This magnificent pair of golden bronze tazze is conceived in the French imperial manner introduced around 1800. They served as a banqueting-table centerpiece for fruit, while evoking Peace and Plenty in antiquity and the Arcadian paradise of the ancient poets.
The sphynx monopodia recall the Egyptian hall of antiquity, while their form derives from the sacrificial altar-tripods, and the bowl is appropriately enriched with a festive pine-cone, like the finial of the thyrsic wand of Bacchus, the Roman wine and harvest deity. Heads of satyrs, the half-man half-goat attendants at the Feast of Bacchus, emerge from the Roman foliage that wreaths the bowl. The caryatid pillars or monopodia comprise veiled and eagle-winged nymphs or sphynx, the protectors of the Arcadian gardens, and their legs terminate in satyress hooves in place of lioness paws. The latter serve instead to support the hollow-sided 'altar' plinth.
While the design derives in part from the celebrated Pompeian antiquity displayed in Portici's Museum of Antiquities and illustrated in G.B. Piranesi's, Vasi,Candelabri etc., 1777 (pl. 44); it derives more particularly from a 1790s French tripod or 'trepied' centerpiece pattern that was issued by the Rome-trained architects Charles Percier (d. 1838) and Pierre-François-Léonard Fontaine (d. 1853) in their, Recueil de Décorations Intérieurs, of 180l.
The English connoisseur, Thomas Hope, had met Charles Percier during a visit to Rome in the 1780s and was instrumental in popularizing the fashion of the 'Receuil' through the decoration of his Duchess Street mansion. The interiors were published in Hope's Household Furniture and Interior Decoration, 1807, in which appears a tripod of very similar design (T. Hope, ibid., plate XXII) (see design). Much of the gilt-bronze furniture in Hope's mansion, is thought to have been supplied by the Paris-trained bronze founder Alexis Decaix (d. 1811) who first opened his premises at 15 Rupert Street, Piccadilly in 1794. Hope's enthusiasm over his discovery of Decaix is apparent in his introduction to Household Furniture and Interior Decoration where he writes;
'Throughout this vast metropolis, teeming as it does with artificers and tradesman I have, after the most laborious search, only been able to find...[one man]...to whose industry and talent I could...confide the execution of the more enriched portion of my designs: namely Decaix...a bronzist and a native of France...'
A vase, matching plate XXXV in Hope's publication and now in the Victoria and Albert Museum in London, is attributed to Alexis Decaix and is discussed in M. Chapman, Thomas Hope's Vase and Alexis Decaix, The V & A Album no. 4, pp. 217 - 228. Of particular interest in comparing the Hope vase and the current pair of tazze is the use of gilt-brass in the mounts, rather than bronze. Martin Chapman's essay on the Victorian and Albert museum's vase notes that is 'made of copper patinated to resemble bronze and applied with ormolu mounts. The copper body is not cast but raised from a sheet, by the hammer. The mounts are sand cast in solid brass, then chased with a series of tiny tools across the background areas to impart greater liveliness.' This use of gilded brass, rather than bronze as more commonly found in French bronzes explains the yellowness of the base metal found in the current pair of tazza. Bearing in mind that there were few craftsmen capable of this level of work, supported by Hope's own 'laborious search', the similarity to the Hope design and the appropriate date of these tazze an attribution to Alexis Decaix would not seem unreasonable.
Decaix is also known to have worked for Henry Holland at Woburn Abbey and for the Prince of Wales, later George IV. Bills record his work in the early 1790s for cleaning and repairing furniture, ornaments and chimney-pieces at Carlton House and Kempshott. In a further bill dated 5 January 1801 he records himself as a 'bronze and ormolu manufacturer' and earlier appeared in the silversmith Garrard's ledgers producing fasionable ormolu objects. On 9 October 1800 Decaix made 'a pair of Egyptian Slaves for a Light on a Bronze Pedestal with hierogliphick characters' for Garrard's own shop costing £6.
In celebration of the defeat of Napoleon in June 1814, the Corporation of London hosted a banquet at the Guildhall in honor of the Prince Regent, The Emperor of Russia and the King of Prussia. In a painting of the dinner by Luke Clennell (d. 1840), what appear to be an identical pair of tazze stand on the banqueting table filled with fruit (reproduced here and illustrated in C. Fox, London-World City 1800 - 1840, London, 1992, no. 24). A further nearly identical tripod stand with inset glass bowl and double candle-branches issuing from the heads of the figures, executed in silver-gilt by Digby Scott and Benjamin Smith in London in 1806, was sold from the Property of Wendell Cherry, Sotheby's, New York, 20 May 1994, lot 62. That silver version bore the arms of Richard William Penn, 1st Earl Howe, who succeeded the Viscount Curzon on his grandfather's death in 1820 and was created Earl Howe in 1821.