A Rare and Monumental Pair of Sectional Swedish Porphyry Vases
A Rare and Monumental Pair of Sectional Swedish Porphyry Vases

A Rare and Monumental Pair of Sectional Swedish Porphyry Vases

c. 1830 Sweden

Offered by Adrian Alan

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A Rare and Monumental Pair of Sectional Swedish Porphyry Vases.

For thousands of years, porphyry has been renowned for its beauty and prestige. Named by the Romans after the similarity between the deep red Egyptian varieties, with the colour purple, known as purpura, it came to acquire a sacred quality linked to Imperial grandeur and regal dignity.

This fine pair of Swedish porphyry vases are truly remarkable for their size. Given the difficulty in working in the material, most production was limited to small objects and table tops. The normal size of a porphyry vase would not extend above about 18 inches or 45 cm. Vases of similar design made from porphyry mined at Älvdalen, in the Dalarna District of central Sweden, are known; including an example in the Älvdalen Porphyry Museum.

Älvdalen (Elfdal) in Sweden appears to have been the only place in Europe since Antiquity, where porphyry has been mined seriously for the production of works of art. A seam was discovered there as early as 1731, but it was following the presentation to King Gustave III, by Niles Adam Bielke, Director of the Mine in 1788, of specimens of the finished polished stone that the mine was to become exploited.

A modest lapidary workshop, under the guardianship of the Mining Council (Bergskollegium), was officially opened in 1788, with Eric Hagström (1760-1827), as its first manager. Hagström introduced new mining techniques and water driven grinding mills and began to produce small decorative objects. By 1789, the first finished pieces began to arrive in Stockholm to universal approval, with King Gustave III amongst the most important patrons. However, despite the quality of its production, the privately run Porphyry Works was beset with financial difficulties and in 1818 it was acquired by Charles XIV, the first Swedish Bernadotte King. Henceforth Porphyry began to acquire the status of a national symbol and the works were consequently reorganised with the purpose of producing magnificent luxury pieces intended as Royal or Diplomatic presents.

It is recorded in an entry in the ‘Varieties’ section of The London Literary Gazette of 6th July 1822: "Stockholm - Two most precious vases of Swedish porphyry, of extraordinary size and rare beauty, are going to England as a present from the King of Sweden to His Majesty the King of Great Britain."

The Älvdalen Works were sold by the Swedish Royal Family in 1856 and were destroyed by a devastating fire ten years later. Subsequent production was sporadic and limited to small objects.

The Romans began to quarry porphyry in the first century BC, employing it in such large quantities that by the fifth century AD their quarries were nearly exhausted. The use of Porphyry was limited by the Emperor Diocletian at this time, to the Imperial family.

During the Renaissance porphyry was particularly valued for its historical significance and its links to antiquity. In Florence, Grand Duke Cosimo I had a particular liking for this stone and sponsored its use in large-scale sculptural works. As the mines in Egypt had long since been abandoned many of the items produced during the Renaissance and subsequent centuries were carved and re-worked from antique Roman examples. Given that the ability to execute large sculptural works in this arduous material had long since been lost; such works represented a remarkable technical accomplishment.

H. Sundblom and I. Tunander (1990), Porphyre- La Pierre Royale, 1990, p. 2.
The London Literary Gazette, and Journal of Belles Lettres, Arts, Sciences, &c, Saturday July 6th 1822
Height 145.00 cm (57.09 inches)
Stock Code
Swedish Porphyry
Adrian Alan

Adrian Alan
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