The Wallace Collection

The Wallace Collection, A Family Collection, A National Museum, An International Treasure House
  • Column
  • Unknown Artist / Maker
  • Florence, Italy
  • c. 1830
  • Igneous rock, bronze, malachite and gilt bronze
  • Object size: 288.4 x 48.8 x 37.7 cm
  • F523
  • Smoking Room
Further Reading
  • Although this column and its pair (F522) are reminiscent of the column of St Mark in the Piazzetta at Venice, the lions of these columns support shields bearing the flowering lily of Florence, in reference to the city of residence of Nikolai Nikitich Demidoff, count of San Donato (1773-1828), for whose villa at San Donato they were intended. The Corinthian capitals of each column also bear a malachite flowerhead including the hammer from the Demidoff coat-of-arms. Demidoff was one of the foremost art collectors of the early nineteenth century and owner of the Demidoff mining and iron-founding fortune. He lived in Russia, Paris and Tuscany and was responsible in large part for the fashion of mounting malachite in gilt bronze through his encouragement of the French workshop of Pierre-Philippe Thomire, where many of his commissions were made.
    The malachite (hydrated green carbonate of copper) for these pieces doubtless came from Demidoff mines in the central Urals. This area was almost the only source of malachite until the discovery of similar ore in South Australia in the mid-nineteenth century.
    Objects veneered in malachite became very popular from the first decade of the nineteenth century, prized not only for their vibrant colour but also for the relative scarcity of the material. Malachite was very costly and thus objects as large as this were a visible expression of extreme wealth. These columns might be said to represent in symbolic form the importance of malachite in supporting the Demidoff fortunes.
    Ludmila Budrina (2016) has argued convincingly that they are the result of a collaboration between the Roman workshop of Francesco Sibilio, a lapidary and dealer, and Thomire's Parisian bronze workshop.
    The art dealer Charles Mannheim acquired the columns in 1870 from the Demidoff sale in Paris for the 4th Marquess of Hertford. Other pieces of furniture acquired for Hertford in the San Donato sale now in the Wallace Collection were F93, F117-18, F134-5 and F263.