The chimneypiece is designed in the early l9th century Grecian manner with palm-flowered frieze in the Erechtheum fashion and poetic palm-wreaths embellishing its taper-hermed pilasters, which are capped by caryatic basket-bearing busts of veil-draped vestal priestesses. Its design reflects the Grecian style promoted by James Stuart and Nicholas Revett's Antiquities of Athens, 3 vols (1762-89) and the 1807 guide to the mansion/museum created by the connoisseur Thomas Hope (d.1831) and his architect C. H. Tatham published by Hope as Household Furniture and Interior Decoration. No doubt Hope and Tatham were also responsible for the Grecian wreath-bearing caryatic vestals of closely related form that embellished the Hyde Park loggia-fagade of the Mayfair house of Hope's brother Henry Philip Hope. An 1818 watercolour of this facade is illustrated C. Fox, London-World City, London, 1992, no. 284.
Four similar hermed vestals with floral wreaths appear on a closely related marble chimneypiece that was acquired by the Victoria and Albert Museum in 1932 from 4 Carlton Gardens, London, but has also been associated with The Deepdene, Hopes Surrey villa. Two other chimneypieces at Buckingham Palace, with similar veiled figures supporting bas-releif tablets celebrating the earth deity Ceres, have been attributed to the sculptor George Garrard (d.1826), who exhibited a chimneypiece Tablet at the 1796 Royal Academy (D. Bilbey and M. Trusted, British Sculpture 1470-2000, London, 2002, no.413).
THOMAS JEFFERSON AND THE MORVEN CHIMNEYPIECE
The chimneypiece at Morven has traditionally been associated with Thomas Jefferson, who reputedly supervised the purchase of the marble in Italy on behalf of Morven's owner David Higginbotham. A study of Jefferson's surviving correspondence with Higginbotham dating to 1819, 1820, 1824 and 1825 does not shed any further light on this matter. Certainly Jefferson ordered marble slabs for eight chimneypieces at his own home, Monticello, in 1824. This order, and the orders on behalf of the University of Virginia, were executed through Thomas Appleton in Livorno, Italy who engaged in a brisk trade in Italian mantels and sculpture for the American market. Appleton's Account Book (published in Winterthur Portfoflio, IX, 1974) fails to mention Higginbotham's name (L.C. Stanton, Monticello Research Department, ix. 86). Given the lack of documentation, it is difficult to confirm Jefferson's association with the Morven chimneypiece. Furthermore, the design is distinctly an English one. The chimney was previously located in the Study at Morven, as shown in photographs of circa 1930 taken by Drix Duryea, the New York photographer. It would have been reinstalled in the Dining Room in the 1930s when the owners, Charles and Mary Stone, embarked on a series of architectural changes to the house.