Pair of Vases

large sea-green porcelain vase, decorated with gilt-bronze snakes and harpies

Pair of Vases, 1782
Gilt bronze by Pierre Gouthière (1732–1813)
After a design by François-Joseph Bélanger (1744–1818)
Chinese Celadon porcelain, eighteenth century
Hard-paste porcelain, porphyry, and gilt bronze
Musée du Louvre; transfer from the Mobilier National, 1870

At the time of the Duke of Aumont’s death, Gouthière had nine items in his workshop including this pair of vases (originally Chinese garden seats) that had not yet been delivered to his greatest client and patron. However, he managed to complete the mounts before the sale of the duke’s collections, when the two vases were acquired by Louis XVI for an astonishingly high sum (7,501 livres).

Gouthière created the mounts after a design by François-Joseph Bélanger, whose composition of arabesques, rinceaux, snakes, and harpies was at the height of fashion in the 1780s. Gouthière’s interpretation of the architect’s complex design demonstrates his mastery of the medium of gilt bronze. For example, to imitate a snake more faithfully, the skin on top of the snakes is chased to create small scales, while the undersides are chased with larger ones. Gouthière’s naturalism is just as remarkable on the harpies, whose numerous feathers are pared back (dégraissés) to give them lightness, then chased to make them look as lifelike as possible. Gouthière demonstrates his virtuosic mastery by creating these complex mounts while avoiding any piercing of the porcelain.

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