Wednesday, December 5, 2012

The Home Beautiful: The Marel Vase and Cover, 1839

Vase and Cover
Marrel Freres, 1839
The Victoria & Albert Museum

With cast plaques depicting the four seasons inset into its foot, this silver, Renaissance-style footed-vase and cover is decorated in the Mannerist style which had been popular at the Fontainebleau around 1530. Furthermore, it’s clearly imitating the work of Bernard Palissy. However, having been made in 1839, it invariably is adorned with the hallmarks of that period—naturalistic clusters of grapes, frogs, lizards and other such stuff. It’s a unique blend of Sixteenth-Century Mannerism and Nineteenth-Century Naturalism.

The vase was exhibited at the Expostion des Produits de l'industrie in Paris in 1839, and then, at the Great Exhibition of 1851 where it was purchased for £100 to be added to the collection of the new South Kensington Museum (later named the Victoria and Albert Museum). The vase’s maker, the Parisian firm of Marrel Frères, was awarded a Council Medal, the highest honor.

The awards council described the piece as, “very elegant and playful in the general form, and well executed; the enameled decoration, though rather thin in character, and in parts not well distributed, is beautifully drawn.”

John Charles Robinson (1824-1913), the Curator of the Museum of Manufactures at Marlborough House Museum (part of the collection which would become the South Kensington Museum, and, then, the V&A) in 1853 said of this vase:

“Although not an inelegant object, there is a certain thinness and poverty in the ornamentation, contrasting most forcibly, for instance with the massive richness of the previous example [a sixteenth-century chalice]. As a specimen of careful and dextrous workmanship, however, this leaves nothing to be desired; it is likewise in all its parts consistently treated in the true direction of the material. On the whole a more characteristic specimen of French taste in goldsmiths' work, as displayed in 1851, could not have been selected.” In short, he liked it.

The silver vessel and its cover are decorated with arabesques in translucent blue enamel and set with cabochon garnets mounted inside the applied cartouches.

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