The Wildenstein Collection, offered at Christie's, London, 14th December 2005,
lot 356, sold for £19,200.
A superb Louis XVI Sèvres porcelain Medici vase à tête de Jupiter with a blue interlaced L mark with Empire gilt bronze mounts, the handles with bearded mask terminals, the blue lapis ground gilt all over with caillouté pattern, the spreading stem above a stepped circular foot on a square gilt base with a band of oak-leaves and acorns, the square base gilt to the edge with a band of paterae within intertwined meandering berried laurel and beaded bands between oeil-de-perdrix motifs, mounted with a foliate egg and dart rim, with acanthus leaf handles, a beaded collar to the socle, on a stiff-leaf square plinth
Paris, the porcelain date circa 1780, the mounts date circa 1825
Height 47cm, diameter 31cm.
The form of the Medici Sèvres vase appears in many variations. First used at Vincennes, it then reappeared at Sèvres in about 1780 and continued in its basic form during the nineteenth century. There are a number of examples of this vase type conserved at Sèvres that are attributed to many of the factory's finest artists including Boizot, Le Riche and Lagrenée. The present vase compares with another Vase Medicis à tête de Jupiter dating from about 1798-1802 preserved at the Musée des Arts Décoratifs, Paris (inventory number 5364). However here the bronze mounts including the rim, more elaborate handles and additional base are made of gilt bronze. The addition of bronze mounts was by no means a new concept; in fact it had been highly popular during the eighteenth century when the Parisian marchand-merciers commissioned bronziers to add additional ornaments to both Chinese and European porcelain artefacts. At other times, Sèvres produced a series of their own gilt bronze mounted wares including the magnificent and monumental Medici Vase (1785; Paris, Louvre) adorned with low reliefs depicting mythological themes modelled by Simon-Louis Boizot and realised in bronze by Pierre-Philippe Thomire (illustrated in Hans Ottomeyer and Peter Pröschel, "Vergoldete Bronzen", 1986, p. 300, pl. 4.19.1).
The celebrated firm of Sèvres, founded in 1738, was originally based at Château de Vincennes by workers from Chantilly, to rival Meissen as the finest European porcelain factory. Initially producing only soft paste porcelain, it moved to Sèvres, west of Paris, in 1756. Louis XV, a shareholder in the factory, assumed full ownership in 1760, and placed strict limits on other ceramic producers in France. When the business came under the control of the royal administration, the manufacture of luxury porcelain was primarily destined for the royal family, the court, the wealthiest aristocracy or given as diplomatic gifts. As such Sèvres employed the best artists and craftsmen, creating new shapes and designs of high quality.
The factory developed a range of superb ground colours, such as gros bleu and bleu celeste, which were combined with tooled gilt decoration and painted panels in the style of François Boucher while figures were sometimes made in biscuit porcelain and modelled by leading sculptorsincluding Falconet. Both Louis XV and Louis XVI took a personal interest in the factory and soon Sèvres became the leading porcelain factory in Europe. With the discovery of kaolin near Limoges, hard paste porcelain began to be produced and soft-paste was phased out by 1804. The years of the French Revolution proved extremely difficult for the factory but the situation began to improve slowly after the establishment of the Directoire, 1795. The recovery was largely due to Alexandre Brongniart, who was appointed director in 1800.