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Pair of Covered Vases in Turned Wood Lacquered in Imitation of Porphyry, Paris, Louis XIV period, ca. 1700. Photo courtesy Röbbig München

Turned walnut lacquered in imitation of porphyry, with ormolu mounts – H. 28 cm. Price on request.

The composition for these vases was inspired directly from a drawing by Jean II. Bérain (Paris, 1674–1726), made in the late seventeenth century and published in the early years of the following century (the work is now in the Bibliothèque Nationale in Paris and illustrated in: French Decorative Arts during the Reign of Louis XIV, 1654–1715, The Metropolitan Museum of Art, New York 1989, p. 52). Two other similar vases have been identified; one, also with an imitation porphyry glaze, was included in the Ader-Tajan sale (Paris, December 15, 1993, lot 106); the other, in black and green mottled marble, was sold in 1989 (Mes Ader-Picard-Tajan, Hôtel George V, Paris, April 15, 1989, lot 64).

The original trompe-l’oeil décor illustrates a relatively unknown domain of the French decorative arts toward the end of Louis XIV’s reign—the imitation of precious Italian marble vases combined with French art, via techniques mastered by the Parisian craftsmen of the time. Despite the exceptional impetus that Louis XIV gave to the French arts, its craftsmen only truly mastered the technique of carving marble and precious stone starting in the mid-eighteenth century. Until this time, Italian works had to be imported or other craftsmen had to find techniques to imitate these precious materials by glazing terracotta or wood objects. Yet, this art remained elitist and existing examples are exceedingly rare. This explains why imitation marble vases are rarely mentioned in the eighteenth century. A brief entry appeared in the inventory made after the death on the Duc de la Vrillière in 1725, in the large audience chamber of the Hôtel de la Vrillière, now occupied by the Banque de France: “two terracotta vases [painted] to look like porphyry” (… deux vases de terre cuite [peints] façon de porphyre …).

Yet, it appears that collectors adopted this style, and the tradition of lacquered or glazed imitation marble vases persisted throughout the entire eighteenth century. The most famous example is a vase forming a commode chair stamped “BVRB,” supplied by the marchand mercier Thomas-Joachim Hébert in 1743 for the apartments of Louis XV (now in the Musée National du Château de Versailles; illustrated in J. Whitehead, French Interior in the Eighteenth Century, 1992, p. 44).

As for the pair of vases presented here, they may also have a prestigious provenance. They seem to correspond to the description of lot 46 in the sale of Charles de Lorraine, Comte de Bar, on May 21, 1781: “Two wooden vases with a marbled brown glaze imitating porphyry, with gilt bronze mounts” (Deux vases de bois d’un vernis brun ­marbré, imitant le porphyre, garnis de bronze doré). Unfortunately, the proportions are not indicated and the gilt bronze mount is not described, which precludes a definitive

ProvenancePerpitch collection

LiteratureBurckhardt 1977, p. 56 (reproduced on a two-piece cabinet with Boulle marquetry)

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