Audio Tour

View exhibition objects

Visit our Soundcloud channel, download the SoundCloud app for IOS or Android devices. Or download our free app from iTunes or Google Play to hear available audio.

When using The Frick Collection app, enter audio stop #508 in the Lower Level galleries and #507 in the Oval Room, to access the tours. 


Lower Level (Part 1 of 2) (#508)

Welcome to the exhibition Luigi Valadier: Splendor in Eighteenth-Century Rome. I am Xavier Salomon, the Peter Jay Sharp Curator at The Frick Collection. I worked on this exhibition together with the exhibition curator, Alvar González-Palacios.

We will now walk through the exhibition and I will point of some of the key objects in the exhibition so that you can focus on them as you walk through these two rooms downstairs and the Oval Room up on the first floor.

What you find in this room are two objects. To your right is a book, and in front of you, a pretty impressive sculpture. The book is one of the most important sources when it comes to Valadier's workshop and the information we have on it. This is the Registro Generale, an inventory of all the works and tools and utensils that were in the workshop by 1810 when the same workshop was managed by Valadier's son, Giuseppe. This was an object that was acquired by the Frick Art Reference Library two years ago, and it's still one of the key sources of information for everything we know about this workshop.

Now, we're looking, in fact, at three generations of the Valadier workshop. The first is André, Luigi's father, who moved from the south of France, from the area of Avignon, to Rome in the early 1720s. He established there a very successful workshop for silversmiths.

André lived near the Church of San Luigi dei Francesi. He was very much part of the French community in Rome. He married a French woman and he always lived in and around near the church of the French community.

Luigi was André's first child and he took over his father's workshop after 1759 when André died in Rome. At the beginning, he ran the workshop together with his brother, Giovanni, for a few years, so between 1759–1760 and 1762, Giovanni and Luigi ran their father's workshop together. Then in 1762, Luigi split from his brother and moved somewhere else in Rome, to the Via del Babuino, where he ran his own workshop until his death in 1785 when it was taken over by Luigi's own son, Giuseppe. Effectively, we're looking at three generations: André, who Italianizes his name to Andrea, Luigi, and Giuseppe.

This exhibition focuses pretty much on Luigi, who was really the genius in the family, and out of the three, the most important artist. While Andrea's workshop catered for many of the great aristocrats of the day, especially in Rome, some of the greatest Roman princely families–the Borgheses, Odescalchis, the Chigi–were all commissioning works from Andrea. Luigi, instead, turned the workshop into an international enterprise. Under Luigi's directorship, the workshop produced works that went as far as Spain and Sweden and Russia and even to Mexico.

The object that welcomes you in the exhibition is one of Valadier's great masterpieces, one of the extraordinary loans to this exhibition. This has been lent by the Galleria Borghese and it's shown for the first time outside of Rome. This was an extraordinary object that Valadier created in the 1770s and in many ways encapsulates the genius of this artist and his style and the way in which he responded to a number of stylistic issues.

This is, in fact, an ancient object. The marble, the stone that you see, is a particular type of alabaster that's known as alabastro fiorito, flowered alabaster, which is an ancient piece that is then reworked in the eighteenth century, re-carved to this shape and this form, and then Valadier adds the head and the base to it, turning it into this modern, sort of contemporary piece of work from the 1770s, but that relates to antiquity in its form and style and language, while bridging this passage between an ancient object and a modern contemporary object. A sort of timeless work in many ways.

Valadier plays with this idea of antiquity by gilding the leaves around the head of Bacchus to a level where they seem as if this is an archeological find rather than a modern work. He's clearly not attempting to create an archeological fake, but he's planning to bring antiquity, in a way, back to life for one of his greatest patrons, the Prince of the Borghese family.

The exhibition on this floor is divided in two sections. To the right is a room devoted to secular objects produced by the Valadier workshop, and to the left, ecclesiastical objects, objects that were made for churches in and outside of Rome. Let's turn right, first, and move into the secular room.

