The legendary sale of the remarkable collections of the duc d'Aumont took place on nine consecutive days in December 1782 at the Htel d'Aumont, beginning on the 12th and continuing until the 21st. It was organized by the marchand-merciers Phillipe Franois Julliot and Alexandre-Joseph Paillet and the public viewing lasted for nearly a month prior to the sale (12 November until 8 December). These vases were included as lot 7 with the tall Verde Antico columns, now in the muse du Louvre, on which they originally stood. The catalogue description reads:
7 MARBRE VERT ANTIQUE DE PREMIRE QUALIT
Deux Colonnes, chapiteau d'ordre composite, feuilles d'ornemens prises dans le bloc en releif saillant, enrichi de rinceaux d'arabesques, termins en volute sur les angles; branches de laurier entrelaces, dominant en espece de couronne sur le milieu de chaque face, et base entrelacs, gorge unie et double baguette feuille d'eau, le tout de bronze dor d'or mat; places sur socle carr de marbre serpentin, plaqu un pouce d'paisseur; elles sont surmontes d'un Vase rond, forme de cassolette, d'albtre oriental, orn sur chaque ct de deux branches de laurier en console, formant anse, et de cul de lampe feuilles d'eau et fleurons de bronze en or mat; pos sur socle rond de vert antique, G.; hauter des Colonnes. 8 pieds; diamtre, 9 pouces; hauteur des Vases, 12 pouces 6 lignes. Voyez la planche no 7.
Ces deux Colonnes, de la plus grande importance, peut-tre uniques en ce genre dans cette capitale, sont frappantes par leurs belles proportions et par la riche qualit de leur rare matire; les deux Vases intressans dont elles sont surmontes, et l'excellent genre de leurs ornemens, parfaitement traits, forment un ensemble qui n'y laisse rien dsirer; elles furent trouves Rome dans une fouille faite en 1766 auprs du temple de Vesta, proche du Tibre et ce fut aprs beaucoup de difficults que l'Artiste charg par M. le Duc d'Aumont obtint la permission de sortir de Rome ces deux pieces.
They were bought by Paillet on behalf of the King for 13,801 livres (Paillet, pour le Roi...13, 801 liv.)
As James Parker pointed out in his definitive introduction to the recent reprint of Baron Davillier's 1870 edition of the original sale catalogue (Le Cabinet du Duc d'Aumont, Acanthus Books, New York, 1986), much of the extraordinary fame of the duc d'Aumont's collection emanates from his objects and furniture made from precious marbles and hardstones, created for him between 1770 and 1782 in the workshops that he had set up at the Htel des Menus-Plaisirs. This reputation was greatly enhanced by the fact that the majority of these were acquired at his sale by Louis XVI and Marie-Antoinette. Together the King and Queen bought fifty-six lots in the sale, accounting for well over half the total amount the sale realized (251,420 livres out of 383,322 livres). The Queen's purchase of five lots was from her own privy purse and included the celebrated brle parfum of red jasper in the Wallace Collection (P. Hughes, The Wallace Collection. Catalogue of Furniture, vol III, London 1996, pp. 1340-1345) - she had in any case long been a passionate collector of rare stones and marbles.
The King acquired his fifty-one lots for a very different reason which goes some way to explain his apparent extravagance. Since 1768 there had been a plan to create a public museum in the galleries of the Louvre and he intended to use his purchases to embellish the newly arranged galleries. Sadly the project was only realized in 1793 and the consequent problems of storage and maintenance of his purchases after the sale are vividly illustrated by the subsequent history of these vases.
