In Valadier’s time, Rome was a primary destination on the Grand Tour, a city to which foreigners flocked as pilgrims to view the Christian sites and the papal court and also to see the remarkable antiquities for which Rome was famous. Valadier was a shrewd observer with an extraordinary eye for detail and a keen sense of architecture, especially the vestiges of ancient Roman art, which greatly inspired him. Following in the footsteps of scholars like Johann Joachim Winckelmann and artists such as Giovanni Battista Piranesi, he played with forms and materials to produce innovative and imaginative works. Among his most famous works are the desers — table centerpieces with miniature ruins — that he designed for a number of European aristocrats. The most complete of these, from Madrid, is shown in this exhibition.
Luigi Valadier (1726–1785), Vase, ca. 1775–80. Rosso Appennino marble and gilt silver, h. 8 3/4 x 5 7/8 x 3 7/8 in. (22.3 x 14.8 x 9.8 cm). The Frick Collection, New York; © The Frick Collection