By walking all the way towards the table at the center of the room, we reach two objects: the table in front of you and a silver spoon on the left in a vitrine. The juxtaposition between these two objects is to show the different types of works of art that were produced by a workshop like Valadier's.

Luigi ran the workshop that was comprised of up to 80 to 100 people at different points, so a very busy workshop, which included metal workers, people that worked with glass and enamel and wood and precious stones, and a whole variety of different materials. Members of the aristocracy could go to this workshop for very basic needs. So silver could be polished there, they could order dishes and cutlery, but at the same time, they could also order incredible luxury objects of different types. Here, the spoon and the table, in a way, exemplify the range of objects that Valadier created in the 1770s and 1780s.

One of the problems with this material is that many objects created in silver and gold, especially, were melted down at different points at the end of the eighteenth century, especially in Rome. With the advent of Napoleon and the Napoleonic wars, the Pope ordered much of the silver and gold in Rome to be melted down to raise funds against Napoleon, and more of that silver and gold was then melted after Napoleon's victory. In fact, what you see here is in many ways just a tiny fraction of what Valadier's workshop produced. We know from documents and drawings and inventories that he produced thousands and thousands of objects for the great collectors of the day, but what you see in this exhibition is only a small fraction of what was made, and it represents what survived to our day.

For example, the Borghese family, in the 1770s and later, commissioned a very large silver service from Valadier, which was formed by hundreds of dishes and soup tureens and cutlery and all of the various decorations that were needed for a table setting, and all that really survives of that is a few spoons, like the one that you see here on the left, and some sauce boats, and a few other objects. But we know from inventories and from drawings how extensive this service originally was, so the spoon is really a relic of a much larger set, and you have to think that there were probably hundreds of spoons like this created for the service.

Now, while something like this would have been used for the table of the Borghese family and would have been a pretty ordinary service used almost daily, the table that you see in front of you, instead, is a much more extraordinary object, more architectural and sculptural in form. It's one of a pair of tables that were created for Prince Marcantonio Borghese in the early 1770s, and they were made for the Borghese palace in Rome for the ground floor gallery of the palace. Imagine two tables of exactly this shape with a porphyry top, and decorated with precious marbles at the bottom. You can see some giallo antico and portasanta marble and black and white of Aquitaine.

The table is decorated with these extraordinary four masks in gilt bronze representing the seasons. Facing you is summer, to the left is spring, to the right autumn, at the back is winter. The two tables, each one of them had the set of seasons.

This is a much grander and more monumental work that Valadier's workshop would have created and very much part of the decorative interior of the palace. These were also moved to Villa Borghese in the early twentieth century, together with the herm that you've seen in the previous room. And they’re now here in the room as extraordinary loans from the Galleria Borghese.

Everything else in this room is aimed to show the range of objects that Valadier would have created for aristocratic families in and outside of Rome. If you turn back towards the entrance, you can see, on the right, two silver lamps in a vitrine with a nearby drawing for them. These would have been fairly standard objects created by Luigi for different families. These were known at the time as Florentine lamps, lucerne alla fiorentina. You can see on the one on the left the coat of arms of two families, the Vinci and Morrone families from Fermo, in the Marche. Ideally, these lamps could have been acquired by families who then would have had their coat of arms carved on them as a sign of ownership.

These are fairly standard objects that would have been displayed and used in palaces and villas throughout Italy. The same is true of the two soup tureens that you see between the lamps and the table. The one further into the room, more richly decorated with lion heads and rings, has a little statuette at the top showing a little girl warming herself with a brazier at the bottom of the scene. We know that this is one of a set probably of four large tureens like this, which would have represented the seasons. Only winter survives. Of course, the other three are now missing. Again, this issue of survival is a very important one when we're looking at these objects.

The other soup tureen is much more simply designed and we know it was made for the Chigi family. There was a large service, again, in silver that was made for this other princely family, and the coat of arms is visible on the body of this specific soup tureen.

