9885 MASSIVE PAIR OF CARVED ALABASTRO FIORITO VASES OF UNUSUAL FORM IN THE MANNER OF STEFANO DELLA BELLA Possibly Florence. Late Seventeenth Century. Measurements: Height: 33 1/2” (85 cm) Width: 19 3/4” (50 cm)
Of finely veined brown alabastro fiorito. Each in the form of a stylized flowerhead. The flared upper body with continuous concave modelled decoration terminating in repeating arches, which form the rim; some old repairs to rim. The bulbous undersection set with alternating gadroons. The whole raised on a massive turned socle which, in turn, rests on a plain square plinth.
La Casa de las Siete Chimeneas, Madrid.
The form of this pair of vases is closely related to the designs of Stefano della Bella (1610-1664), in particular to one drawing of his, now in the Musée du Louvre (figure 1), and a second in the Gabinetto Disegni e Stampe of the Ufizzi, Florence (figure 2). Some of della Bella’s works were published in 1646 in his Raccolta di Vasi Diversi and then reprinted at least three times. By 1772, the much worn copper plates were with Leviés in Paris. Filippo Baldinucci described them as, “molte carte di vasi di bellissime e novissime forme.” According to Nasse, “the artist was inspired by the antique, but the forms are so original that all the motifs that provided the inspiration whether they be classical, mannerist, renaissance or baroque are transformed by his artistry.”1
Born in Florence, Stefano della Bella was apprenticed as a goldsmith and became an engraver working under Orazio Vanni and the Cesare Dandini. He studied etching under Remigio Cantagallina, and then moved to Rome for three years under the patronage of Lorenzo de Medici. His print, executed for this patron, of the cavalcade of the Polish Ambassador entering Rome of 1633 was widely admired. In 1642 he went to Paris for seven years and was engaged by Cardinal Richelieu to make drawings of the siege of Arras. In 1649 he returned to Florence where he received a pension from Cosimo de Medici.
Della Bella’s designs also appear to have provided inspiration for Ennemond-Alexandre Petitot’s Suite de Vases which was published in 1764. Both artists, whose publications are 118 years apart, created highly original and startling forms, which in some cases seem to have anticipated surrealism. We also see the influence of della Bella on Jacques-Francois Saly’s Designs for Vases which was published in 1774. Such highly inventive vases rarely went beyond the drawing phase due to the expense and impracticality of fabricating their complex forms.
Alabaster is among the most beautiful ancient stones, with its distinct veining, warm color and translucent luster. According to Pliny the Elder, alabaster of the type which he described as “melleo” or honey colored was the most prized.2 He mentions that alabaster takes its name from a the castle of Alabastro near the city of Thebes in Egypt.3 The Romans started to import the stone during the 2nd century BC when it was used to make busts of gods and prominent individuals, as well as vessels to contain perfumes and ointments, as it was believed that alabaster would best preserve these. Alabaster was also used to make columns, such as the large column from the Museum of the Villa Albani that Faustino Corsi Romano refers to in his Pietre Antiche of 1843.
The form of this pair of vases also echoes shapes found in Neapolitan 17th century glass and metalware (figure 3), and resembles a flower head reminiscent of a tulip or daffodil, while the linear decoration of its carved surface is composed of a dynamic system of convex gadrooning and concave channeling, which serve to accentuate the bold, unusual form. It is rare that such a complex organic design should have been chosen for a pair of monumental vases sculpted in stone.
1. Mostra di Incisioni di Stefano della Bella: Leo S. Olschki Editore.1973.
2. Pliny, Book XXXVI, 7.
3. Pliny, Book XXXVII, 8.