Roman Marble Piranesi-Style Vase

Roman · 1st - 2nd century A.D.




H: 67 cm (26.3 in)





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The ancient Roman marble urn, a container for the ashes, was transformed into an elegant decorative vase by an Italian restorer in the 18th century. Already in antiquity, it was composed from three, separately made parts: the foot, body, and lid, each richly ornamented. When found, the ancient body missed the foot and lid which were supplied by the restorer, who designed it according to other known types. The foot consists of a square plinth which supports a circular profiled base. The lower and upper torus, accordingly, received the braid and foliate ornaments.

An ovoid and somewhat squat body has a softly outlined shoulder, short cylindrical neck with a large, turned-up rim. Both the shoulder and the rim have the languettes in ornamentation divided by a band of scrolled waves on the neck. Correspondingly, the bottom of the body was treated with the languettes. The transition band of vertical divisions is connected to the foot. In a perfect symmetrical order, the languettes on the top and bottom are divided by two plain bands to include another decorative band in the middle of the body. It represents the braid ornament designed of heart motives with the interior scrolls; it is framed by the rows of pearls.

Two lug-kind handles are placed symmetrically at the shoulder and neck. They are shaped as human heads; the long locks of hair and beard along with the ram’s horns suggest the iconography of the syncretic god Jupiter-Ammon. The restored lid has a harmoniously designed bell-like shape, with the row of pearls encircling the edge and the foliate ornament on the top which is surmounted by the pine cone.

Known to scholars and antiquities collectors since the Italian Renaissance, the ancient Roman cinerary urns received quite special attention. They were appreciated as historical documents when they preserve the incised Latin inscriptions and names. The artists admiring their genuine shapes and ornamentation even established the specific genre of imaginative vessels all’antica, which are reflected in graphic works and monumental paintings, jewelry, ceramic and metal-ware. In the 18th century, with the expansion of archaeological excavations, especially in Rome and its environs, and the growing interest from the Grand tourists several imitations and fakes were created.

Apart from such works, many authentic ancient Roman urns, however, damaged and with missing parts, were preserved. The contemporary aesthetic of collecting ancient art demanded the fully restored works, which were completed by several workshops located in the Eternal city. One of them belonged to Giovanni Battista Piranesi (1720-1778), the famous engraver and archaeologist, who was working on the reproductions of such restored pieces as individual etchings called “Vasi, candelabri, cippi, sarcophagi, tripodi, lucerne, ed ornamenti antichi” (two magnificent volumes were assembled and published posthumously by his son Francesco in 1778).

The restored marble works influenced by Piranesi are all marked by the precise knowledge of patterns of ancient ornamentation, immaculate taste for proportions and endless invention of details; no wonder that among his buyers there were the most important British collectors, and also Catherine the Great of Russia and Swedish king, Gustav III. Although this present vase is not represented among the images of the “Vasi …”, similar shape of the restored foot and lid, and specifically the pattern of alternated plain and slotted leaves on the lid, leave little doubt that the vase could be restored in the Piranesi’s workshop.


The foot and lid are 18th century restorations; the ancient body has cracks (reinforced by plaster and connected by iron pins inside), part of the rim restored; surface of the body treated in the aim to get the uniform look (pitting and punching to imitate weathering which follows the actual damage of surface in places); the Jupiter-Ammon faces and hair recut; intermediate bands on the body are deepen by recut; a broken ornamented part of the upper torus reattached.



Art market, prior to 1928;

Ex- Henry Pelham Archibald Douglas Pelham-Clinton, 7th Duke of Newcastle, 14th Earl of Lincoln (1864–1928) collection, Clumber Park, Nottinghamshire, UK, prior to 1928;

Ex- Henry Francis Hope Pelham-Clinton-Hope, 8th Duke of Newcastle, 15th Earl of Lincoln (1866–1941) collection, Clumber Park, Nottinghamshire, the UK, inherited in 1928;

Christie’s, London, 8 June 1937, lot 154;

Ex- Heape collection, UK, 1937


Christie’s, London, 8 June, 1937, lot 154


TEFAF, New York, 2018


GIULIANO A. et al., Museo Nazionale Romano, Le sculture I, 1, Roma, 1979, pp. 236-237, no. 150 ; pp. 249-250, no. 156.

PIRANESI G.B., Vasi, candelabri, cippi, sarcophagi, tripodi, lucerne, ed ornamenti antichi, 2 vols., Rome, 1778.

VERMEULE C. C., Notes on a New Edition of Michaelis: Ancient Marbles in Great Britain, in American Journal of Archaeology 59 (2), April 1955, pp. 133.