Across from the soup tureen is a very large coffeepot. This also was made for the Chigi family. You will see the same coat of arms on the body of this extraordinary object. Almost a sculpture in itself, this is a remarkable, sort of fantastic, coffeepot with the human mask and this sort of wonderful bird as the beak of the object. Again, it shows the fantasy and the type of objects that Valadier would have created for the aristocracy of Rome.

The remaining objects in this room also show objects that a patron could have commissioned from the Valadier workshop for their residences. To the right is a small bowl with a spoon, and this is what in Rome was known as a tazza da puerpera. That is basically a bowl for broth, and the tradition was that women who had just given birth would be presented with broth after childbearing, and the husbands would give these sorts of objects as a gift, the bowls in which the broth was brought, to their wives. This specific example, of course, in gilt silver, probably would have never been used, but it represents a very lavish gift from a husband to his wife to commemorate the birth of a child. We don't know who this was made for, but the two doves at the top obviously signify the marriage, the love between a husband and wife, in this case, and this must have been a remarkable present for an aristocrat at the time.

At the very end of the room is a clock. We can walk towards it and admire the lavish effect of this extraordinary object, which was created for Abbondio Rezzonico, the nephew of Pope Clement XIII, in the late 1760s. This is an object that is very French in style and it's made out of gilt bronze and shagreen, this green fabric, which is usually made out of the skin of either shark or different exotic fish. It gives this very remarkable texture to the surface of this clock.

Abbondio Rezzonico was a senator of Rome. You see his coat of arms at the bottom of the clock, surmounted by the senator's crown. At the very top of the clock is a she-wolf with the two twins, the symbol, of course, of Rome.

The clock is part of an interior decoration, of course, like the Borghese table, and Valadier's workshop would have created many of these sort of objects for a range of patrons in and outside of Rome.

On the wall are two drawings, and these drawings, instead, are fascinating because they show the different stylistic choices that Valadier could have made for the same object. They both represent what is known in French as a trembleuse, and in Italian, instead, as a digiuné, again from the French word déjeuner. These are effectively snack trays. Each tray is composed of two vessels. One in porcelain, which would have been designed for coffee or chocolate, and another one in glass, which would have been, of course, for water. Next to them, usually in between them, is a smaller bowl or recipient for biscuits. The idea of this is that this could have been brought as a tray to somebody's desk, to somebody's bed, as a breakfast tray or as a snack tray during the day.

It's called in French a trembleuse, from the word trembling because, of course, the cups are inset in metal cages so that if your hands are shaking or if you move this tray, the two cups don't fall off it.

On the left, you see one of these objects designed in a particularly flourishing Rococo, Baroque style with the wonderful detail of the metal cages holding the two cups. The one on the right, for the coffee or chocolate mug, has little berries on it to represent the coffee beans or the chocolate ones, and on the left, instead, for the glass of water, you have reeds, which of course are related to water and streams.

The one on the right, instead, has oak leaves on the branches holding the two cups, which in this case are a heraldic reference to the Chigi family, again, patrons of Valadier's. And at the bottom, you can see on the main tray a dragon, which, instead, refers to the Boncampagni family. There was a wedding between the Boncampagni and the Chigi family, so we know this was a specific object designed for those individuals.

When you look at the style of these two objects, you could think that they are very different and date from different periods in Valadier's career. The one on the left so lavishly designed, so exuberant, almost French in style. The one on the right much more classical with the foot that looks later and clearly different in style. But the signatures on these two drawings show us that they date from exactly the same time. Both drawings are signed the same way, Luigi Valadier argentiere a S’Luigi dei Francesi.

We know that Valadier became an argentiere, a silversmith, officially in 1760, and he lived at San Luigi dei Francesi near the French church until 1762, when he split from his brother and moved to Via del Babuino. We know that these two drawings are made exactly at the same time between 1760 and 1762. What they do is they show how versatile Valadier was when it came to stylistic choices for his objects.

The last two objects in this room are the silver-gilt pieces in the vitrine in front of the drawings. This is one of the important reunions in this exhibition. It is the first time that these two objects are seen together since 1919. They were made for the Cardinal Duke of York, the last Stuart Pretender to the throne of England. He was the younger brother of Bonnie Prince Charlie, the Young Pretender, and the son of the so-called Old Pretender.

