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Lamp, 1st-4th century with early 19th century mounts

Unknown (Roman 1st-4th century with French early 19th century mounts)

sardonyx with silver gilt and gilt bronze mounts
24 x 42.5 cm
Purchased 1977
National Gallery of Canada (no. 18782)

Carved from an exceptionally large piece of sardonyx (a type of agate), this bowl was likely intended for display. Its shape is derived from a Greek "kylix", a shallow drinking vessel with two short handles. Usually executed in metal or ceramic, the choice of a semi-precious stone signifies the wealth and taste of the elite of the Roman Empire. The decoration of grape vines lightly incised into the surface was a later addition. The grape vine is a symbol of the Eucharistic wine and suggests that the cup may have been used in the Christian liturgy. In the early 19th century, the bowl, at this point damaged and with one of its handles broken off, was again altered. The gilt mounts transformed it into an oil lamp, with the wick housed in the spout. The unknown artist drew upon the work of Percier and Fontaine, designers and architects favoured by Napoleon I. Although made to emulate ancient Roman lamps, it would have remained a luxury object rather than one for actual use.

Provenance 

– 1870/04/13
Anatole N. Demidoff (1812–1870), 1st Prince of San Donato, Paris, France/Florence, Italy (?) [1]

by 1915/08/23 –
J. Pierpont Morgan (1837–1913) [2]

–1977/03
Workart Est., Vaduz, Liechtenstein [3]

1977/03 –
National Gallery of Canada, purchased from Workart Est. through W. Appolloni, Rome, Italy [4]

Notes 

[1] A piece with a matching description but with a base of four lions made of bronze was in the auction of the “Vente collection des San Donato.”, Paris March 22 April – April 28 1870, fourth sale (troisième vacation, April 13, 1870, no. 112? This was the estate sale of Anatole Demidoff, a famous collector and patron of the arts of Russian descent, who had acquired the Italian title of Prince of San Donato. The catalogue description reads: [“Sardonyx orientale.- Magnifique coupe ronde, l' anse prise dans la masse, de travaile antique. Cette pièce, dont la matière est admirable, a été fracturée et transformée, à l'aide d'une monture en vermeil, en une lampe de style antique. Une figurine de femme aillée agenouillée, en vermeil, repose sur l'anse et un socle, composé de quatre lions ailées en bronze, lui sert de base (diam. de la coupe, 29 cent.)”] The piece is probably identical with the NGC tazza, which presumably lost its base after 1870.

[2] The piece bears the inventory number PM1026 from J.P. Morgan's collection. This number corresponds with an object on a list dated August 23, 1915, described as a “17th century German Onyx Tazza, with silver gilt mounts”. It was among a group of artworks shipped from the Victoria & Albert Museum, London, to the Metropolitan Museum of Art, New York [letter by Cara Denison, Associate Curator at the Pierpont Morgan Library, New York, to Myron Laskin Jr., NGC Research Curator, dated Sept. 9, 1977, NGC curatorial file]. Between 1911 and 1913 Morgan brought back his vast art collection from Europe to the United States. More than 4000 objects were stored in the Metropolitan Museum and exhibited in 1914. About 3000 objects stayed with the Met, the remainder, among them the tazza, sold at auction.

[3] The National Gallery of Canada purchased the tazza through Roman art dealer W. Appoloni from Workart Est. [invoice, dated February 22, 1977, Accession records, NGC curatorial file].

[4] See note [3]. Accession log [NGC curatorial file].


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