THE DUC D'AUMONT
When Louis-Marie-Augustin, fifth duc d'Aumont (1709-1782) succeeded to the title in 1723 he also took up his family's hereditary position as premier gentilhomme de la chambre to the King, who was his almost exact contemporary. Until 1746 he served in the army, reaching the rank of Lieutenant-General, and he then devoted himself to his duties as premier gentilhomme. This position was held by four dukes and encompassed a wide range of responsibilities including the supervision of the Menus-Plaisirs, through which all Royal entertainments and festivities-such as coronations and weddings-were organized. The Menus-Plaisirs were also responsible for commissioning, according to the King's wishes, any royal gift or presentation object and for supplying articles for the royal wardrobe. Following a reorganization in 1763, each of the four premiers gentilhommes in succession took overall charge for one year. Within the Htel des Menus-Plaisirs on the rue du Faubourg-Poissonire, there were a number of the workshops and craftsmen working for the organization. As part of his duties, d'Aumont was responsible for appointing artists and craftsman to the Menus-Plaisirs, so he had for example signed the warrants for both Franois-Joseph Belanger (1744-1818) and Pierre Gouthire, appointed doreur ordinaire des Menus-Plaisirs in 1767, who were both involved in the creation of the great jewel-cabinet, now lost, completed in 1769 to hold Marie-Antoinette's wedding-present (S. Eriksen, Early Neoclassisism in France, London, 1974, pp. 148 and 397, fig. 448). He was also able to further the careers of those who had come to his notice, such as the architect Pierre-Adrien Paris (1745-1819), appointed architect to the Menus-Plaisirs in 1778, who had designed the interiors of the duc's new htel in the Place Louis XV in 1775 following his move from the rue de Beaune.
The duc's interest in ancient and precious marbles had apparently been fired by his purchase from the marchal de Richelieu of two antique porphyry vases brought back from Italy. It was a passion shared by a number of his contemporaries-not least Marie-Antoinette, who was to become the proud owner of some of his rarest treasures. It was another manifestation of the search for the rarest and most exquisite examples by those who had the taste, means and inclination- in the same way as Madame de Pompadour had sought out the very finest Japanese lacquer. None of the marbles from which the duc d'Aumont's objects were created had been mined since antiquity and it was only archaeological excavations that yielded up the prizes that the Romans had gathered together from all corners of their vast Empire, particularly their North African provinces, the source for many of the richest stones. The Observation introducing the sale catalogue notes M. le Duc d'Aumont, jaloux de donner le plus grand caractere son Cabinet, a fait les plus grandes recherches pour se procurer Rome et dans tout l'Italie les marbres les plus rares,...
When the duc decided in 1770 to set up a workshop at the Htel des Menus-Plaisirs to cut and polish precious marbles and embellish them with gilt-bronze mounts, he turned to those he had already worked with at the Menus-Plaisirs. Thus Belanger was appointed the architect-designer, A Genoese sculptor, Augustin Bocciardi (active in Paris 1760-1790), who had worked for the Menus-Plasirs in 1766 and had been appointed sculptor in 1768, was responsible for the cutting and polishing and another sculptor, Guillemain, is credited with inventing a new technique for giving marbles a polis ferme et brillant. The gilt-bronze mounts were created by Pierre Gouthire, by far the most celebrated craftsman in his field and one whose fame, like that of Boulle or Riesener, has never diminished. The sale catalogue included the letter G after each lot that he had contributed to, itself an indication of his contemporary reputation and especially remarkable as he was still active. The duc d'Aumont commisssioned fifty-one pieces from Gouthire and he died owing him the enormous sum of 76,955 livres.
These vases are of the finest alabastro egiziano or cotognino (Lapis onyx), a stalagmatic form of calcite probably from Egypt, although it was also found in Tunisia and Algeria, which is lustrously figured and has now turned a golden honey color resembling alabastro dorato. The description records that the Verde Antico columns and the vases were most probably cut from a Roman column acquired by the duc d'Aumont. Moreover, the mention in the catalogue of the problems involved in securing permission for the columns to leave Rome casts an interesting light on eighteenth century export controls.
GOUTHIERE AND BELANGER
The catalogue description includes the G, denoting it was indeed Gouthire himself who was responsible for the mounts. The laurel-leaf handles are of supreme quality, superbly cast, chased and gilded; they convey the most vivid impression of actual growing foliage climbing up and clasping the vases demonstrating only too clearly, if it were necessary, Gouthire's immense technical skill. He was almost certainly working to a design by Belanger, who produced a large amount of documentary evidence to back up his claim of 24,000 livres (with a further 1,307 livres advanced to workmen) against the duc d'Aumont's estate - including un grand nombre des plans, dessins et equisses par lui fait pour le feu duc (...) tant pour l'architecture de btiments que pour vases, colonnes, tables, pidestaux et autres objects de curiosit de son cabinet and a march fait entre feu M. le duc d'Aumont et Gouthire le 29 novembre 1770 pour la dorure et la ciselure d'une partie des ouvrages fait pour le dit seigneur duc d'Aumont d'aprs les dessins de sr Belanger, plus une liasse de 36 feuilles en plans, dessins ou equisses (C. Baulez, 'Pierre Gouthire (1732-1813)', Vergoldete Bronzen, Munich, 1986, vol. II, p. 577). Baulez also quotes a letter from Belanger to his patron dated 17 November 1774, which confirms his participation J'ai l'honneur de vous envoyer un mmoire des modles que Sr Gouthire a fait excuter pour vous d'aprs mes dessins par le Sr Delaplanche sculpteur.... The laurel foliage is very similar to that on the pair of four-branch wall-lights executed by Gouthire, again to the designs of Belanger, for the Salon Arabesque of the duc's daughter-in-law, the duchesse de Mazarin, in 1781 (C. Baulez, op. cit., pp. 584 and 638).
