Width: 15" 38.5 cm
Depth: 5½" 15 cm
The form of a Roman tripod altar, with sacrificial ram-head finials, engaged the attention of several Neo-classical architects, including James ‘Athenian’ Stuart,1 William Chambers,2 and of course Robert Adam.3 The model was generally adapted for use as large, free-standing tripod torchères, as for example in the Drawing Room at Osterley Park – although Stuart’s tripods at Shugborough are only 3 feet high.4 Stuart also designed a number of gilt-bronze tripods of similar small scale to the present carved bracket, but these were again free-standing and raised up on pedestals of varying height.5
Conversely, Adam’s designs for ‘antique’ wall brackets for the most part make no reference to the tripod form.6 The present bracket is unusual in being a near-direct translation of a free-standing tripod torchère, but reduced in scale and vertically bisected, to allow it to be mounted on the wall. Parallels are to be found in the output of Thomas Chippendale, father and son – notably in the frontispiece to Chippendale junior’s Sketches of Ornament of 1779 (Fig. 00).7 This curious confection shows a similar two-dimensional approach to three-dimensional forms, and the design of the present bracket echoes both the tripod at the centre and the flowers on a splayed dish at the top. Similar motifs appear at top and bottom of a pair of oval pier glasses supplied for Harewood House c. 1778–79 – nominally by Chippendale senior, but from the period when his son increasingly assumed artistic control of the workshop.8 The origins of this finely carved bracket remain unknown, but it was almost certainly made as one of a pair or a set, for a refined Neo-classical reception room.
1 S. Weber Soros (ed.), James Athenian Stuart, exh. Cat. (2006), pp. 458 (fig. 10-73), 598 (no. 45), a pair of tripod stands at Shugborough.
2 W. Chambers, A Treatise on the Decorative Part of Civil Architecture, 3rd edn (1791), ‘Various ornamental utensils’; see R. Middleton, in J. Harris and M. Snodin (eds), Sir William Chambers, exh. Cat. (1996), p. 75 and fig. 104. The heads in this design are hybrids, satyr-masks with ram horns, the legs ending in cloven feet.
3 The Works in Architecture of Robert and James Adam, Vol. I, No. I (1773), pl. VIII. See E. White, Pictorial Dictionary of British 18th Century Furniture Design (1990), pp. 307, 345.
4 The Osterley tripods are 57 in. (144.5 cm) high. See M. Tomlin, Catalogue of Adam Period Furniture (V&A, 1982), cat. No. F/3. Tomlin suggests a connection to a manuscript design by Adam (ibid., fig. F/3a). For the Shugborough tripods see note 1.
5 S. Weber Soros, op. cit. (note 1), figs 10-20, 11-1–3, 11-6–7. For Stuart’s wider use of the tripod form see ibid., pp. 427–32.
6 R. and J. Adam, op. cit. (note 3)., Vol. I, No. I (1773), pl. VIII, Vol. II, No. IV (1778), Pl. VIII; White, op. cit. (note 3)., p. 404. Only one of these designs is derived, more loosely, from a tripod altar.
7 Victoria and Albert Museum, E.4342-1905. See I. Hall, ‘The engravings of Thomas Chippendale, Jnr, 1779’, Furniture History, Vol. 11 (1975), pp. 56–58 and pl. 1.
8 C. Gilbert, The Life and Work of Thomas Chippendale (1978), Vol. I, colour pl. 11 and p. 197; Vol. II, fig. 286.