A bench carved out of solid travertine in the shape of an Empire Lit Bateau.
A bench carved out of solid travertine in the shape of an Empire Lit Bateau.
A bench carved out of solid travertine in the shape of an Empire Lit Bateau.
A bench carved out of solid travertine in the shape of an Empire Lit Bateau.

A bench carved out of solid travertine in the shape of an Empire Lit Bateau.

c. 1860 Italy

Offered by James McWhirter Antiques Ltd

£32,500 gbp
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A bench carved out of solid travertine in the shape of an Empire Lit Bateau.

During the second half of the 18th century there was renewed interest by architects and designers in Greek and Roman models. Among the leading exponents of this revival were Charles Percier and Pierre Francois Laeonard Fontaine, who first met as architecture students in Paris. They studied the art and architecture of classical antiquity together in the French Academy in Rome during the 1780s and returned to Paris at the beginning of the Revolution. In their subsequent decorative work Percier and Fontaine virtually invented the severe but elegant Neoclassical blend of Greco-Roman and Egyptian forms and motifs that became known as the Empire style.

This travertine bench is similar in appearance to an Empire sofa or daybed such as the ones depicted in Jacques-Louis Davids Mars Disarmed by Venus (1824) and the Portrait of Madame Recamier (1800) where Madame Recamier is reclining on a particularly elegant version.

Travertine is not classified as marble, but is a type of limestone, known as Lapis Tiburtinus or Tibur stone which was the ancient name of Tivoli. It is characterised by pitted holes and troughs in its surface. The stone is found in greatest abundance where hot and cold springs have been active for tens of thousands of years. The most famous travertine location is the Bagni di Tivoli, 20 kilometres east of Rome, where travertine deposits over 90 metres thick have been quarried for over two thousand years.

Because travertine is plentiful, weighs less than marble or granite, and is relatively easy to quarry, it was the material most commonly used by the Romans. It often has a fibrous or concentric appearance and exists in white, pale brown, cream-coloured and even rusty varieties. It is made by a process of rapid precipitation of calcium carbonate, often at the mouth of a hot spring or in a limestone cave.

In Italy, there are travertine quarries in Tivoli and Guidonia Montecelio, where the most important quarries since Ancient Roman times can be found, like the old quarry used by Gian Lorenzo Bernini in Guidonia. The latter has a major historic value, because it was one of the places that Bernini selected material from to build the Colonnade of St Peters Square in Rome in 1656-1667. Bernini made sculptures from travertine, for example, Tritons Fountain and most of the magnificent Fountain of the Four Rivers in Piazza Navona. Michelangelo also chose travertine as the material for the external ribs of the dome of St Peters Basilica.

The Etruscans used it for their principal monuments: walls, gates of the city, cippi and funerary urns. The Romans mined deposits of travertine from the quarries of Lazio for building temples, aqueducts, monuments, bath complexes and amphitheatres such as the Colosseum, the largest building in the world at the time, constructed mainly of travertine. The material from the quarry of St Sebastian (Fiano) served in the construction of various basilicas in Rome. The high demand for travertine in the Renaissance continued and continues to this day; exemplified in the Palace of Justice and the University, both in Rome, and for example, the railway station in Florence.

From ancient times materials were removed from the Colosseum. Though the amphitheatre was still in use at the beginning of the 6th century, it was now oversized for the reduced population of the city, so the Romans started recycling its materials: travertine was there in abundance and it could be used as it was or calcined to make lime. Everything was recycled: the thick marble slabs that lined the walls, tuff blocks, the lead of the piping, the metal grips that kept the travertine blocks together, even the bricks. This spoliation started during the reign of Theodoric (454-526) and it was systematic: unused or damaged parts of the building were dismantled and reused.

Much later in 1439, the Colosseum travertine was used to build the tribune of St Johns Lateran. Many palaces and churches were built with stones taken from the Colosseum. It is reported (Lugli) that, in the year 1451-1452 alone, 2.522 cartloads were taken from the site to be used for buildings of the Vatican and for the walls of Rome.

The bench may have been made from travertine recovered from an old monument, as so often happened, or possibly from ancient stone blocks such as the ones strewn by the side of the picturesque Appian Way.
Very good/
A villa on the Appian Way, Rome
Height 30.00 inch (76.20 cm)
Width 64.00 inch (162.56 cm)
Depth 25.00 inch (63.50 cm)
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James McWhirter Antiques Ltd

James McWhirter Antiques Ltd
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