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A magnificent large gilt-bronze-mounted Chinese black and gold porcelain pot-pourri vase and cover

About the item

A magnificent large gilt-bronze-mounted Chinese black and gold porcelain pot-pourri vase and cover\nLouis XV, circa 1755, the porcelain Qianlong (1736-1795), Of ovoid form lavishly decorated with circular panels enclosing branches of flowers and leaves within chrysanthemum-scroll borders, the rocaille cast cover with a scrolling knob cast with foliage, the interior with splashed glaze and mounted with an inner silver rim, with a pierced collar cast with berries, acanthus and flowerheads, with similarly cast handles, on a pierced scrolled base cast with acanthus and ovuloes on a stippled ground\n41cm. high, 37.5cm. wide; 1ft. 4½in., 1ft. 2¾in.


Comparative Literature:

C. Bremer-David, Decorative Arts: An illustrated Summary Catalogue of the Collections of the J. Paul Getty Museum, Malibu, 1993, p.156-157, no. 264.

Emine Foat Tugay, Three Centuries Family Chronicles of Turkey and Egypt, New York, 1963.

F.J.B. Watson, Chinese Porcelain in European Mounts, New York, 1980-81, no.21, pp. 44-45.

Gillian Wilson, Mounted Oriental Porcelain in the J.Paul Getty Museum, Los Angeles, 1999, p. 97, no. 20.

Kristel Smentk, Rococo Exotic: French Mounted Porcelains and the Allure of the East, New York, 2001.

This unusually large vase and cover with its luminous black and gold decoration and exquisite gilt-bronze mounts represents the apogee of the taste for exoticism in the 18th century combined with that for luxururious objects.  It is almost certainly a pair to the vase now in the Kunstgewerbemuseum, Berlin (Inv. no. 1901.228) reproduced here in fig. 6. The latter came from the dealer A. Wertheimer in London, who acquired it at the sale of the collection of the Admiral of the Fleet, Sir Edmund Commerell, Christie's London, 12th July 1901, lot 67. In 1855, he was a commander in the Royal Navy during the Crimean War.

The model:

This type of pot-pourri vase incorporating exotic wares from Japan and China, was invented by the Parisian marchands-merciers and met with great success in the 18th century. The day-book of Lazare-Duvaux and the inventories of these marchands-merciers refer to large numbers of these.

The globular form of this porcelain would seem to indicate that it was cut down from a bottle shaped Chinese vase with a long neck. The cover may also derive from the socle of another vase of the same noir porcelain which was quite normal practice among the marchands-merciers in the 18th century.

Pierre Verlet, gives a definition of a pot-pourri which:` est généralement un vase de porcelaine dont on a séparé le couvercle au moyen d'une ceinture percée de trous pour l'évaporation.'  This luxury object which was at the same time utilitarian (to perfume the malodorous interiors), as well as aesthetic, `forme une branche particulière des porcelaines montées. Il répond  à un besoin de l'époque et n'est pas que d'ornement'.

In the 18th century, a pot-pourri was a term which originally had culinary origins and was given to a mixture of plant and flowers scents and also extended to the vase for containing them. The concoctions were often made according to secret recipes by Parisian parfumiers, and according to Louis Courajod: `Quelques recettes, réputées merveilleuses, étaients rédigées; l'odeur de tel pot-pourri faisait école; & des formules ayant un caractère cabalistique se transmettaient dans la familles avec autant de soin que les beaux vases du Japon ou de la Chine destinés à recevoir ces parfums.'

The Chinese `wulin' or `noir' porcelain:

This rare and luxurious decoration of gilt on a black ground is a technique known as wulin or noir, and this luminous deep black glaze is also sometimes referred to as `mirror black' on this type of porcelain. On this type of porcelain, often the gilding has worn away but this is not the case with the offered vase the superb condition of which adds to its rarity. The gilding was added last and fired at a much lower temperature (about 700 degrees C) than that used for the body and the glaze. High-firing would have reactivated the glaze beneath. As a result, the gold did not adhere well to the limited surface area of the very hard glaze, and because of the low firing temperature, remained soft and wore easily.

See for example a pair of vases in this wulin or noir technique, although with earlier Kangxi porcelain, (circa 1662-1722) and Louis XVI mounts, with worn gilding is in the the J. Paul Getty Museum, Los Angeles illustrated by C. Bremer-David, op. cit., p. 157, fig. 264 (Accession no.  92.DI.19.1.-2) and G. Wilson, op. cit., p. 97, no. 20, reproduced here in fig. 7.

The sumptuous decoration on this vase is characteristic of the reign of the Qianlong Emperor of China, who reigned from 1736 to 1795. The gold decoration and the brilliance of the glaze gives a very similar effect to black and gilt Oriental lacquer pots-pourris. Porcelain vases from the Kangxi or Qianlong period with this type of decoration are extremely rare in European collections. It would appear that they were appreciated since the end of the 17th century, attested by the presence of a large vase with this decoration known to have been owned by Augustus the Strong (1670-1733), Elector of Saxony, now conserved in the Dresden Museum (Bursche, op. cit., p.157, no. 203).

