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Art in Eighteenth-Century Rome


Luigi Valadier

Rome 1726–1785 Rome

Pair of Monumental Seven Light Candelabra Depicting Antinous-Osiris

patinated and gilt bronze, grey marble
H 41 3/8 x D 17 3/4 inches
H 105 x D 45 cm



Léon Allard de Meeus (1865–1915)
his sale, Galerie Georges Petit, Paris, 6 June 1910, lot 147
Collection Comte de B…
his sale, Galerie Charpentier, Paris, 14 May 1934, reproduced lot 49

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.[1] 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.[2]

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.

Fig. 1 One of the telamons with the features of Antinous from Hadrian’s Villa. Museo Pio Clementino, Vatican City

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.[3] 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.[4] 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).[5] 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.[6]

Fig. 2 Giuseppe Valadier, Idea for a Clock, late-18th century. Pinacoteca Civica, Faenza
Fig. 3 Workshop of Luigi and Giuseppe Valadier, Clock in Colored Marble and Gilded Bronze, late-18th century. Current whereabouts unknown

The Registro generale of the entire contents of the Valadier workshop drafted in 1810 [7] lists several items akin to this model. On page 2 we find ‘an Egyptian idol for oil lamp’; on page 7 ‘an Egyptian idol in plaster’; on page 22 an ‘Egyptian figure for oil lamp for study’, with a note telling us that it was patinated and displayed in the window in October 1809, valued at 6 scudi; and on page 173 we find another Egyptian figure carved in precious rosso antico marble with silver trim.

English architect Charles Heathcote Tatham, who was in Rome in 1795 – 1796 in the service of Henry Holland, architect to the Prince of Wales, sent home a number of drawings and descriptions of work then on the market in the city, including several sketches of candelabra in the Egyptian style akin to those under discussion here. One of them shows the Hadrian’s Villa telamon on a cylindrical drum with three arms with long aquatic leaves sprouting from the headgear, while another drawing shows the same figure twice, with three arms on the headgear and lotus-leaf candle-holders. An accompanying inscription specifies that the plinth could be made in a choice of materials: rosso antico, Egyptian granite or bigio antico.[8]

The Valadier workshop also turned out Egyptian figures inspired by a different prototype from the one under discussion. The figure of an offeror with outstretched hands holding a small tablet (fig. 4) is based on a sculpture now in the Museo Gregoriano Egizio in the Vatican. In basalt and 157 cm. tall, it was purchased in 1784 and is described as ‘a half-figure of an Egyptian idol in black basalt negotiated with the late Mr. Visconti for the price of 25 scudi to be placed in the room of Egyptian items delivered to Mr. Pierantoni sculptor’. A few months later we are told of an Egyptian idol, in an ‘equally Egyptian very hard [and very dark, almost black] green stone, all renewed and with new feet with a plinth in a single piece all up to the figure’s knees with the legs made anew’. By then it cost 100 scudi. On 29 September 1784 Giovanni Pierantoni, the head restorer of the Vatican’s sculptures, guaranteed his account countersigned by Michelangelo Simonetti, architect of the Apostolic Palaces. In one way or another this restoration also involved the papal carver Francesco Antonio Franzoni (1734 – 1818).[9]

I know of two instances of patinated bronze lamps in which the model is used, with the addition of silver trim bearing the Valadier workshop’s hallmarks (figs. 5-6) and I would also mention a similar, if somewhat later, example of exquisite quality in rosso antico now in the Victoria and Albert Museum (A.4-1974).[10]

Fig. 4 Figure of an offeror in ‘black basalt’, blackish green Egyptian stone. Museo Gregoriano Egizio, Vatican City. Restored by Giovanni Pierantoni in 1784
Figs. 5-6 Valadier Workshop, Two Lamps in Patinated Bronze, various kinds of marble and parts in silver with stamps of Luigi Valadier (also used by Giuseppe Valadier), late-18th century. Current whereabouts unknown

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).[11] 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,[12] and a drawing probably by Luigi Valadier himself, now in the Museo Napoleonico in Rome, depicts the same kind of drooping arms.[13]❖

Alvar González-Palacios


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