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Vase without handles in red porphyry

Nizza Lorenzo

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

Cardelli Lorenzo

(Roma 1733 ca. - 1794)

The vase has a moulded, round base, on which rests the spheroid body, ending in a low neck. It is closed by a lid with an inverted groove and decorated with a pointed knob. It was made in 1622 by Lorenzo Nizza, who two years earlier had sold Cardinal Scipione Borghese another vase with handles and a higher neck (inv. CXXXVIII). Both artefacts are documented by sources in the villa from 1625 onwards. The pair of vases was restored and modified in 1780 by Lorenzo Cardelli, who altered the feet and remade the lids, probably inspired by an antique model.

Object details

1622 - 1780, post
75 x 45 cm

Made for Scipione Borghese in 1622 (ASV, AB, 7933, Registro dei Mandati, 1622-23, p. 45, no. 443, in Faldi 1954, p. 60, doc. II). Inventario Fidecommissario Borghese, 1833, p.  49. Purchased by the State, 1902.


The vase is made of red porphyry, a precious material quarried by the Romans in Egypt and reserved by them, from the end of the 3rd century, for imperial use only (Marchei 1997, p. 274, cat. 116).

The round, moulded base, consisting of a foot between a torus and a flattened knot in the underside of the bowl, stands on a low plinth. The spheroid body narrows horizontally at shoulder height and ends with a low neck and beak-shaped rim. The lid, with an inverted groove, has a pommel that ends in a point.

The sculptor Lorenzo Nizza received 200 scudi from Scipione Borghese for the sale of this vase in 1622 (ASV, AB, 7933, Registro dei Mandati, 1622-23, p. 45, no. 443, in Faldi 1954, p. 60, doc. II). Although there are some obvious differences, it traces the shape of the body and base of the other vase, purchased by the same cardinal two years earlier. This is the pendant to the other, as confirmed by the descriptions in the sources that report them as both displayed in the gallery on the ground floor, continuously, since 1625 (Crulli de Marcucci 1625, p. 50v; Manilli 1650, p. 73; Martinelli 1664, p. 110; Rossini 1700, p. 100; Pinaroli 1725, III, p. 80 and Lamberti, Visconti 1796, II, p. 23).

In the Borghese accounts, another payment, dated 1780, informs us of a later reworking of the two vases by the sculptor Lorenzo Cardelli, who received 155 scudi from Marcantonio Borghese for restoring and renovating both vases in accordance with the classical taste of the time, equipping 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).

The reworking of the two artefacts was part of the villa’s refurbishment, carried out in those years by architect Antonio Asprucci, with a strongly classical style. It is therefore conceivable that Cardelli’s commission was aimed at adapting the Baroque character of the two artefacts, in order to better integrate them into the new decorative scheme. Differences in the quality of the porphyry used and the degree of polishing confirm the 18th-century intervention. Faldi suggests that Cardelli, in toning down the affected plasticism and contrasts typical of the Baroque that most likely characterised this work, drew inspiration from an ancient model from the Trajan era (Faldi 1954, p. 59). This hypothesis is supported by the fact that the artist had some knowledge of antique works, as he was also well known in Rome for his work as an antiquarian (Venturoli, in Dizionario Biografico degli Italiani, 19, 1976, pp. 769); he worked for the Borghese family on several occasions between 1780 and 1785, executing, among others, the four white marble vases with putti dedicated to the seasons together with Maximilian Laboureur (invv. CLIII, CL, CLVI, CXXXXVII).

Lorenzo Nizza, on the other hand, is not as well known. In addition to these two vases, he made the tops of a pair of tables (invv. CCLXXVIII-CCLXXIX; Faldi 1954, p. 23, cat. 25) also preserved at the Borghese, also made of red porphyry. He must have been appreciated for his skill in working with this material.

Sonja Felici