A pair of garden vases, each with a square base and a tapering, twisting and scalloped foot upon a garland. The underside of each vase is decorated with sculpted grooves and curved bands. The body of each vase is decorated with putti and a garland held by lion’s heads. The protruding lids are ornamented with leaf shapes and lobes, and crowned with a round, scalloped knob.
Garden vases of this kind are purely decorative in purpose. Beneath their lids, these garden ornaments are a single solid whole, and as such have entirely lost their function as vases. These types of vases are modelled on the burial urns that the Romans used to store the ashes of their ancestors. When people began to decorate gardens with archaeological items during the Renaissance, these urns were placed among the statues as artistic objects.
Holland also saw these elegant vases come into fashion in the latter half of the seventeenth century, and demand increased for marble garden vases inspired by Roman models – likely in imitation of the French. This is also visible in paintings from this period: vases of this type became a common theme from this point on, for example in Jan Weenix’s (1640-1719) grand hunt still-lifes.
Naturally, the garden vases were not only intended to demonstrate wealth and taste, but also knowledge of the ancients and Rome. As such, garden vases ranked among the most prestigious of garden ornaments. Under the influence of Daniel Marot, the vases became even more elegant, and their use as architectural elements expanded to include not just gardens but interiors as well. Several examples of this can be found in Het Loo Palace in Apeldoorn.
Our garden vases are decorated with putti. In the artistic world, putti are small child-like figures, generally nude and wingless. The word derives from the Italian putto, meaning “young boy”, which in turn has its roots in the Latin putillus. Putti were commonly used both in allegorical scenes and for purely decorative purposes. They also often acted as playful personifications of the classical gods. In the seventeenth century, putti were referred do as kindertjes in Dutch, meaning “small children” or “young children”. Circa 1640-55 Gerbrand van den Eeckhout published a series of prints showing a variety of putti at play, eloquently titled Eenige ordonnantie van verscheyde aerdige kindertjens, which loosely translates as An Arrangement of Various Friendly Children/Putti. In the arts, children represented innocence and playfulness, among other virtues, which enabled artists to use children to express certain symbolic messages without causing offence.
This pair of garden vases depict frolicking children: some are playing musical instruments, others play with and chase each other, while yet others hold up or pluck flowers from the garland. One of the putti is carrying a mask. Although the scenes appear at first glance to depict nothing more than playful children, the mask implies subterfuge and theatre, which would mean that the seemingly innocent scenes have a deeper meaning.
The children at play here are acting out the story of Venus’ feast, a scene from antique mythology that originated with Philostratus and Ovid. In an orchard that houses Venus’s sanctum, putti pick apples from the trees and off the ground. Others shoot at the ground or at each other, play games, wrestle or kiss each other. In a variety of child-like ways, they celebrate the rituals of love: chasing after a lover, kissing and betrayal.
These two vases once had their home at Enghuizen country house, near Hummelo. In 1950, Enghuizen’s garden vases were sold to the Nijstad company in Lochem. This pair found its way into the hands of art dealer Herman Bill by way of an auction, while a number of the other vases were sold to Rijksmuseum: one pair signed and dated Jan van Logteren 1737, and one pair signed I. Cressant F anno 1714.
Enghuizen’s history traces back to the fourteenth century. In the early eighteenth century, Enghuizen’s ancient castle was replaced by a palatial manor with wings, the only remaining record of which is a sketch by Jan de Beijer from 1743. In the nineteenth century, this manor was in turn replaced by a new castle in the Italian palazzo style, featuring copious sculptures and carvings.
Castle Enghuizen, vicinity of Hummelo
Nijstad Company, Lochem 1950
Art dealer H.F. Bill, Eindenhout House, Haarlem, until 2018
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