green porphyry vase with top, decorated with gilt-bronze ram heads on either side

Vase, ca. 1775–80
Gilt bronze by Pierre Gouthière (1732–1813)
Porphyry possibly carved by Augustin Bocciardi (1719–1797) or Pierre-Jean-Baptiste Delaplanche
After a design by François-Joseph Bélanger (1744–1818)
Green Greek porphyry and gilt bronze
Musée du Louvre, Paris; transfer from the Mobilier National, 1901

This vase, similar in shape and material to another vase in this exhibition, fetched a much lower price at the sale of the Aumont’s collection. It was sold to Louis XVI, who was prepared to spend three times more for the vase with female figures. Clearly, the cataloguers for the sale thought this vase was of inferior quality since their assessment was less laudatory. The vase is not described, like the previous lot, as one of “high quality,” and the gilt-bronze ornamentation is simply judged to be “adequate.” This judgment is, however, surprising because the rams’ heads are particularly expressive and naturalistic: it might even be possible to identify them as Pyrenean goats. Their hair is exceptionally lively — simply chased on the noses and ears, in contrast to the tight tufts elsewhere on the heads; the latter were cast in the mold and subsequently chased, gilded, and partially burnished. The extraordinary horns, alternately burnished and matte gilded to imitate nature more closely, lend an element of sophistication and luxury.

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