This monumental pair of 'Grecian' amphora vases are carved of a pink Swedish granite often known under the generic title of porphyre de Suède. Their size would indicate a highly unusual commission and, in all probability a Royal gift by the King of Sweden, Maréchal Bernadotte, who reigned as King Karl XIV Johan of Sweden from 1818 to 1844, and whose family owned the porphyry mines. The King is known to have presented similar pieces to several of Napoleon's maréchaux, including a vase given to the Murat/Ney family, as well as a vase given to Maréchal Girard offered by Christie's Monaco, 2 July 1993, lot 235.
Porphyry was first discovered in Sweden at Alvadalen in 1731 but was not commercially exploited until after 1788 by Eric Hagstrvm under the direction of Nile Adam Bielke. The works were purchased by Bernadotte in 1818 and stayed in Royal ownership until 1856. Bernadotte used the production of primarily Empire objects in porphyry and related granite to disseminate the Empire style that he had brought from France. Production largely ceased following a disastrous fire in 1867. A monumental urn, also made of a very similar pale red 'granitell' which is related to porphyry, stands outside the pavillion at Rosendal in Djurgdrden, Stockholm. Weighing 9.5 tons and measuring 3.5 meters diameter, it's shape derives from antique prototypes excavated at Pompeii and Herculaneum. It is illustrated on the back cover of 'Porfyr', Exhibition Catalogue, Bukowski's, Stockholm, 15 December 1985 - 2 February 1986.
The taste for such antique marble vases spread to England through publications such as Hamilton's Vases, G. B. Piranesi's Vasi, Candelabri, Cippi, Sarcofagi of 1778, G. Moses' Collection of Antique Vases.., 1811, and, perhaps most importantly through the influence of the connoisseur Thomas Hope (d.1831). Hope's Duchess Street mansion/museum, with its extensive collection of 'Grecian' vases, was lavishly illustrated in his guide, Household Furniture and Interior Decoration, 1807. The introduction of 'antique' vases as appropriate ornament for banqueting halls and rooms-of-entertainment accompanied eighteenth century enthusiasm for decorating in the antique or Roman manner. The most celebrated antique vase was the monumental Medici marble 'krater' vase, with its sculpted frieze celebrating the wine-deity Bacchus. In antiquity, such 'krater' vases held the spring-water with which the wine was mixed at the festivals or symposiae associated with Dyonysus/Bacchus, the Greek and Roman harvest deities and gods of wine.
These vases were almost certainly acquired by either Robert, 1st Marquess of Westminster (1767-1845), or Richard, 2nd Marquess of Westminster (1795-1869), either for Grosvenor House, London or Eaton Hall, Cheshire. Following very much in the vanguard of George, Prince of Wales and his circle, the Westminsters were avaricious connoisseurs with Francophile leanings, who assembled one of the greatest collections of French furniture in England. Echoing Beckford, the Duke of Hamilton and George Watson Taylor, their collection reveals a particular taste for goût grec and Boulle furniture, including a pair of Louis XIV floral marquetry armoires, as well as pietra dura mounted furniture by Robert Home, including the clock-cabinet in the Gilbert Collection which had been bought at the Hamilton Palace Sale (Anna Maria Massinelli, The Gilbert Collection: Hardstones, London, 2000, pp. 49-50).