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Vase with handles in red porphyry

Nizza Lorenzo

(active in Rome, first half of the 17th century)

Cardelli Lorenzo

(Roma 1733 ca. - 1794)

The vase rests on a round moulded base, with a spheroid body and horizontal shoulder terminating in a high neck. The handles, symmetrical, develop from the rim with an upward curvature and end on the body with a knot, resembling a ribbon. It is closed by a lid with an inverted groove, decorated with a pointed knob.

The work, which was made in 1620 by Lorenzo Nizza and together with its “pendant”, vase no. CXXV, which differs from it in the absence of handles and the height of the neck, is documented in the Villa from 1625. The pair of vases was restored and modified in 1780 by Lorenzo Cardelli, who remade the feet and lids, probably inspired by an antique model.

Object details

1620/ 1780
red porphyry
77 x 45 cm

Purchased by Cardinal Scipione Borghese, 1620; Inventario Fidecommissario Borghese, 1833, C, p.  49, no. 116. Purchased by the State, 1902.


Made of red porphyry, the vase rests on a plinth above which rises a round moulded base, consisting of a low foot between a torus and a flattened knot in the underside of the bowl. The spheroid body narrows horizontally at the horizontal shoulder and ends in a high neck with an owl’s beak rim. The handles, symmetrical, depart from the rim with an upward curvature and end on the body with ribbon-like knots. The lid, with an inverted groove, has a pommel ending in a point.

The Borghese family accounts contain payments dated 1620 to the sculptor Lorenzo Nizza, who received 250 scudi from Cardinal Scipione Borghese for the sale of this vase (ASV, AB, 7931, Registro dei Mandati, 1620-21, p. 65, no. 273, in Faldi 1954, p. 59, doc. no. I).

Other documents, dated 1780, inform us that in that year Lorenzo Cardelli was commissioned by Marcantonio Borghese to restore and renovate both vases according to the classical taste of the time. He therefore fitted them with new lids and plinth-shaped bases (ASV, AB, 5845, Registro dei Mandati, 1780, no. 163, in Faldi 1954, p. 60, doc. no. III). Antonio Asprucci’s signature on the payment order identifies the architect as the creator of this decision, aimed at attenuating the Baroque appearance of the two artefacts, in order to better integrate them into his highly classical redecoration of the villa. There are differences in the quality of the porphyry used, and the degree of polishing identify the 18th-century work. Faldi suggests that Cardelli, in toning down the affected plasticism and contrasts dear to the Baroque - which most likely characterised this work - was inspired by an ancient model from the Trajan era (Faldi 1954, p. 59).

The two vases are mentioned in sources from 1625 onwards (Crulli de Marcucci, p. 50v); in some, they have been erroneously attributed to Silvio Calci da Velletri (Martinelli 1664, p. 110; Manilli 1650, p. 73; Rossini 1700, p. 100; Pinaroli 1725, III, p. 80 and Lamberti, Visconti 1796, II, p. 23), but the location has remained the same as it is today.

The artist Lorenzo Nizza is not very well known - the tops of a pair of tables (invv. CCLXXVIII-CCLXXIX; Faldi 1954, p. 23, cat. 25) are made by him and are preserved at the Borghese as well as these two vases; these are also made of red porphyry, a precious material quarried by the Romans in Egypt (Marchei 1997, p. 274, cat. 116), and his skill at working with this material must have been highly valued.

Lorenzo Cardelli worked for the Borghese family on several occasions between 1780 and 1785, distinguishing himself for his knowledge and skill in carving different materials: antique red marble for the cup in Room 5 and white marble for the four vases dedicated to the seasons (executed with Massimiliano Laboureur), in the same gallery. In contemporary sources, he is also known for his work as an antiquarian (Venturoli, in Dizionario Biografico degli Italiani, 19, 1976, pp. 769).

Sonja Felici