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Supplied to John Russell, 6th Duke of Bedford (1766-1839) and probably given by 1813 to his sister-in-law, Elizabeth, Marchioness of Bath (d. 1830), daughter of the 4th Viscount Torrington and wife of Thomas, 2nd Marquess of Bath (1765-1837) and by descent at Longleat.
TWO 'LAVA' OBJECTS BY VULLIAMY & SON
The following two lots in green marble or 'lava' were mounted in ormolu by the Pall Mall firm of Vulliamy & Son circa 1805. By this date, the firm, headed by the Royal Clockmaker Benjamin Vulliamy (1747-1811), with his eldest son, Benjamin Lewis (1780-1854) as junior partner, was expanding its interests into the production of a wide range of decorative objects in ormolu, bronze and marble. These objects were usually designed by the Vulliamys themselves in the latest Empire or proto-Regency taste, drawing on their extensive library of books on art and architecture, and then made under their careful supervision by the same network of independant specialists which they had built up to manufacture the cases of their ornamental clocks.
The majority of customers for such articles were the nobility, led by the Prince of Wales himself, whose access to the traditional suppliers of such luxury goods in Paris had been largely cut off by the war with France. Among these customers was the 2nd Marquess of Bath (1765-1837) and his wife, to whom Vulliamy supplied an ornamental clock and a bronze tazza in 1811. The firm's records also note cleaning the gilt mounts of a green lava basin in 1807 and of three lava cups in 1813 for the same family, though no record has been found of the sale of these objects to Lord or Lady Bath in the surviving Vulliamy papers in the Public Record Office at Kew.
However, two tazzas precisely fitting the descriptions of the present pieces are known to have been mounted in ormolu by Vulliamy for Lady Bath's brother-in-law, the 6th Duke of Bedford (1766-1839), in 1805. One of these was described in the Day Book for 31 December 1805 (PRO: C104/58 Pt.1) as: 'a Green Lava Vessell with the Cover to screw on, the bottom half of the Vessel is ornamented with Water Leaves growing upon it, the Cover with an Antique Wreath of Oak Leaves & Acorns and 4 Antique Masks, two Comic and two Tragic, a circular foot, all the Ornaments are highly Chased & Gilt in the best manner indead and burnished Gold including the expence of making the Models & Patterns on purpose - £27-6-0'.
The other tazza, delivered to the Duke of Bedford on the same day and at the same price, was described as 'another Green Lava Bason with Metal Ornaments, the body of the Vase is supported by three chased eagles seated upon a very rich circular foot ornamented with Lions Masks, the cover is enriched with a large Patera & flower ... - £24-3-0.' All the ornaments were chased and gilt like the first tazza, and in addition, this piece was given a gilt copper lining to conceal repairs to the marble at an additional cost of £3-0-0'.
Since the green marble bodies of the tazzas were apparently supplied to the Duke and some of the mounts were added to conceal repairs, it seems likely that these were unique pieces - a view reinforced by the fact that the customer was charged for the cost of models and patterns. Even so, the relevant entries in the Vulliamy Ornament Book (PRO: C104/57 Pt. 1) shows that Vulliamy's usual outworkers were employed on these pieces, including Anderson for carving patterns for the mounts and Barnett, Houle and Seagrave for casting, chasing and gilding repectively. In fact, the general design of much of this ornament can be found on other Vulliamy pieces from this period: the water leaves on the base of one tazza relate to those on the bases of two Chinese porcelain vases mounted by Vulliamy for the Prince of Wales in 1807 (illustred in G. de Bellaigue, 'Samuel Parker and the Vulliamys', Burlington Magazine, January 1997, p. 33, fig. 55); while the eagles and lion masks on the other tazza are very similar to the mounts of a bronze and ormolu tazza deliverd to the Countess of Bridgewater in 1810 (sold by The Lord Brownlow, Belton House, Lincolnshire, Christie's house sale, 30 April - 2 May 1984, lot 25).
The tazzas bought by the Duke of Bedford are not now at Woburn and it seems likely that he gave them to his sister-in-law, the Marchioness of Bath, soon after they were mounted. These pieces and a third tazza still at Longleat were probably the 'three lava cups richly mounted in ormoulu' which, as already noted, Vulliamy cleaned for Lady Bath in 1813. In the 1869 Inventory of Longleat they were still described as 'lava', their rarity and original description still being remembered.
1852 Inventory, Ante Library or Breakfast Room, 'Two Bronze and Marble Ditto [Vases].
1852 Inventory, No. 65 Ante Library or Breakfast Room, 'Two Bronze and Marble Vases'.
1869 Inventory, Small Library, 'A lava tazza with masks and ornaments of ormolu'.
1896 Inventory (2nd Marquess' Heirlooms), 93 r Red Library, 'Green verde marble bowl and cover with ring handles, chased gilt ormolu mounts under glass shade - height 6 in.'
M. Aldrich, 'The Marquess and the Decorator', Country Life, 7 December 1989, p. 163, fig. 4.