The Cardinal Duke was born in Rome. His father, the Old Pretender, was living in Rome at the time, and his mother was the Polish princess Maria Clementina Sobieska. He became one of the most important cardinals in the church in Rome, the Cardinal Deacon of the College of Cardinals, and once his brother died, the last Pretender to the English throne. He actually had medals coined with his image on it as Henry IX of England.

The tray that you see on the right is called in English a caddinet, a cadenas in French, and a panettiera in Italian. This was a tray on which a napkin and bread would be placed. The little object at the back is actually a container for salt and pepper. With the cutlery, this would have been placed at a banquet where the Cardinal Duke sat. These sorts of objects, these trays, were only used, traditionally, by princes of the blood, that is, people who were part of the royal family. This couldn't be used by any other aristocrat. It was something that was specific to royal families. Of course, the Cardinal Duke commissioned this very much to point out his royal status as the last living Stuart.

The object on the left, instead, is a casket, a cantinetta, which would have been used to contain wine bottles or liquor, and would have accompanied the caddinet. These two objects were in the collection of the Duke of Hamilton and were separated in 1919 when they were sold to different collectors. The casket is now in a private collection in Italy. The caddinet is in the Royal Collection in England. It was bought in 1919 by Queen Mary and it's now, usually, on view at Holyrood Palace in Edinburgh.

The exhibition brings them together and shows how these two objects were conceived to go together with the same eagles, the same decoration with the ox skulls, the bucrania, with festoons, and with the Cardinal Duke of York's coat of arms on top of the casket and engraved in the center of the caddinet.

Looking around this room, you get a very good sense of what you could have bought from Valadier's workshop if you were a patron, a collector, in the late 1700s in Rome. The objects range from silver objects to be used in the house, like lamps and eating services, tureens, and spoons, and things like that, and coffeepots, to much grander gilt silver objects like the caddinet and the casket of the Cardinal Duke of York, up to furnishings like clocks and tables that were made for families like the Rezzonicos and the Borgheses.

Let's walk back through the entrance hall to the room on the left, which in this case includes ecclesiastical works. The idea here was that as much as Valadier was producing luxury objects for the aristocrats of the day and for their palaces and villas, he was also producing very important pieces for the church and for important figures in the ecclesiastical world of Rome and Europe.

To the right is a series of objects that are related to a specific commission, which is the commission in the 1760s for a new altar for the Borghese Chapel in Rome. We've already discussed the silver Borghese service, and you've seen the herm and the table that came from the Borghese Palace, but at the same time, Prince Borghese, Camillo, and then his son, Marcantionio IV, refurbished their family chapel in the Basilica of Santa Maria Maggiore in Rome.

To the left is a drawing that shows the original sketch for this altar, which was made by the architect Antonio Asprucci, the architect of the Borghese family. It shows measurements and it shows the architect at work on this object. Of course, the bronze parts of this altar were eventually created by Valadier.

Next to it, you see the presentation drawing. The presentation drawing shows the altar in its finished design. You can see the coat of arms of the Borghese and Colonna families on each side of that altar. Prince Camillo Borghese had married a Colonna princess. You also see how Asprucci had different ideas about how the altar could be made in colored marble. You see that half the altar on the left has one color scheme, and the other half on the right has a different scheme. This was clearly presented to Prince Borghese to choose the color scheme he wanted for his altar.

As you can see from the photograph in the nearby label, the color scheme that was chosen was actually a very different one. While the form of the altar remained the same, it was decided that it was going to be decorated with very prominent lapis lazuli decoration, very deep blue, beautiful stone that was used for it, with the gilt-bronze masks of the lions and the other decorations.

