Sèvres Manufactory (French, 1740–present); Decorated by Jacob Meyer-Heine (French, active 1840–73)
H. 13 3/4 in. (34.9 cm)
Wrightsman Fund, 1992 (1992.23.1,.2)
Like the standing cup (2003.153), this pair of vases reflects the nineteenth century's fascination with historical styles. Furthermore, these vases illustrate the period's willingness to mix different revival styles on the same object, and to borrow a technique employed for one medium and use it on another. In this instance, the designer of the form of the vase has evoked the Gothic style, albeit in fairly subtle ways. Yet at the time of its design in 1823, its Gothic inspiration was explicitly acknowledged: the factory's records specifically describe this model as deriving from a mantel vase of twelfth-century form, and this shape was given the title "Vase Gothique Fragonard" (named after the vase's designer, Alexandre-Evariste Fragonard, active 180639).
However, the Gothic elements of the vase are found more in the painted decoration than in the form itself. High Gothic tracery frames the central scenes on each vase, and the historical figures (Copernicus, Gutenberg, Bacon, Gioia) that decorate each scene were drawn from the Gothic period of the thirteenth to fifteenth centuries. Interestingly, the style of the painting itself is in close imitation of the French Renaissance enamels produced in Limoges in the sixteenth century. These painted enamels on copper were frequently decorated in tones of gray and white (a technique known as grisaille) highlighted with gilding on a dark blue groundprecisely the style of painting employed on these vases. It clearly did not disturb the artists at Sèvres to paint a Gothic-inspired composition with an imitation Renaissance technique, and it was this freedom to borrow and adapt creatively that gives so much of nineteenth-century porcelain its very distinctive personality.