Some Words on Valadier’s Egyptian Taste
The first time that Luigi Valadier turned his hand to figurines in the Egyptian style appears to have been when he made a deser for the Bailli de Breteuil in 1769, which the Bailli then sold to the Empress Catherine the Great of Russia through the good offices of Baron Grimm in 1777. When the item was dispatched, Luigi’s still very young son Giuseppe (1762 – 1839) produced an accompanying album with pictures of the piece as a whole and of its individual parts, some of which were added when the deser was sold on to the Empress (although it is impossible to establish exactly which ones they were). In any event, the ornaments include four small figures in rosso antico marble and alabaster based on prototypes then situated in the courtyard of the Palazzo dei Conservatori and moved to the Vatican in the first half of the 19th century.
In other works, however, for example the pieces under discussion here, Valadier drew his inspiration from the most celebrated Egyptian—or rather, neo-Egyptian—sculptures then in Rome. I am referring to two telamons known since the 15th century, when they stood on either side of the Bishop’s Palace in Tivoli (fig. 1). They almost certainly came from the Canopus in the Emperor Hadrian’s villa close by and were probably made in Rome in Hadrian’s own day. The face has the features of Antinous, Hadrian’s beloved who drowned in the Nile in tragic circumstances, an event which resulted in his being frequently portrayed in an Egyptian environment.
We also know that in 1779 the city of Tivoli offered the telamons to Pope Pius VI, who repaid the favor by giving Tivoli funds for its aqueduct. They were restored by the famous sculptor Gaspare Sibilla and placed in their present position on either side of the door between the Greek Cross Hall and the Round Hall in the Vatican Museum in 1782. The two figures are telamons crowned by capitals with large leaves, the ureus (serpent) on the headgear and the shenti (the short tunic) on the loins. Both telamons have one leg placed further forward than the other. They are carved out of fine Egyptian red granite from Aswan, a frequent occurrence in Rome in the imperial era when large quantities of marble were imported from Egypt and Asia Minor.
Valadier designed several different pieces based on these prototypes. The candelabra under discussion here faithfully reproduce the work from Hadrian’s Villa. The figure of Antinous in patinated bronze is embellished with gilded details in the tunic and headgear, with the addition of bracelets and items clutched in its hands. They rest on a cylindrical plinth of bardiglio marble adorned with garlands and a wreath of leaves at the base, a motif reiterated on the drum in the shape of festoons supported by gilded corollas. The composition as a whole rests on a low gilded bronze step (H. 105 cm., Ø 45 cm.).
The same model, in different proportions, was used in Luigi and Giuseppe Valadier’s workshop on more than one occasion. One of the many drawings from their workshop is an image now in the Pinacoteca Civica di Faenza, seemingly by Luigi’s son Giuseppe, which, like several of his drawings, is difficult to date because he developed his skills at such an early age—he was barely fifteen, for example, when he produced the drawings for the deser sold to Catherine the Great. The drawing in question (fig. 2) shows a clock with two telamons in this style, sketched but clear nonetheless, at its corners. Luigi Valadier made a clock very close in style to the one in the drawing for Prince Marcantonio IV Borghese, for which Giuseppe was paid in 1785, the year Luigi died. In this exemplar the two telamons face each other on either side of the clock face, resting on tall red granite cubes. Another clock, which I have discussed on several occasions but whose whereabouts today are unknown to me, repeats the same elegant pattern in which the telamons resume their function on either side of a portal (fig. 3). And finally, there is a pair of three-light candelabra entirely in gilded bronze with the same telamon equal in size to the bronzes used for the above-mentioned clocks, although here the arms directly conceal the headgear with is devoid of an upper capital.
The design of the arms crowning the two candelabra under discussion here is echoed in a number of Luigi Valadier’s works, first and foremost in a pair of candelabra made for Prince Borghese in 1774 for the gallery on the ground floor of his palazzo in the Campo Marzio in Rome and now in the Metropolitan Museum (1994.14.1,.2). The model was replicated for the Counts of the North, the pseudonym adopted by Catherine the Great’s son Paul Petrovich and his wife Maria Maria Feodorovna (née Duchess Sophie Dorothea of Württemberg) when traveling around the courts of Europe. The two candelabra were commissioned in Rome in 1782 and are now in Pavlovlsk, and a drawing probably by Luigi Valadier himself, now in the Museo Napoleonico in Rome, depicts the same kind of drooping arms.❖