A pair of early 19th century bronze reductions of the Borghese and Medici vases, each rendered in crisp detail with the figures and foliate ornament finely chased and in high relief. France, ca 1820. H: 14.2 in (36.0 cm) © 2012 MALLETT ANTIQUES

This pair of vases is modelled after two of the most famous classical Athenian vases from the second half of the 1st century AD: namely the Borghese Vase and the Medici Vase. In 1807 Napoleon Bonaparte purchased the Borghese Vase from the Borghese family and by 1811 it was on display in the Musée Napoléon, now the Louvre. The so-called Medici Vase appeared in the inventory of the Medici collection in the mid 1500's. It was much celebrated in the second half of the 17th Century, featuring in many prints, including one of the earliest and finest prints by Stefano della Bella, dated 1656, depicting the young Medici heir who was to become Grand Duke Cosimo III, sitting drawing the vase. The Medici vase is now in the Uffizi Gallery.

From their rediscovery in the mid 17th century, these classical vases were the most admired of antique marble vases and sometimes ascribed to Phidias (5th century BC), the legendary Greek sculptor. The two vases were often compared and copies of them were arranged as companions. Ironically they are not a pair. The Borghese vase is 1.7m tall and the Medici is 1.52m. The Borghese vase does not bear any handles, has a gadrooned lower half and a cabled motif to the base of the stem and finally an octagonal plinth. The Medici vase by contrast does have handles, acanthus leaf carving to the base and stands on a square plinth. However the subject matter could be seen as an interesting juxtaposition: the Borghese vase depicting frenzied, carousing bacchanalian figures escorting an inebriated Silenus, possibly representing the servants of King Midas capturing the prophet for their king. The Medici vase, by contrast, is believed to show the more sombre martial figures of Ulysses, Agamemnon and Iphigenia. 

Individually or in pairs these two vases inspired the artists catering for the grand tourists. Versions of the vases can be seen in differing scales and media and are often illustrated in paintings and watercolours from the 18th and 19th centuries. http://www.mallettantiques.com/ 

Literature'Taste and the Antique', Francis Haskell & Nicholas Penny, publ. Yale University, 1981