an important massive egyptian alabaster tazza from the curve of the crystal staircase, devonshire house

Probably Rome. Late Eighteenth Or Early Nineteenth Century.


Height: 31 1/2"(80 cm)
Width: 57" (145 cm)
Depth 48"


Of Egyptian Alabaster. Of kylix form with gadrooned underbowl from which massive upcurved handles protrude. The whole raised on tall waisted socle terminating in a cushion molded base. Old repairs and minor losses. Some minor recent repairs.

Probably acquired by the 6th Duke of Devonshire, an avid collector of alabaster.
Devonshire House, Removed by 1925
Acquired by Messrs Holland, Hannen and Cubitts Ltd. of 258 Grays Inn Road London WC1
Thought to have been acquired by William Randolph Hearst.
Jules Stein, Misty Mountain, Beverly Hills, California

Bradbury, Oliver. The Lost Mansions of Mayfair. Historical Publications, 2008, p162
Sykes, Christopher Simon. Private Palaces, Life in the Great London Houses. Chatto & Windus, 1985, p270.

This massive tazza once formed part of the collection at Devonshire House, Piccadilly. Together with only two other related alabaster tazzas, these vessels represent what are probably the largest known examples of sculptures in Egyptian alabaster made during the neoclassical period. The related tazzas have equally exalted provenances: one was a gift of Pope Pius IX to King Ferdinand II (figure 1), the other stood in the Entrance Hall at the Duke of Westminster’s Eaton Hall (figure 2). Given the similarity of scale and material, as well as the presence of integral alabaster stands, it seems likely that all three were the product of a single Roman workshop.

Egyptian alabaster was “one of the most desired stone types […] from Predynastic until Graeco-Roman times.”1 The best known quarries were located east of the Nile in Middle Egypt, at Wadi el-Garawi and Hatnub, which means “mansion of gold.” They were mined sporadically by the Egyptians from as early as the 26th century BC over a period of 3,000 years and on into the Roman period, which began when Egypt became part of the Roman Empire under Julius Caesar after the Battle of Actium circa 31 BC.

Called alabastrites by the ancient Greeks and Romans, the “alabaster” of ancient civilizations actually describes calcium carbonate (sometimes referred to as calcite-alabaster, travertine, or limestone onyx), rather than gypsum, the material accepted as alabaster today. Its layers are formed by deposits in limestone caverns or calcareous springs that create an attractive banded appearance in the stone. The material was largely used by the ancient Egyptians for pavements and wall-linings, as well as for smaller items such as canopic jars, statues, and ritual objects. It was among the most beautiful ancient stones, with its distinct veining, warm color and translucent luster. It later became one of the Romans’ treasured stones, and was used to create “all kind of vases, bowls, sarcophagi, altars, temple pavements and even colossal statues.”2 According to Pliny the Elder, alabaster of the type which he described as “melleo” or honey colored was the most prized.3

Full research available on request.

Full research report available on request.