Intended as garniture for a neo-classical mantelpiece, these candelabra are composed of Derbyshire blue-john, a fluorspar reputed to have been admired by the Romans, and designed in the 'antique' style established in the 1770s by Robert Adam, architect to King George III, and mounted with ormolu in the French manner. Conceived as altar-supported urns for sacred flames, their acanthus-scrolled branches with Greek-fret stems are applied to krater-shaped vases which are festooned with laurel, emblematic of Apollo, God of light. Festive laurels also wreath the pedestals and festoon the bacchic lion-masks suspended on the drums which stand on triple-stepped 'krepidoma' plinths with ribbon-guilloche banded by pearls and foliage. Manufactured by Messrs. Matthew Boulton and John Forthergill of Birmingham, in their 'Cleopatra' vase form, similar to that in their firm's sketchbooks (see: N. Goodison, Ormolu, The Work of Matthew Boulton, London, 1974, pl.161, fig.R), and this type of candelabra, together with a related version, described as 'an altar richly embellished in the antique taste, on which is a vase with three branches for candles in the same taste ...', featured in their sale at Messrs. Christie and Ansell on 11-13 April, 1771. A similar pair acquired by Empress Catherine of Russia are thought to have been transported to Russia in that year by the British Ambassador Lord Cathcart.
For his design Boulton adopted a draped lion-mask, in the French gout grec style, that had formed part of the silversmith Frederick Kandler's oeuvre since 1765 (see: P. Glanville, Silver in England, London, 1987, p.245), while their candlebranches, which also feature in the Boulton pattern books, (Goodison, op.cit., pl.101) had appeared in the oeuvre of the court goldsmith Thomas Hemming since 1769. An almost identical candelabra of this pattern is illustrated by (Goodison, op.cit., pl.107).