After the death of his father in 1763, Prince Marcantonio Borghese (1730–1800) inherited a great fortune that included the finest private art collection in the Eternal City. His subsequent role as one of the most important collector-patrons of the Neoclassical period –rivaling, in his own family, Cardinal Scipione Borghese (1576–1633) in the Early Baroque era – has not received the attention that it deserves. The creator of this pair of candelabra, Luigi Valadier (1726–1785), became the principal goldsmith for Prince Marcantonio, who was close to him in age, thus extending the ties that the artisan's father, the goldsmith Andrea Valadier (d. 1757), had established to the Borghese court decades earlier.The superior design and precise, finely detailed craftsmanship of the present five-light candelabra place them among the most distinguished art objects created in the second half of the eighteenth century, an exciting period of Roman creativity influenced by the theories of Johann Joachim Winckelmann and the progressive inventions of Giovanni Battista Piranesi. Thanks to the archival research of Alvar González-Palacios, we know a great deal about the circumstances of their manufacture. They were made for the suite of public rooms in the Palazzo Borghese in Rome that the architect Antonio Asprucci was redecorating for Prince Marcantonio. They were to be displayed on two small tables – also executed in the color scheme of deep red porphyry and gilded bronze – in the Galleriola dei Cesari (so called because sixteen ancient porphyry busts of Roman emperors were on view there in niches). Porphyry has been associated since Roman times with personages "born in the purple"; it is also a difficult stone to work. González-Palacios suggests that Lorenzo Cardelli, a stone carver who collaborated with Valadier on several mantelpieces of porphyry and marble the following year, made the porphyry elements for these candelabra.Rising from each candelabrum's porphyry drum decorated with gilded bronze bucrania and swags in the classical style, the porphyry shaft curves up in the form of a baluster to become a small bowl at the top, decorated with gilded lions' heads and three whimsical Roman theatrical masks, from which sprout clusters of gilded bronze leaves and long branches that terminate in sockets for candles. Standing on the drum and encircling the baluster are three bronze female figures that appear to support the basin but in fact are purely decorative. Valadier's invoice for works he executed for the palazzo Borghese (dated September 6, 1774) identifies the figures as a Venus, an Amazon, and a Muse and says they were based on clsasical Roman statues. The Venus, shown turned toward the shaft – the better to display her beautiful posterior – was based on an ancient marble then at the Villa Farnesina in Rome and now in the Museo Archeologico Nazionale in Naples. Often reproduced, in various media, it was a popular souvenir with foreign visitors on the grand tour. The figure Valadier describes as a Muse recalls the huntress Diana in the collection of the Palazzo Verospi in Rome. The prototype of the Amazon is a marble sculpture today in the Musei Vaticani. Valadier reproduced it in 1780 as a large bronze statue (now at the Château de Malmaison, outside Paris).Valadier's idea of grouping three caryatid figures around the shaft of his candelabra may have originated with Piranesi, who engraved a celebrated ancient statue of the three Graces that was at the time on display in the Villa Borghese. Nevertheless, both the forward-looking design and the daring combination of decorative elements with such divergent roots show that Valadier was well ahead of most contemporary makers of decorative objects. He had an important influence on English artists and metalwork, as a comparison of the upper part of his candelabra with English goldsmiths' work of the 1810s to the 1840s shows. Future research may reveal whether a similar pair of candelabra entered an influential English collection during the late eighteenth or early nineteenth century, or whether an English artisan in Italy bought drawings of the candelabra home to the British Isles during those years. Parallels with the oeuvre of Benjamin Lewis Vulliamy (1780–1854) are especially striking. In 1811 his British firm made for the Prince Regent a pair of candelabra with simpler ornaments and with sculptural details after English plasters that nevertheless reflect the design of the Metropolitan's candelabra.[Wolfram Koeppe 2008] González-Palacios 1995b, p. 97 Ibid. Bulgari 1958–59, vol. 2, pp. 494, 496, 499. See Koeppe in Kisluk-Grosheide, Koeppe, and Rieder 2006, p. 168, no. 70; Lawrence 2007. On the redecoration of the suite of rooms on the ground floor of the palace, see Hibbard 1962. On the tables, see González-Palacios in González-Palacios 1996, pp. 127–28, no. 26, pl. X. González-Palacios 1995b, p. 101. Alvar González-Palacios identified this document in the Archivio Segredo Vaticano, Archivio Borghese, fol. 5298 (no. 3169). It reads, in part, "due Candelabrij di profido tutti guarniti con dell'ornati e figure di metallo dorato . . . La Venere delle belle chiappe, L'Amazone et una Musa." Note by James David Draper in the files of the Department of European Sculpture and Decorative Arts, Metropolitan Museum. Compare also the related Statue of a Wounded Amazon, an ancient Roman marble in the collection of the Metropolitan Museum (32.11.4). Fuhring 1989, vol. 1, p. 360, no. 557, fig. 27; Lawrence 2007. Valadier created a pair of candelabra that are very similar to the present examples, today at Pavlovsk Palace, near Saint Petersburg. González-Palacios suggests they may have been commissioned by Grand Duke Paul of Russia and his wife Maria Feodorovna; see González-Palacios 1995b, p. 102, n. 8; Kuchumov 1974, pl. 184. This hitherto unobserved influence demands a separate study. The following sources may cast some light on the question: Carlton House 1991, p. 178, no. 151; Christie's, Monaco, July 1, 1995, sale cat., lot 30 (a similar pair).
Prince Marcantionio Borghese , Palazzo Borghese, Rome (1774–at least 1812) ; Puiforcat family collection, Paris (20th century) ; [ Galerie J. Kugel, Paris , until 1994; sold to MMA ]