A MAGNIFICENT GROUP OF SIX 'EGYPTIAN' CANDELABRA BY RUNDELL, BRIDGE & RUNDELL
The magnificent three pairs of candelabra with stands offered as lots 526 - 528 in this sale, with their three addorsed Isis-figured Naophori or Telamones with hieroglyph-enriched tablets serving as caryatid guardians for the candelabras' obelisk-form striated pillars, were manufactured by Rundell, Bridge and Rundell, goldsmiths to George III and George, Prince of Wales, later George IV. Indeed, the firm supplied four candelabra of this model to the Prince of Wales which remain in the Royal collection (see below).
Although the actual designer is as yet unknown, the striking composition of the candelabra is probably ultimately derived from the designs of Giovanni Battista Piranesi. With their layered components, they are conceived in the manner of antique tripod candelabra, and similar sphinx-supported candelabra feature in Piranesi's Vasi, cande-labri, cippi, sarcofagi of 1778, while the caryatid figures supporting the candle-arms are perhaps inspired by the celebrated Egyptian interiors which Piranesi created for the Caffe degli Inglesi in Rome (illustrated here and in Piranesi's Diverse maniere d'Adornare I Cammini of 1769). The latter work by Piranesi also features a 'Chimneypiece in the Egyptian style' with uprights formed of hieroglyph-ornamented tapering herms terminating in kneeling figures in a similar layered composition to the Rundells candelabra. Similar sphinx supports also feature on antique marble candelabra, such as that exhibited around 1800 at the London mansion of the celebrated connoisseur-collector Thomas Hope, and later illustrated in H. Moses Collection of Antique Vases, Altars, Paterae, Tripods, Candelabra etc, London, 1814.
THE TASTE FOR EGYPT
These spectacular candelabra represent one of the richest interpretations of the 'Egyptian' style of the early 19th century. The renewed fashion for ancient Egyptian motifs in Regency England was inspired by the archaeological discoveries made during Napoleon's military campaigns of 1798 and recorded by Baron Vivan Denon in his Voyage dans la Basse et la Haute Egypte, published in London in 1802. One of Napoleon's central purposes in promoting the study of Egypt's monuments was in fact to enlarge his own glory, reflected in the ancient grandeur of Egypt. Thus in England, following Napoleon's defeats in Egypt in 1798 and at Trafalgar in 1805, the Egyptian style became a patriotic celebration of Nelson's celebrated victories, particularly among patrons such as the Prince of Wales and his immediate circle. The vogue for Egypt played an important role in all aspects of art, architecture and the decorative arts and was disseminated through design books published by such influential figures as Charles Percier and Pierre-François-Léonard Fontaine in France, and Thomas Hope and George Smith in England.
THE ROYAL CANDELABRA
Rundell, Bridge and Rundell supplied George, Prince of Wales, with four candelabra of the same model as part of the celebrated Grand Service. The candelabra appear on an invoice dated 4 June 1811 as part of a huge order from Rundell, Bridge and Rundell as
4 very superb Egyptian Ormolu Candelabra, £ 98.0.0...392.0.0
4 richly chased stands to do. With Arms, Crown, Garter & Motto chased out, £ 24 Each...£ 96.
They remain in the Royal Collection, the first pair at Buckingham Palace and the remaining pair on loan to Brighton Pavilion. It is quite possible that they were supplied to the Prince of Wales as part of the enormous order of plate placed with the firm in 1806 and reputed to total £70,000. This massive commission followed the victory achieved the previous year at the battle of Trafalgar by the British fleet under Admiral Nelson (d. 1805), who had previously been celebrated as the 'hero of the Nile'. Notably, the Royal candelabra were also supplied with stands as listed in the invoice. That the candelabra were quite possibly supplied to the Prince of Wales much earlier than the actual invoice is supported by the presence of several pieces of silver-gilt of striking Egyptianising style supplied by Rundells as part of the Grand Service and with dates ranging from 1802 - 1806 (G. de Bellaigue et al., 'Carlton House: The Past Glories of George IV's Palace', Exhibition Catalogue, London, 1991, cats. 85, 91 and 92). It is also interesting to note that another item on the 1811 Rundells invoice, '8 large antique candelabrums', are noted as having 'chased feet to match the Marquis of Hertford's', showing that the Prince of Wales was not averse to emulate pieces in other aristocratic collections.
RUNDELL, BRIDGE & RUNDELL
Goldsmiths and jewelers Philip Rundell and John Bridge formed the first element of what would become a most prolific partnership in 1785. In 1797 the firm of Rundell and Bridge received the royal patronage of King George III, a sponsorship which they retained through the reign of George IV, until 1830. Philip's cousin, Edmund Rundell, was hired into the firm in 1803. The royal appointment of Rundell, Bridge and Rundell was of supreme significance in and of itself but it also necessitated, by tradition, the patronage of the entire royal family and that of most of the nobility as well. The firm's design studio was brimming with the upper echelon of Royal Academicians namely; John Flaxman, Thomas Stothard and J.B. Papworth. They produced monumental sculptural works in gold, silver, silver plate, silver-gilt and ormolu. Another example of an ormolu object made by the firm is a Regency centerpiece, also with winged sphinx supports, sold Christie's, New York, 12 October 1996, lot 128, as well as lot 554 in this sale.
One should consider the possibility that the French artist Jean-Jacques Boileau was involved in the design of these candelabra. he is known to have been asociated with Rundells in 1803, and moreover a group of Egyptianising ormolu wine coolers by Rundells is closely based on a design by Boileau in the Victoria and Albert Museum, London (M. Snodin, 'J.J. Boileau, A Forgotten Designer of Silver', Connoisseur, June 1978, pp. 129 - 31). A wine cooler of this group was sold, Christie's, New York, 17 October 2003, lot 301.