Luigi Valadier (Italian, 17261785)
Porphyry and gilt bronze; 27 x 18 15/16 in. (68.6 x 48.1 cm)
Wrightsman Fund, 1994 (1994.14.1,.2)
In 1763, Prince Marcantonio Borghese (17391800), a great collector-patron of Settecento Rome, inherited his family estate and with it the Palazzo Borghese in the Campo Marzio. Architect Antonio Asprucci (17231808) and silversmith Luigi Valadier were commissioned to redecorate the ground floor known as the Galleria of the palace. These two candelabra were designed by Valadier to accompany sixteen porphyry and marble imperial busts in the Galleriola dei Cesari (Gallery of the Caesars), the Galleria's sixth room.
Each candelabrum consists of a porphyry shaft ornamented with Neoclassical festoons suspending bucrania; the shaft rises from a high circular socle and expands into a baluster crowned by a tazza shape. Surrounding the central baluster are three graceful gilt-bronze female figures which, according to Valadier's 1774 bill in the Archivio Borghese, are copies of ancient statues. The first is copied after the Callipygian Venus now in the Museo Nazionale in Naples, the second after an Amazon in the Vatican Museum, and the third, possibly from a Diana the Huntress in the Louvre. The figures together illusionistically support the crowning tazza, decorated by lions' heads with pendant rings above three theatrical masks from which spring vinelike stalks terminating in five candle sockets.
Included in an 1812 inventory of the Palazzo Borghese, the two candelabra were not identified again until they were discovered in 1993 by scholar Alvar González-Palacios on the Paris art market and purchased by the Metropolitan Museum. Valadier's elegant design demonstrates the pervasive influence of classical antiquity in the decorative arts of the eighteenth century.