The vases and columns are recorded in the inventory taken after the death of the duc d'Aumont in May 1782
24.5 1782 Prise par PAILLET et JULLIOT
des objects precieux de la collection du duc d'Aumont
no. 593 deux colonnes de marbre vert antique
de sept pieds sept pouces de haut d'ordre
composite, chapiteaux feuilles de relief
fleurons et tor en bronze dor d'or mat
sur socle de marbre serpentine surmonte
de deux vases d'alabatre oriental couvert
sur leur pieds d'ouche (sic piedouche) ornes
de bronze dor d'or mat avec socle de
vert antique pris 4000 livres
(Archives nationales Minutier central XXIII
7893)THE 1782 SALE CATALOGUE
Exceptionally for an eighteenth century sale catalogue, the d'Aumont catalogue is illustrated with line engravings of the major lots (all, except for one chandelier by Gouthire, of precious marbles and hardstones, both plain and mounted). For lot 7 there are engravings of both the columns, showing Gouthire's ormolu capitals and bases, and the vases. The illustration of the vases presents certain problems as there are undoubted discrepancies between their apparent appearance in 1782 and that now. The socle is significantly different, it is of a much more compressed profile and appears to be of alabaster unembellished with ormolu; unfortunately the catalogue description fails to throw any light on the matter. If the socles were of alabaster, which is extremely easily damaged, they could well have been replaced by the present ormolu socles either at some stage after the duc d'Aumont's sale, perhaps due to their being stored, or as a result of some accident during the upheavals following the Revolution or following their departure from the national collections, probably at the end of the eighteenth century. The present socles, whilst perhaps not of such outstanding quality as Gouthire's handles, are nonethe- less finely worked and could easily date from the later 1780s. The Verde Antico plinths are larger than the bases in the illustration and may have been omitted as they were considered to be an integral part of the Verde Antico columns on which they stood. Apart from these discrepancies there are a few minor variations, particularly in the handling of the laurel foliage which in the engraving has none of the extraordinary vigor of Gouthire's work. However these may be due to artistic license, perhaps caused by a rush to prepare the catalogue and the engraver may in any case have been working from a preparatory design rather than the actual object. There are also differences in the catalogue representations of some of the other famous pieces in the sale, such as the two vases of green serpentine in the Louvre (lots 11 and 12) and even Marie-Antoinette's jasper brle parfum. Certainly, although the description clearly states that the vases are orn de chaque ct de deux branches de laurier en console, formant anse..., there is no hint of this feature shown in the engraving.
LOUIS XVI AND THE VASES
The subsequent fate of all Louis XVI's purchases was fully discussed by Pierre Verlet in 'Bronzes d'ameublement franais du XVIIIe sicle', Bulletin de l'Art franais, 1980-1982, pp. 204-210. Almost immediately following their purchase by the King, the vases were obviously separated from the columns as they are recorded in a list dated 1783 of some of the objects from the sale that were deposited with Julliot-presumably either because they were thought to be fragile or because they needed repair.
Meubles prcieux de curiosit acquis pour le Roi la vente publique aprs le dcs de M. le Duc d'Aumont en 1783.