The altar is still in situ in the Borghese Chapel. What we brought here are the cartagloria, the three objects that would have been on top of this altar originally and that you see in the vitrine to the right. Before the Second Vatican Council, after World War II, when the Catholic Church and the liturgy of the Mass was drastically changed, these sort of objects were always on top of altars in any Catholic church and were usually, traditionally, just pieces of paper framed in wooden frames. They represent the text of key moments of the Mass in Latin, which would have been part of every Mass, every day, every Sunday, and that a priest should have, in theory, known by heart, but these would have served as aide-mémoires on the altar.

You have the beginning of the Gospel of St. John, which was always read at the end of each Mass. You have various prayers, the Glory and the Credo, and you also have the blessing of the bread and the wine at the center of the Mass. Of course in this case, for the Borghese altar, these objects are made out of extraordinary materials of gilt bronze, silver, and lapis lazuli to echo the color scheme of the main altar of the Borghese Chapel. These are here from the treasury of Santa Maria Maggiore. They're pretty extraordinary loans to the exhibition to represent this important commission in Valadier's life.

The wall at the end of the gallery shows instead a service, a Mass service of dishes and ewers, and various objects. Every cardinal or bishop or priest in Italy at the time, or in Europe, had one of these usually made for his own private Masses. If you were a cardinal or a bishop, you would say Mass, probably in your private chapel in your palace, and you would have a service of this kind. Of course, the more important the cardinal, the more important the materials that were used, so you can imagine that for the top cardinals and for the Pope, a service like this would probably be made out of gold, and often decorated with precious stones: diamonds and rubies and emeralds. In this case, you're looking at gilt silver. This is a service that was made for Cardinal Orsini in Rome.

These sorts of objects, also, hardly ever survived because most of the time when a cardinal died or a bishop, the rest of his family who was usually the secular branch of the family, would have these things melted down and reused. In this case, this was saved because Cardinal Orsini gave it to the Cathedral of Muro Lucano of which he was Bishop. Muro Lucano is in the south of Italy in Basilicata, and the remote location of this piece meant that it survived.

What you see are the various objects that are used during Mass, and each object follows a similar design, so you clearly understand that all of these are part of a set. What is really wonderful about it is that Valadier adds little details to show how each object should be used. If you remember the drawing for the trembleuse in the previous room had the coffee beans and the water reeds for the two cups, in this case, the same is true. The large dish at the top, which would have served as a base for the ewer, the large vessel on the right, was meant for water, and for the washing of the hands of the priest. You can see that all around the dish are reeds, again, and also, at the back of the ewer, which is held by three dolphins that support the base of this object.

The two little ampolle at the center, below the large dish, were meant for water and wine during Mass. Of course, the one on the right has the reeds for water. The one on the left has vine leaves and grapes for wine. The pyx at the center bottom, which was an object, a container for the Holy Host, is decorated with wheat and different symbols, again, of the Holy Host, just like the large chalice – which would have been used at Mass for wine, and at one point also to support the Holy Host on a dish – has vine leaves, grapes, and wheat as its decoration.

To the left of this is a drawing which represents a lost object by Valadier, which we know from documents – and, again, many of Valadier's great commissions, unfortunately, do not survive – but we know that in the 1770s, Valadier created a large monstrance to display the Holy Host for a church in Mexico. This drawing is probably the only surviving visual evidence of what that monstrance for Mexico would have looked like. It has representations of various figures on its body. At the bottom, you see on the left a representation of Charity with a baby, and on the right, a representation of Faith with an anchor, and halfway through the body of the monstrance is a little relief of a saint. All of this would have been decorated with precious stones. We know the monstrance was shown in Rome before it was sent to Mexico, and it was made of gold, gilt silver, and white topaz stones.

To the left, instead, are six monumental sculptures in silver and gilt bronze. These are remarkable loans to the exhibition. They come from the high altar of the Cathedral of Monreale in Sicily. The entire altar, as you can see on the label to the left (there is a photograph of it), was made by Valadier with silver reliefs showing events from the life of the Virgin, to whom the Cathedral of Monreale was dedicated.

