François ANGUIER (1604 – 1669), Pair of antique garden cast iron vases, North Parterre, Versailles Gardens

Important pair of cast iron garden vases.
The upper part with lattice pattern of to bottom braces, the central part decorated with a frieze of laurels, the handles in form of man heads decor ending with openwork scrolls. Based on a fluted pedestal.
Late 19th century.
Dimensions: High 2' 7'' ½ x Width 2' 5'' ½ x Depth 1' 11'' ⅝ cm.

Our monthly-column is dedicated to this pair of vases. It was built in the 19th century after an antrique model for the North Parterre of Versailles Palace. Their classic form refers to the heyday of French gardens.

"One will turns to the upper level to see the northern parterre, statues, vases, crowns, and the pyramid can be seen from Neptune, and afterwards we go back by the same door. "
- Louis XIV, Way to Show the gardens of Versailles, 25 °, six versions between 1689 and 1705.

In the above extract, Louis XIV speaks about the splendor of the North parterre and invites the visitor to contemplate the vases - among other things. The sculptor François Anguier (1604 - 1669), author of the funerary monument of the heart of Henry I of Orleans - in the Louvre Museum collection -, was in charge of the design of those vases, including this special one, with scrolls.

Louis XIV accompanies the walker in the ideal tour of these flower beds. It is also a tribute to the work of Le Nôtre, designer of these spaces. He created these gardens, gave them elements or surprises and harmony.

The gardens are an essential part of a Royal residence. The king has the right to hunt, it is an aristocratic privilege and Versailles was at first a hunting lodge. But Versailles Gardens are specials. Louis XIV wanted the most majestic Palace in Europe, to enhance the prestige of the absolute monarchy.

At that time, the Italian Villas had the most sumptuous Gardens, inspired by the art of grotesque and antiquity. Louis XIV was passionate about this form of art and wanted to invent a French Baroque style, reflecting the wealth of its Kingdom, where vegetation and water would be controlled in order to surpass the Italian palaces.
All details were carefully choosen. For the severals works of art and decoration in these hudge spaces, the King and Colbert wanted all the greatest artists of their time.

These scrolled vases were casted in bronze to adorn the North entrance staircase. This curves belong to the baroque style, but its rigorous construction and proportions belong to the Grand Siècle cannons ("Great Century" in French is the name given to the 17th century). They were made in bronze with brown patina and were used as caches-pots (flower-pot holder). The flowers and plants were constantly changed and it was easier to move small pots instead of important bronze vases. Those pieces of art were beautifully hiding the practical, yet unsightly plant pots. Thanks to this technic, the gardens of versailles were frequently renewed.

In the 19th century, a cast iron production was inspired by these classical design. Foundries, such as the Val d'Osne, will edit decorative elements inspired by antique styles. This period was called the eclecticism of Napoleon III.
The wealthy wanted to decorate their private mansions with historical styles. These classical vases conveyed the memories of the splendor of the "Jardins à la Française"(French gardens).

Illustration from the Val d'Osne Catalog : Val d'Osne Art Foundries Society, Album # 2 - Art Cast iron, 1900, Vases and cups : Pl. 400, Ill.. 170.

Sarrancolin Fantastico marble

Sarrancolin marble quarries are located in the Neste d'Aure valley in the South of France. Three quarries are still active today, exploiting the same geological vein.
The Sarrancolin marble is a multicolored breccia, quite homogeneous, composed of crystalline gray limestone in a red cement and pink details. The result is a flesh-colored tone, due the presence of many fossils. All the Sarrancolin marbles have flamed red patterns but the Sarrancolin Fantastico is more in a pink-beige tone.
It is a mixture of fragments of different colors : cream, yellow, pink, gray and green. Red and white calcite veining compose the major part of this marble's surface. It is also called Sarrancolin Opera Fantastico when it is extracted from the Ilhet quarry in the town of Sarrancolin.

If the quarries of this valley are exploited since antiquity, is thanks to the Sun King - Louis XIV - that they became famous throughout europe. They received the title "Royal Quarries" in 1692, and several blocks of Sarrancolin were ordered for the decorations of Versailles and Trianon from April 1686 to September 1689.
This marble was used to realize the fireplace adorning Queen Mary Lecszinska's Room at the Versailles Palace. Under Louis XV it was also in this marble that the impressive Hercules Salon fireplace was made. This precious marble with such peculiar colors, was used in all times for floors, wall coverings, fireplaces and furnitures.

Here are some exemples of wall covering : Fontainebleau castle, Monte Carlo Casino, the bases of the Invalides tombs of Turenne and Vauban.
You can also gaze at the beautiful Sarrancolin Framboise (raspberry) marble fireplace in on of the Louvre Museum period room : the Grand Salon of the Abondant castle.

Turquin Blue marble


"My eyes, accustomed to beds (...) with golden bronzes and turquin blue marbles, watched with a kind of terror the great carved sideboards"
- Victor Hugo, Alps and Pyrenees, 1885, p.110

Turquin Blue is an italian marble, also called bardiglio (bardiole) which has the specificity of changing color when it is heated. This beautiful blue-gray marble with white and black stripes exist in differents varieties : dark and clear. The second one was especially appreciated during the reign of Louis XVI and during the First Empire. His sober tone matches very well with neoclassical style furniture. In the creation of mantels, it is often ornamented with gilt bronzes. Such as the fireplace in the Petit Trianon at Versailles, in the dining room.

Most interesting Turquin blue marbles are quarried from Seravezza, near Carrara. It is also mined in France in Allier, Ariege, Languedoc, the Pyrenees and Haute Garonne. Particularly appreciated for furniture (consoles top, chests ...) it is also used in architecture such as balustrades (railing of Church St. Sulpice Choir in Paris) or altars (Amiens Cathedral and Sees Cathedral for example).

Black Belgium marbles

The name Belgium Black marble refers to several black marbles from Belgium quarries. Belgium black marbles, contrary to French ones, are free of veins and motifs. Their very fine crystallisation gives them a shine that is incomparable.

They were often used for mantels and clocks in the 19th century. Among the Belgium Black marbles, the Mazy Black and Dinant Black marbles are the most famous. Without geological testing it is difficult to determine precisely which quarry Belgium Black marbles come from. Dinant Black marble was predominantly used for the production of clocks, and the Mazy Black marble was mostly used for mantels.

Hercules and Omphale

Hercules is a symbol of virility and strength. Nevertheless, the legend of Hercules and Omphale shows us this hero sitting at her feet, while spinning wool and sometimes even dressed with woman clothing.
This story took place after the the Twelve Labors of Hercules. Because he killed Iphitus, the son of King Eurytos, the Oracle of Delphes sentenced him to three years of servitude. Bought as a slave by the Queen of Lydia, Omphale, he helped her to get rid of monsters like Certopes, and brigands such as Itones.
Different versions are describing a love affair between Hercules and Omphale. It is said that since she admired Hercules's exploits, she freed him in order to marry him.