Etat des articles magazins et dposs chez le Sr. Julliot marchand des curiosits, rue St.-Honor l'angle de la rue du four, suivant son rcpiss ou reconnaissance du 26 avril 1783
7 Deux vases d'albtre oriental garnis de bronze dor d'or mat, sur socle de vert antique, terminant le haut des colonnes de vert antique no 7
Je reconnois avoir en dpot commencer par le no. 3 jusques et compris le no. 181 les objects dtaills pour tre remis la premire rquisition de Monsieur le comte d'Angiviller
Paris le 26 avril 1783 (signed) Julliot
The columns are recorded in two lists made in November 1793 the capitals and bases were in in the picture restoration studio, whilst the actual Verde Antico shafts were stored in another small room. Sadly they have remained separated the columns are still in the Louvre, stripped of their mounts (C. Dreyfus, Catalogue Sommaire du Mobilier et des Objects d'Art, 2eme dition, Paris, 1922, no. 455). The 1793 list refer to one of the columns as being was marked with an A underneath and it is interesting to note that one of the vases is also incised with an A. The form of this A could be interpreted as two As, one reversed, which is the cipher of the duc d'Aumont.
Meubles prcieux et de curiosit acquis pour le Roi la vente publique aprs le dcs de M. le duc d'Aumont en 1783
Etat des articles emmagasasins au Louvre tout dans la salle des antiques que dans une petite pice au pied de l'escalier de l'Acadmie d'architecture
7 Deux colonnes de vert antique, chacune dans un caisse
Pour copie conforme et collationne l'original dpos dans les Bureaux du garde-meuble national Paris, le 22 brumaire de l'an second de la Rpublique une et indivisible (12 November 1793) F. L. Bayard
inspecteur gal provisoire et conservateur du mobilier national
Meubles precieux et de curiosit acquis pour le Roi la vente publique aprs le dcs de M. le duc d'Aumont en 1783
Etat des articles emmagasins au Louvre dans l'atelier du St. Hecquin restaurateur des tableaux
7 Ornement en bronze dor d'or mat avec tore et base servant de garniture une des colonnes de vert antique no 7
7bis Ornement en bronze dor d'or mat avec tore et base appartenant une colonne de vert antique o il y a un A maru sous le socle en bois de tore de la colonne
Pour copie conforme et collationn l'original dpos dans les Bureaux du garde-meuble national Paris, le 22 brumaire de l'an second de la republique une et indivisible (12 November 1793) F. L. Bayard
inspecteur gal et conservateur du Mobilier National
At some stage following the Revolution they left the national collections-most probably sold to raise much needed funds in 1796/97. It is of course possible that they remained at Julliot's shop and were sold or stolen from there. However several other lots that were stored there are now in the Louvre (lots 11, 12 and 19), which suggests that the whole group was returned at some stage.
THE COMTE AND COMTESSE DU FLAHAUT
These vases formed part of the celebrated collection of French furniture and objets d'art acquired by Margaret, Baroness Keith and Nairne (1788-1867) and her husband Auguste-Charles-Joseph, comte de Flahaut de la Billarderie (1785-1870), natural son of Talleyrand (1754-1838), and nephew of the comte d'Angiviller, who himself was the Marquis de Marigny's nephew and successor as directeur-gnral des btiments du Roi. The Flahauts married in 1817 and spent fifty years together, during which time they maintained houses of considerable grandeur in Paris, London, Vienna and Scotland. Amongst the highest echelons of cultivated society, the Flahauts purchased the former Htel de Massa in the mid-1830s, and this later drew immense praise when it was finally furnished in 1831. It is thought that most of their important purchases were made at that time. The greater part of the collection became concentrated at Meikleour in Perthshire at the very end of the nineteenth century. Their elder daughter Emily Jame Mercer Elphinstone de Flahaut (1819-1895) married the 4th Marquess of Lansdowne and it was through this marriage that much of the collection came into the Landsdowne family.
It is not known precisely when the Flahauts acquired these vases-the first mention of them is in the comtesse de Flahaut's List of things at Coventry House, June 1863 in the Back Drawing Room 2 very fine vases, Oriental alabaster, mounted 'or mat'- a description which echoes that of the d'Aumont sale catalogue and may reflect some tradition attached to them, especially as elsewhere she always used the anglicised word ormolu. Her daughter's undated list of Ornamental furniture at Coventry Hse records them as 2 Algerian Onyx Vases with lids, ormolu mounted verde antiquo bases and they appear in another list of circa 1867 as 2 a pair of 16in Algerian onyx vases with lids, ormolu mounted. Lady Lansdowne included them in her 1875 list of the contents of her London house, 15a Grosvenor Square, in the Drawing Room 2 Oriental alabaster vases, mounted ormolu, with C Hse denoting that they came from her parent's collection at Coventry House. They were then sent to Meikleour, the Lansdowne's Scottish estate, where they remained until their sale in 1992.