Valadier created many altars like this. The Monreale one is one of the greatest commissions and one of the few surviving ones that is still remarkably intact. What you see here are all six statues that were designed to go on top of the altar. They represent six saints that were directly connected to Monreale and the cathedral. On the left is St. Louis of France whose relics were kept at Monreale in a tomb. To the right, then, is St. Castrense, a local Sicilian saint. In the middle, St. Paul with a sword and St. Peter with the keys – the two key saints of the Catholic Church. St. Benedict holding a crozier, and of course, Monreale was originally a Benedictine abbey. Finally, St. Rosalia, the only female saint in this group, who was the patron saint of Sicily at the time.

These would have been made to go at the very top of the altar, and you can now see them in an extraordinary way as closely as no one really can in Monreale, or has really beforehand.

Finally, the last object in this room is a remarkable frame showing a relief in silver of the crucifixion of St. Peter. This relief is actually based on a painting by the Bolognese painter Guido Reni, a painting which was created for the abbey of Tre Fontane in Rome and was later housed in the Vatican, at the Pinacoteca Vaticana. You see it here in three-dimensional form in silver, framed with this extraordinary frame in silver, gilt bronze, and lapis lazuli. You see, again, the similar color scheme to what we've seen before in the cartagloria from the Borghese Chapel.

This, we don't know who it was made for, but presumably, it could have been created for a private chapel, or if it was meant for a palace or the room in a palace or a villa, it would have clearly been a devotional object that people could have prayed in front of.

From the cartagloria of the altar to the statues from Monreale, the monstrance from Mexico City, or the service for Cardinal Orsini, to this relief for an unknown patron, again, you get a sense of how versatile and inventive Valadier's workshop was when it came to the production of these incredible luxury goods for chapels and churches all over the world.

Now, we step back to the entrance of the show and to the herm and we go upstairs and start again in the Oval Room on the other side of the Garden Court.

Oval Room (Part 2 of 2) (#507)

We're now in the Oval Room. After having seen the two sections downstairs, the secular and the ecclesiastical objects, this last part of the exhibition is entitled A Precious Vision of Antiquity.

Rome, in the 1770s, 1780s, was the heart of the Grand Tour. People were traveling to Italy from all over Europe, mainly to visit the great antiquities, the remnants of antiquity that were still visible in and around Rome.

Valadier worked very carefully on rethinking those antiquities and producing them in different forms, and making them available to wider audience as luxury goods. The most impressive example of this is the large object you see in the middle of the room.

These sorts of objects would have been known, in Rome at the time, as desers. In French they’re known as a surtout de table, and they are, effectively, centerpieces for a lavish banquet. We know that Valadier created a large number of them. Three of them survive. One is at the Hermitage in St. Petersburg, one is at the Louvre in Paris, and what you see reconstructed here in the middle of the room is from two different institutions in Madrid.

This was the deser made for the Bailli de Breteuil, who was the ambassador of the Knights of Malta to Rome. It was, in fact, his second deser by Valadier; the first one was the one that he then sold to Catherine the Great, and is now in Russia. This was the second one made for him, which, at his death, was sold to the King of Spain. It's now divided between the Royal Palace of Madrid and the Archeological Museum in Madrid. This is the very first time it's reconstructed in its entirety outside of Europe.

You see it here as probably no one would have seen it at a table. The idea of this object is that all the different temples, and obelisks, and structures, and arches would have been shown on it in different ways. You could set it up with flowers and candlesticks, and only show one arch and one temple, two arches or two temples, and you could play with it in whichever way you wanted. There is no set way in which this display should be shown.

This is made out of incredibly precious materials. You can see that the base is structured in gilt bronze and white marble, but within that, various precious stones are set. There is granite, there is lapis lazuli, there's onyx, there is a very beautiful green stone from Corsica, which was known at the time as plasma di smeraldo, the blood of emeralds. There are pieces of ancient glass, and micromosaic, and all of this is set in this extraordinarily beautiful and magnificent setting.

