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23 Feb
Thu / 2012

Warwick Vases at Rienzi

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In late January, Rienzi’s first ever exhibition, English Taste: The Art of Dining in the Eighteenth Century, closed. I find that it is still slightly jarring to walk through the Dining Room, where during the four months the exhibition was on view, I became used to the sight of dishes such as larded hare, flummeries, and samphire.

Replacing the elaborate dinner table setting is a display of Paul Storr silver pieces. Three items on the table that are particularly interesting are modeled on one of the most legendary vessels, the Warwick Vase.

The original Warwick Vase was discovered in 1771 by the Scottish painter Gavin Hamilton in a lake at the villa of Hadrian at Tivoli. Dating from 120-135 AD, the 8.5 ton, 10 foot tall vase was restored. The British Museum declined to purchase the piece and it found its way into the possession of George Grenville, the 2nd Earl of Warwick. The Earl kept the ancient artifact under wraps, making the form extremely popular and desirable among the elites in Regency England. Etchings of the vase were included in Piranesi’s Vasi of 1778, adding to the vase’s widespread fame. 

Rundell, Bridge & Rundell, a London retailer, was known for producing copies of the legendary vase from Piranesi’s drawings and was eventually allowed exclusive access to create a model cast from the original, and subsequently to make scaled-down reproductions. In 1978 the vase was sold to the Metropolitan Museum of Art, but it was declared an “object of national importance” and the export license was withheld until a public collection from the UK could be made to purchase it. The original piece is now in the Burrell Collection in Glasgow.

The two silver-gilt pieces flanking the table’s plateau are a Pair of Wine Coolers, dating to 1811, while atop the plateau is a sterling-silver Covered Vase, from 1813-14, all created by Paul Storr, an English Regency silversmith, for Rundell, Bridge, & Rundell.

Depicted on both the wine coolers and covered vase at Rienzi are Bacchus, the Roman god of wine, drunkenness and ecstasy, and Silenus, one of Bacchus’ attendants characterized as a grotesque old drunkard. Additionally, attributes of Bacchus are found in the reliefs: grapevines, bunches of grapes, ivy, a lion pelt, a club, and a staff. 

The two wine coolers have a royal provenance; the coat of arms of Frederick, Duke of York, the second son of King George III, appears on the pedestals of each of these commissioned pieces. The covered vase is one of a pair made for Sir David Ochterlony, a Major General in the British army.

Stop by Rienzi to check out the Paul Storr dining room, and walk through the collection to spot the various Warwick Vases throughout the house!

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About Casey Monahan

Casey Monahan

Casey Monahan joined Rienzi as education assistant in 2010. She received her B.A. in art history and history from the College of the Holy Cross, and her M.A. in art history from the University of Houston. At Rienzi, the Massachusetts native works with docents, tours, and other public programs. 

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