On the ninth day of Christmas my true love sent to me...
Table centerpiece by Luigi Valadier (1726-1785), Italian, c. 1780; marble, lapis lazuli, crystal, mother of pearl and ormolu, 692 x 430mm; acc. no. 110.1995
Nine Ladies dancing
This wonderful table centrepiece, attributed to eighteenth-century Italian designer and goldsmith Luigi Valadier, incorporates fauns and nymphs dancing in a temple crafted from a mixture of precious materials. These include the rock crystal of the columns, the lapis lazuli architrave and the alabaster at the base of the dome, overlaid with mother-of-pearl scale work. The central acorn is gilt bronze. This combination suggests an important commission. Some of the marble on the base is amongst the rarest to be found in Rome, the city in which the artist lived and worked. It comes from fragments taken from S. Maria degli Angeli dei Martiri, a basilica built inside the ruins of the Roman Baths of Diocletian.
Not only was Valadier manipulating ancient materials, but the design of the work is clearly indicative of his interest in the art of ancient Rome. We can see this in the classically-inspired Corinthian capitals with acanthus leaf, as well as the harmonious proportion of the temple structure. This order and symmetry recalls much earlier Renaissance re-imaginings of ancient architecture, such as Bramante’s Tempietto in San Pietro in Montorio c 1502, as well as perhaps gesturing towards the dome of the ancient Pantheon. The merriment of the dancing mythological creatures also suggests a playful imagining of ancient stories. Valadier was creating his table centerpieces very much in the context of the Grand Tour, a tour of Europe undertaken by young aristocrats, to learn about the art of Greece and Rome, and from which they often brought numerous artistic souvenirs. Valadier produced several other classically-inspired pieces of table decoration such as the Reduction of the Temple of Mercury, c. 1778.