The temples and arches are often reconstructions of ancient structures. The central round temple is a replica, in small scale, of the Temple of the Sibyl at Tivoli. The two arches that you see, the one on the right is the Arch of Trajan in Ancona, the one on the left is the so-called Arch of the Argentarii, which is near the church of St. George in Velabro in Rome.

The materials are incredible. The central temple is made out of lapis lazuli columns with an enamel entablature. That arch on the left has little reliefs carved in amber and set against gold sheets. This would have been a very precious, very beautiful, object. What you see here, as well, is the object in its entirety, with many of the presentation drawings done for it, in the back.

On the walls behind it, you can see seven drawings, from the Museo Napoleonico in Rome, which show different structures of this deser, some that were made, some were not. It also helps you understand what is missing. Of course, at different points, various parts of this object went missing. For example, the central temple would have had a statue in the middle and sphinxes going all the way around the top of it, as you see in the third drawing from the left.

The temple on the left, which has lapis lazuli columns, and an entablature with porphyry and amethyst, and has beautiful garlands decorated with garnets. You can see the drawing, the second from the left, that has little vases at the top, which are now missing. The same is true of the green temple, the fourth on the left, which you can see to the right in the deser. And that, again, had little ivory sculptures at the top of it, which, unfortunately, are no longer there.

The Arch of Trajan also had an equestrian portrait of the emperor on top of it. You see that in the middle drawing to the right and that is also now missing in the arch. The set is clearly incomplete, but it's still this great and magnificent ensemble, and it's extraordinary to be able to show it here, all together, for the first time in America.

If you turn behind you see two vitrines with a drawing in the middle. The one on the right shows two marble cups held by lions, and these are the sorts of objects that would have been made possibly for something like a deser, or to decorate a centerpiece of a table. If you look inside these objects, you can see there are little medallions showing a head of Medusa. These are really remarkable, luxury objects for this sort of setting like the deser.

On the left, instead, is a drawing of a porphyry vase with lion heads and candlesticks. To its left is an object that is very close to this drawing. This also belongs to The Frick Collection and it’s a small vase in a very precious stone known as rosso appennino – it was a red marble from the central part of Italy. This is decorated with lion heads and rings made out of gilt silver. It's actually the only marble object by Valadier set in gilt silver that we know of. The acorn at the top suggests that it may have been made for the Chigi family in Rome, like the coffee pot and the soup tureen downstairs.

Diametrically opposed, at the end of the wall, is a vitrine with another clock. When you think of the Rezzonico clock downstairs, and its French style, here instead, you see a totally different model. This is an Egyptian style with Egyptian figures. This was made for an Egyptian-themed room in the Villa Borghese in Rome, which Valadier helped decorate. The room had a remarkable granite sarcophagus in the middle held by four bronze crocodiles designed by Valadier. Unfortunately, the crocodiles were melted down in France, and the sarcophagus is still at the Louvre. This clock, from a private collection, was originally also in that room. It shows that Valadier didn't respond just to Greek and Roman Antiquities, but also to Egyptian and other exotic shapes and forms.

To the right of the clock is a drawing and then an object showing three graces in bronze, holding a porphyry cup. This was made for the King of Sweden, Gustave III, and it's still in the Royal Palace in Stockholm. This brings attention to the fact that Valadier was a very skilled and very celebrated bronze caster. We know he produced life-sized replicas of antiquities in bronze.

He made some for Madame du Barry in France, for the Count d’Orsay, but also for the Duke of Northumberland in England. Some of these survive at Versailles, at the Louvre, and in Syon House outside of London.

He also worked on a smaller scale. This shows the type of objects he made for the King of Sweden. These are documented and we know that Gustave III bought them directly from the Valadier workshop. If you turn around, you can see, at the center of the room, in a vitrine, another four bronzes that were made for Gustave III.

These are all replicas of celebrated antiquities from the time. A central bust of the Empress Faustina, and then around it four celebrated ancient sculptures. The Ludovisi Ares, the Apollo Sauroctonos, the Antinous, and the so-called Ariadne, or Cleopatra. These, obviously, in real life, are life-sized sculptures, very large, which are here reduced in these small bronzes that people would have acquired and brought back abroad as mementos of their visits to Rome.

