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Work Pair of horn-shaped vases in the antique style from the Olympic Service

Department of Decorative Arts: 19th century

Paire de "cornets antiques" du service olympique

© 1999 RMN / Martine Beck-Coppola

Decorative Arts
19th century

Dryansky Larisa

The two "antique" horn-shaped vases were designed by Alexandre-Théodore Brongniart (1739–1813) after the form of ancient Roman rhytons. The painted and gilt decoration is of the finest quality. Imitating lapis lazuli and gilt bronze, it demonstrated that porcelain could be a match for precious stones and metals. Presented in 1814 as gifts to two of the Empress's dame du palais, these antique style vases are among the most stunning pieces created at Sèvres during the First Empire.

A form in the antique style

Each of this pair of vases has the form of a cornucopia ending with a boar's head. The model was designed by Alexandre-Théodore Brongniart (1739–1813), the father of the director of the Sèvres Manufactory. Based on antique forms, he was most likely inspired by an engraving by Piranesi (1720–1778), but also perhaps from original pieces such as one of the two cornucopia of the Borghese Collection that entered the Louvre in 1808. The decoration is also reminiscent of the antique. The upper part is graced with a molding and a bas-relief frieze of children picking fruit then sacrificing a goat. The use of a frieze can be traced directly to the antique, while the scene represented is an evocation of Greco-Roman religious offerings. Starting with the reign of Louis XVI, Antiquity became the main source of inspiration in decorative arts.

Decoration imitating precious stones and metals

The sculpturesque body of the vases, circled by a garland of flowers and fruit that wraps around the belly and falls down at the back, is decorated with lapis blue paint, creating the illusion that it is made of lapis lazuli. The frieze of children, the garland and the shallow fluting adorning the rim are gilded to imitate gilded bronze. This choice of colors, applied directly onto the biscuit, illustrates an important aspect of Alexandre Brongniart's (1770–1847) strategy as director of the Sèvres Manufactory, a position to which he was appointed in 1801. Brongniart's ambition was indeed to imitate precious stones and metals with porcelain. Some of the vases he produced have grounds made to look like tortoise shell, vermeil, or, as in the case of these horn-shaped vases, lapis lazuli.

The background history of the "antique" horn-shaped vases

There are several known pairs of 'antique' horn-shaped vases. The first, completed in 1806, was intended as a centerpiece for the Olympic Service presented by Napoleon I to Czar Alexander I after the signing of the Tilsit Treaty. It is now in the Armory Museum in Moscow. The second pair, finished in 1807 and shipped to Russia, is today part of France's National Furniture Repository. The Louvre vases are a third version of this model but conceived this time as a set of independent ornamental objects. They were produced in several steps. The biscuit was first molded by Jean-Charles Blanchard, then the decoration painted by Charles-Théodore Bouteux, and finally the lapis ground added by Godin and Huré. The pieces were delivered to the Palais des Tuileries in 1813 to be presented as gifts to two of the Empress's dames du palais, the Duchess of Rovigo and the Countess of Montalivet.


Catalogue d’exposition : « Nouvelles Acquisitions du département des Objets d’art 1985-1989 », Paris, Éditions de la Réunion des musées nationaux, 1990, pp. 251-254

Technical description

  • Manufacture de Sèvres

    Paire de "cornets antiques" du service olympique

    1807 - 1813


  • H. : 44 cm. ; L. : 43,50 cm. ; Pr. : 25 cm.

  • Acquisition 1988 , 1988

    OA 11174, OA 11175

  • Decorative Arts

    Richelieu wing
    1st floor
    Room 551

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