Famille noir  porcelain was considered extremely rare and desirable in the early 18th century in France and the Jesuit missionary Père François-Xavier d'Entrecolles (1644-1741) described their manufacture at Jingdezhen in a letter of 1st September 1712. He stated that the black glaze, which he compared to oil, was made up of iron oxide and cobalt manganese, elements normally used in limited quantity for brown and blue glazes respectively. Vessels were repeatedly dipped and high fired in this glaze until their surface was saturated with colour and appeared black. `This process ' according to Wilson op. cit., p. 98, `yielded their intensely hard surface which when polished gained a lustrous metallic sheen, hence the name mirror black'.  Furthermore, this type of porcelain possibly inspired the Louis XVI Sèvres black-ground porcelain.  Whilst most examples of pot-pourris vases that exist are in blue Chinese porcelain or green celadon, it is exceptionally rare to find ones in this porcelain noir.

The gilt-bronze mounts:

The distinctive gilt-bronze collar mount can be found on other pot-pourri vases including:

-one sold as lot 280, in these Rooms, 18th June 1994

-one formerly owned by the Earls of Ducie, sold as lot 189, Sotheby's Monaco, 1st July 1995

-a pair sold by the comte de N., lot 219, Sotheby's Monaco, 19th December 1995, reproduced here in fig. 8. These were in blue Chinese porcelain and have identical collar mounts and a similar cover mount. They also had the crown ç poinçon on the gilt-bronze.

-a pair of gilt-bronze-mounted Chinese green celadon pots-pourris, sold as lot 43, Sotheby's, Monaco, 18th October 2006, the mounts dated circa 1755-1760.

-a vase in the Toledo Museum of Art (Inv. no. 55.244), illustrated by  F.J.B. Watson, op. cit.,no. 21, pp. 44-45.

All the aforementioned examples have slight differences in the base and handle mounts. It leads one to assume that those vases together with the offered vase must have been made by the same maître-bronzier. The mounts on this vase is in a style that one associates traditionally with the second period of the rococo. The vegetal motifs are more structured and often symmetrical and less fluid. All save for the offered vase, have crown ç poinçons and must have been made during the years 1745-49. However in view of the style of the mounts on this vase, one must date the mounts to circa 1755, later than those with the poinçon.

During this period the main supplier of this type of mounted Chinese porcelain was Lazare-Duvaux. These type of vases are recorded in his Livre Journal  (published by Courajaud) but the descriptions are too vague to identify the pieces with any precision. However, on 30th December 1750, in his Livre Journal recorded the sale of the following to Jean de Julieme: `quatre grands vases de porcelaine bleu-avoir coupé les vases et fais des pieds et gorges à moulures et godrons dorés d'or moulu...2161'.   

The Provenance:

This vase was mounted In Paris probably for the Turkish market and remained in Constantinople until the late 19th Century, however it has not been possible to trace its provenance beyond that of Ismael Pasha. It is tantalising to consider the fact that the present vase was first recorded in an Eastern collection. The 18th/early 19th century provenance still needs to be researched. No other gilt-bronze-mounted black vases are recorded in Western collections apart from the one in  the Kunstgewerbemuseum, Berlin mentioned above. This leads one to the conclusion that the present vase was specifically made for the Turkish or Oriental market as either a commission or intended as a diplomatic gift. The magical combination of black and gold must have appealed to Eastern tastes. Furthermore, there was a reciprocal admiration for objects from the East and the West. Eastern ambassadors were dazzled by the French court and its art which was seen as the epitome of taste and luxury.

Ismael Pasha (1830-1895):

He was born in Cairo in 1830 and was sent by his father in 1840 to Vienna to receive treatment from an eminent eye specialist. He then moved to Paris to attend the St. Cyr Military College and then went on to the école Supérieure de Guerre. Unfortunately his father's death interrupted his studies and he had to return to Egypt in 1848. As Said Pasha's representative he went on missions to the Sultan of Turkey and to several foreign courts including the Pope and Napoleon III and also acted as Regent whenever his uncle left Egypt. In 1863, he succeeded his uncle as Hereditary Vali, and used his power to carry out reforms in Egypt, remodelling the customs system, post office, building palaces and maintaining an opera and theatre. He presided over the celebrations for the opening of the Suez Canal and instituted an ambitious programme of modernisation. However his plans failed due to Egypt's serious financial situation and they put Egypt heavily into debt. His philosophy can be gleaned from this telling statement: `My country is no longer in Africa; we are now part of Europe. It is thererfore natural for us to abandon our former ways and to adopt a new system adapted to our social conditions'.

According to Tugay, op. cit., ` Everything that Ismail undertook was on a magnificent scale, both in his public and his private life. The lavishness of his receptions and entertainments became proverbial, and the number of palaces that he built surpassed that of any of his predecessors'.  It comes as no surprise therefore, that such a lavish vase was to be found in his collection.

