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Work Medici vase with pedestal
Department of Decorative Arts: 19th century
Medici vase with pedestal
© 1999 RMN / Martine Beck-Coppola
Blaise-Louis Deharme was heading workshops that produced objects of varnished sheet metal since 1791. At first he only made small-sized pieces. Soon however, with the government's encouragement, his Manufacture de Vernis sur Métaux (metal varnish manufactory), located Rue Martel in Paris, was able to create two monumental vases, one of which being the Medici vase now in the Louvre. This large vessel demonstrates the early 19th century's interest both in new types of materials and in Antiquity.
A monumental vase of sheet metal
The vogue for objects displaying technical prowess led to the creation of monumental vases in materials of all kinds. The fashion first caught on at the Manufacture de Sèvres in the later years of the Ancien Régime and then endured throughout the 19th century. This very same taste for the monumental stimulated the production of the Medici vase and of its pedestal. Blaise-Louis Deharme, having repeatedly approached the 'Ministère de l'Intérieur' (Ministry of Interior) to obtain contracts for his manufactory and thus help it out of its economic difficulties, finally received a commission for two monumental vases in 1804. His 'Manufacture de Vernis sur Métaux' made objects of varnished, gilt and painted sheet metal that were destined for use in architecture or in furniture. Jean-Antoine Chaptal (1756-1832), the Minister of Interior from 1800 to 1804, asked to see models for vases that might adorn his official reception rooms. He picked an Egyptian style vase (Louvre) and the Medici vase. This vase was later placed in the 'Salon des Princes' (Reception Room of the Princes) at the Palais des Tuileries.
The vogue for Antiquity
The form of this vase, resembling that of an antique crater, was very popular in the neoclassical period. It is based on antique vases. As for the pedestal, it also shows the antique influence in its ornementation. It was originally adorned with two grisaille pictures depicting the battles of Marengo and of Rivoli as well as with allegorical bas-reliefs painted on shields. These shields are still on the pedestal where, combined with two swords , they form a war trophy reproducing the arms of Roman soldiers. Obviously, the vase and its pedestal were first intended to glorify Napoleon Bonaparte.
Modifications at the time of the Restoration
As Napoleonic symbols were no longer in favor under the Restoration, the vase was extensively modified. It retained nevertheless an aspect derived from Antiquity. The two pictures were replaced with two grisaille bas-reliefs representing, the one bacchanalia, and the other a boar-hunting scene. The bronze ornementation was also changed, and today we can see lyres and trumpets in the place of thunder bolts, as well as rose-shaped motifs in the place of Napoleon's "N's". The vase's handles, originally adorned with laurel leaves, were exchanged for Bacchus heads enclosed with vine leaves and grape bunches, motifs emphasizing the vase's bacchic theme.
BibliographySamoyault J.-P., "Chefs-d'oeuvre en tôle vernie de l'époque consulaire et impériale", in La Revue du Louvre et des musées de France, 1977, 5-6, p. 322.
Medici vase with pedestal
'Salon des Princes', Palais des Tuileries, Paris, France
'Manufacture de Vernis sur Métaux' (metal varnish manufactory), Rue Martel, Paris
Varnished sheet metal
Pedestal: H. 1.5 m; W. 1.1 m
LP 3274, LP 3276
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