For Sale at Chrisites December 2014
THE TASTE FOR HARD STONES IN PARIS AND ST. PETERSBURG
This spectacular vase, recently rediscovered and off the market for over a century, demonstrates the enduring fashion for ormolu-mounted hardstones and marbles in Paris and Russia at the end of the 18th century. During these years, the Imperial Court and Russian elite created some of the most luxurious and richly-decorated interiors in Europe, incorporating the best Italian, Dutch and French pictures and both Russian and French decorative arts. The present vase, possibly acquired by Prince Victor Pavlovitch Kotschoubey, along with its companion in Egyptian porphyry in the Wrightsman Collection in the Metropolitan Museum, New York, are superb examples of this taste.
The fashion for ormolu-mounted hardstone objects in Russia ran parallel to the amazing achievements of the duc d’Aumont, a renowned French collector who was one of the four premiers gentilhommes in charge of the Menus Plaisirs for Louis XV. D’Aumont had a passion for rare stones and established a workshop in 1770 to cut and polish precious marbles and embellish them with gilt-bronze mounts, most of which were supplied by the celebrated bronzier Pierre Gouthière. It is fascinating to note a vase of strikingly similar form, the body carved of Egyptian porphyry and with grapevine garlands rather than oak leaves, in the Wrightsman Collection, Metropolitan Museum of Art, New York (illustrated here). This vase, complete with its column of porphyry (possibly cut from an ancient Roman column), is traditionally thought to have formed part of the duc d’Aumont’s celebrated collection of mounted hardstones (see W. Koeppe ed., Art of the Royal Court, Treasures in Pietre Dure from the Palaces of Europe, New York, 2008, pp. 280-1, cat. 102) although it does not feature in his 1782 sale catalogue. A detailed examination of the Wrightsman vase and the present example from the Kotschoubey collection has in fact established that the mounts were made in the same atelier, as they share almost identical chasing, mounting, cast and gilding.
The taste for hard stones was well established in Russia and its vast natural resources yielded an enormous variety of exotic hard stones. Lapidary workshops had been in existence since 1721 when the first Imperial workshop was established at Peterhof. Additional workshops closer to the mines and quarries followed in 1751 at Ekaterinburg, the heart of the Ural Mountains, and in Western Siberia at Kolyvan in 1786. However, the Imperial Court and the most sophisticated aristocrats also naturally turned to Paris to supply their palaces with luxury furnishings and bronzes d’ameublement, and given the fact that neither of the stones used on the Kotschoubey or Wrightsman vases are native Russian stones, it seems likely that they were produced in a Parisian atelier, but perhaps specifically for the Russian market.
The distinctive design of these vases, with their attenuated necks and large-scale ram’s masks, certainly shows similarities to works produced in the Russian workshops. A pair of related vases in red Korgon porphyry attributed to the Kolyvan workshops and with similar large-scale ram’s masks joined by swags (in this case grapevines) was supplied to the Picture Gallery at Pavlovsk in 1789, although it is not known which specific craftsman or designer created them (illustrated here; also see E. Ducamp ed., Pavlovsk The Collections, Paris, 1993, p. 205, fig. 11).
It is also interesting to note that the celebrated architect Andrei Voronikhin, a protégé of Count Stroganoff who worked extensively on the Imperial palaces, including notably Pavlovsk, provided designs for a number of pieces executed in the Ekaterinburg workshop with restrained neo-classical gilt-bronze mounts. These include a coupe in Korgon porphyry made in 1806, now in the Hermitage (illustrated A. Chenevière, Russian Furniture: The Golden Age 1780-1840, London, 1988, pp. 272-3, fig. 298), or a coupe in onyx supported by a bronze Egyptian figure executed by the sculptor Pierre Agi (1752-1828), of whom little further is known, other than his presumably French origin. Furthermore, a porcelain vase of strikingly similar shape to the Kotschoubey vase, with long slender neck and swags, produced in the Lomonosov porcelain factory of St. Petersburg, was designed by Voronikhin, presented to Empress Maria Feodorovna and is now in Pavlovsk Palace ( see G. Agarkova and N. Petrova, Lomonosov Porcelain Manufacture. St. Petersburg, p. 32).
Listed in the 1907 art collection sale catalogue of Prince Lev Mikhaïlovitch Kotschoubey (1862-1927), this monumental vase was probably originally acquired by his grandfather, Prince Victor Pavlovitch Kotschoubey (1862-1927), an eminent Russian Imperial statesman. After a successful career as diplomat and ambassador under the reign of Paul I, Prince Victor Pavlovitch Kotschoubey became Minister of the Foreign office in 1801, Minister of the Interior until 1823, and finally was appointed President du Conseil des Ministres in 1827. In 1834, Nicolas I raised him to the rank of Prince of the Empire and Imperial Chancellor, the most honorable position in the Imperial Russia.
Known for his extraordinary taste, he refurnished several Palaces that he owned in Russia, in particular the luxurious Kotschoubey Palace in Tsarskoe Selo (now called Palace of the Grand Duke Vladimir Alexandrovich). Interestingly, he was charged by the Tsar with choosing and preparing diplomatic gifts, and collaborated with Andrei Voronikhin for the realization of a pair of guéridons offered by Alexandre I to the Queen of Prussia in 1803 (sold at Christie’s, Paris, 4 May 2011).It is also interesting to note that his daughter married the son of Count Stroganoff, who was Voronikhin’s most important early patron. Given the elite circle that Prince Kotschoubey moved in, it would be natural that he would acquire this sumptuous à l’antique vase, supplied in Paris, but clearly also reflecting the prevailing taste of Russia’s Imperial court.