These, again, are very expensive and luxurious renditions of classical antiquity held by beautifully decorated pedestals made out of precious materials. White marble, cipollino, and Africano marble with gilt-bronze decorations. All of these five were made for Gustave III of Sweden, so we know that Valadier sold them directly to the King.

Below the bronzes is a rendition, in precious materials, of the temple of Isis in Pompeii. This was also part of a deser, so you can see it here together with a Madrid deser for the Bailli de Breteuil, and this may have been made by Luigi's son Giuseppe, together with another artist called Carlo Albacini. We have drawings of this big deser that would have probably shown a series of temples and structures from Pompeii. This, presumably the central part, is, unfortunately, the only part that survives.

On each side are two vases, which were also made for an important French patron, Madame du Barry, the mistress of King Louis XV. These are made out of white marble, porphyry, and gilt bronze, and they show ancient reliefs of followers of Bacchus and Diana, and these were made for Madame du Barry's famous, celebrated pavilion house at Louveciennes, which was, coincidentally, also the place where Fragonard intended his Progress of Love for. The great Fragonard Room here at The Frick Collection was made for the same house of Madame du Barry that would have housed these two vases.

The last objects in this room are the ones flanking the Madrid deser of the Bailli de Breteuil. These were the assembly of cameos and ancient gems belonging first to Cardinal Massimo in Rome, and then to Cardinal Carpegna, which were bought by the Pope in the 1770s, by Pope Pius VI, and that Valadier then set in these extraordinary architectural; structures.

The one on the right is designed around a large glass cameo showing Bacchus and Ariadne. It's surrounded by all these small gems and different ancient objects that Valadier sets in this extraordinary alabaster frame, with different figures and different decorations. To give you an example of his work on this, he sets two goats at its top; the one on the right is an ancient goat, the one on the left is a modern one made to match the ancient goat.

The cameo that you see on the other side of the room, instead, on the left of the Madrid deser, is still part of the same set. Two of these were made. The one in alabaster and this one in gilt bronze. This frames another large cameo showing The Triumph of Bacchus. It's surrounded by engraved gems, set in this incredible surround by Valadier, held by two lions which are very close in style and shape to the ones of the deser from Madrid.

The really beautiful detail in this object are the little ancient animals. There are fish at the bottom. There are five fish swimming in a stream, in a river, that Valadier creates by carving the alabaster. Then there's a little horse on right coming out of a cave. To the left, a dog chasing an Egyptian scarab. It's very witty and very beautiful in idea.

Valadier made this for the Vatican museums. He also created cupboards that would have held these cameos in them. Eventually, these were taken by Napoleon and they’re now at the Louvre. As you would have seen from the rooms downstairs and from this room up here, Valadier's workshop was incredible at producing objects in very expensive and sophisticated materials.

This, in many ways was also its downfall. The success of the enterprise also meant the failure of it, it implied the failure of it. When you think of it, any goldsmith or silversmith, or anyone working with precious materials at the time, had to put the materials up front. Whenever you're creating something like the deser for the Bailli de Breteuil or you're creating a big silver service, most of the time you would have had to buy the material first to make it. The patrons and collectors were traditionally very late in paying, if they paid at all.

The success of the Valadier workshop goes hand in hand with its financial ruin. Valadier, we know, was borrowing money to keep the workshop afloat. He clearly had salaries to pay, up to 100 salaries to pay every year. Unfortunately, the story of this workshop ends up tragically in 1785, with Valadier's suicide. He committed suicide by drowning in the Tiber. His son managed to continue the workshop for a few years, to keep it going, and then became an architect himself.

The great success of this workshop, unfortunately, also is linked to the tragic end of the presiding genius of it.

With this, I hope you’ve enjoyed the exhibition. It is a remarkable opportunity to see these objects reunited in America for the first time and to see many of them next to each other, probably for the first time since they left Valadier's workshop.

Thank you.

Facebook Twitter Threads