An Unusual c.1895 Serpentine & Bronze Mounted Jar & Cover

Origin: Probably Italian
Period: Late Nineteenth Century
Provenance: Unknown
Date: c.1880-1900
Base Diameter: 5.75 inches
Height: 8 inches

The octagonal serpentine jar and cover, applied with four bronze lizards to the facetted sides and a crab to the rimmed cover, surviving from the zeniths of nineteenth century Italy.

The condition of the jar is relatively good. There are two chips to the cover and two chips to the jar itself though they aren’t large. One of the lizards tails has loss to its end. The colour and feel of the piece is pleasing and it proves tactile. Overall she remains very attractive in her entirety.

The level of detail to the bronze mounts, the crab and lizards is very high and as such so is the overall quality of the piece. For instance, the scales to each lizard are very intricate and the proportions to the crab and lizards are to scale.

Although popularly called a “marble,” serpentine is essentially different from any kind of limestone, in that it is a magnesium silicate. The serpentine group are greenish, brownish, or spotted minerals commonly found in serpentinite rocks. They are used as a source of magnesium and asbestos, and as a decorative stone as we see here. The name is thought to come from the greenish color being that of a serpent, with their olive green color and smooth or scaly appearance is the basis of the name from the Latin serpentinus, meaning "serpent rock," and this theme is continued here with the lizards to each face. Many types of serpentine have been used for jewellery and hardstone carving, sometimes under the name false jade or Teton jade.

From early in the 19th century local craftsmen became expert in lathe turning this material into useful and decorative items. Following a visit by Queen Victoria and Prince Albert in 1846, when they bought some of these works of art for Osbourne House, and a stand at the Great Exhibition of 1851, this serpentine became popular with this country's aristocracy as well as architects and builders of the time. However, there was competition from Italy, (which we believe this jar is probably from).

A beautifully made jar crafted from expensive materials, and one that is incredibly tactile and wonderfully unconventional with a hint of the Byzantine about it.