
CHINESE PORCELAIN FOR THE KING
During his time in the Philippines Valdés Tamón commissioned a Chinese export dinner service very similar in decoration to that of the service made for Philip V (see the pair of candlesticks from this service, lot 112). Quite likely, in fact, he facilitated the order for the King's service. Similarly, Valdés Tamón commissioned vases with identical decoration to this royal pair but with his own coat-of-arms (see lot 114). It seems highly probable that Valdés Tamón organized the order of the royal soldier vases at the same time as the order for his own set of vases, either as a gift for his patron, the King, or by the King's express wish.
THE URNS OF FLOWERS
The very distinctive urn of flowers on these vases - unique in Chinese export porcelain - is highly reminiscent of the 17th century Dutch flower painting that was in the Spanish royal collection during the reign of Philip V. In fact, his second wife, Isabel Farnese, held at the Royal Palace of La Granja de San Ildefonso, Segovia, a still-life by Clara Peeters depicting a similar jug of flowers.
For a discussion of these vases and illustrations of all three known to be extant see R. Diaz, Chinese Armorial Porcelain for Spain, 2010, pp. 117-19.