He built the Abdin palace which became the official dwelling of all the subsequent rulers of Egypt. He also built the Insha Palace and the small Ismailieh Palace. The latter was later used as the residence of the Imperial Ottoman High Commissioner, Gazi Ahmed Muhtar Pasha. In the Province of Gizeh, was the Gizeh Palace. In 1866, Sultan Abd-ul-Aziz went to Egypt, the first Ottoman Sultan to visit that part of the realm since it had been conquered by his ancestor Sultan Selim I in 1517 and having been royally welcomed he granted to Ismail Pasha the princely title of Khedive and the right to be addressed as Your Highness. In 1867, Ismail visited European courts and in London he was welcomed by the Lord Mayor and Queen Victoria and in Paris he was a guest of Napoleon III. He also met Empress Eugénie and  she attended the opening of the Suez Canal in 1869 and she stayed on to visit Cairo where she stayed at the Guezireh Palace. The Khedive pulled out all the stops to impress Eugénie and what impressed the Empress most was a large silver tray  heaped with jewels and she is reported to have said ` I wish that my jewels were as beautiful as these'.

Due to several unsuccessful military campaigns and financial crises, the Khedive Ismail was deposed and his son, Prince Tevfik Pasha, was nominated Khedive by the Sultan.  The new Khedive was inaugurated on 26th June 1899 and Ismail left Cairo for Alexandria and an eyewitness account stated that `the scene was so affecting that there were few among the spectators who were able to refrain from tears'.  After his deposition Ismail intended to move to his estate at Emirgan on the Bosphorous, but for political reasons Sultan Abd-ul-Hamid II witheld his consent to this. Ismail's friend King Umberto I of Italy offered him Palazzo della Favorita near Naples. Ten years later, Ismail left Italy having received the Sultan's consent to return and sailed to Istanbul wher he returned to Emirgan.  He spent his final days suffering bouts of ill-health, finally dying at Emirgan on 2nd March 1895.

SirJohn Charles Robinson (1824-1913):

Sir John Charles Robinson-see fig. 3, was a celebrated museum curator and art collector. He was born in Nottingham and studied in the studio of Michel-Martin Drolling in Paris and whilst there he developed his knowledge of the fine and decorative arts.  In 1852, he went to work in London as a teacher training master, but was soon appointed curator of the Museum of Ornamental Art at Marlborough House. In 1857, the collection was moved to the newly established South Kensington (later the Victoria and Albert Museum) where he worked until 1867. He built up the Museum's collection of Italian Renaissance sculpture acquiring many pieces from the Gigli and Campana collections in Rome. In the 1860's he travelled to Spain and Portugal acquiring a selection of works of art from these countries which rendered the museum unique in Europe.

Robinson travelled regularly across Europe during the 1850's and 1860's to assemble for the Museum a collection of Italian Renaissance sculpture, majolica, metalwork, textiles and furniture and Robinson's particular loves were sculpture and, above all porcelain.  After his departure from the Museum in 1868, he was appointed Surveyor of the Queen's Pictures (1882-1901) and continued to advise both the Museum and private collectors

Swinton House and the 1st Baron Masham of Swinton (1815-1906):

The collections (fig. 4) at Swinton House was built up by successive generations of the Danby family, who had lived at Swinton since 1695. The 1st Lord Masham, ancestor of the present Earl of Swinton, purchased the house and the majority of its contents in 1882. He further expanded  the collection with several pieces of French furniture and objets d'art in the goût Rothschild and it must have been at around this time, that the vase entered the collection-see fig. 5. He purchased in particular from the dealer Davis of Pall Mall and was also advised by the Sir J. C. Robinson, first Curator of the South Kensington Museum, now the Victoria & Albert Museum, London (see ante).


41cm. high, 37.5cm. wide; 1ft. 4½in., 1ft. 2¾in.


J. Cornforth, 'Swinton, Yorkshire', Country Life, CXXXIX, pp. 788-792 (Part 1) and pp. 872-875 (Part 2), illustrated in situ.

S. Bursche, Staatliche Museen Preussischer Kulturbesitz, 1985, Berlin, p. 157, no.203.

F.M. Ricci, Quelques chefs-d'oeuvre de La Collection Djahanguir Riahi, Paris, 2000, pp. 141-3 (illustrated).


The Emirgan palace of Ismael Pasha (1830-95), ex-Khedive of Egypt, in Constantinople, now Istanbul,Turkey-figs. 1. & 2.

Purchased in Istanbul by Sir J.C. Robinson, first Curator of the South Kensington Museum, London (now the Victoria & Albert Museum)-fig. 3.

Probably acquired from the above by the 1st Baron Masham of Swinton (1815-1906).

Thence by descent to his grandaughter Mary, wife of the 1st Earl of Swinton, Swinton House, Masham, Yorkshire-figs. 4 & 5,  and by descent to the Trustees of the Swinton Settled Estates, sold Christie's London, 4th December 1975, lot 53

Anonymous sale, Sotheby's New York, 4th November 1989, lot 192 .

Sold lot 3, Magnificent French Furniture , formerly from the Collection of Monsieur and Madame Riahi, Christie's, New York, 2nd November 2000.

*Note: The price is not recalculated to the current value. It refers to the actual final price at the time the item was sold.

*Note: The price is not recalculated to the current value. It refers to the actual final price at the time the item was sold.