Timeless Stones and Bronzes: The collection of Philip Hewat Jaboor

Turning to the world of the eighteenth-century grand tour, we find, on the bookshelf at the right in Figure 2, a handsome white marble bust of Bacchus attributed to Bartolomeo Cavaceppi (c. 1716–1799) and incorporating ancient work, such as the finely drilled hair interspersed with bunches of grapes associated with the god of wine, but possibly dating entirely from the seventeenth century. A late eighteenth-century Roman two-handled vase of porfido laterizio marble, visible at the far right in Figure 12, displays an amazing range of mingled mauves, browns, and grays. No less striking is another Roman vase, this one dating to about 1800 and made of Africano marble with its mottled blend of subtle colors (see Fig. 6). A small marble version of the so-called sarcophagus of Marcus Agrippa was acquired in the early nineteenth century for Scone Palace, seat of the earls of Mansfield near Perth, Scotland (Fig. 12, far left on the bookcase). The original “sarcophagus” was an ancient red porphyry bath that was in the piazza and then the portico of the Pantheon but was taken to San Giovanni in Laterano in 1734 to serve as the tomb of Pope Clement XII.

There are also superb bronzes in the collection. Several are supported on brackets in a small lobby off the far end of the library (Fig. 10) in a display inspired by that in Thorvaldsens Museum in Copenhagen that shows off the collection of ancient sculptures assembled by Bertel Thorvaldsen (1770–1844), some of which inspired his own work. Bronze masterpieces in Hewat-Jaboor’s collection include an archer with flayed skin standing with arm outstretched, northern Italian, 1550 to 1600, with a rich, reddish brown patina, at the top middle in Figure 10; and, below it to the right, a version of the Hellenistic Laocoön, made about 1700 before the restorations to the original in 1725. Also notable is (atop the cupboard) a bronze Prometheus, a late seventeenth-century French work attributed to François Lespingola (1644–1705), in which the reclining figure of Prometheus is having his liver plucked out by an eagle as Jupiter’s punishment for having stolen fire from the gods to give to mankind.

Hewat-Jaboor is unusual in not merely collecting hardstone objects but commissioning new work in this material. A stunning example is, of course, the floor of the library, ultimately inspired by the eighteenth-century floor in the Galleria degli Imperatori at the Villa Borghese in Rome. Hewat-Jaboor’s floor incorporates large sheets of Egyptian alabaster with beautiful figuring, mined about fifty years ago and most unusual because pieces of this size are easily friable. It is surrounded by panels of rare black porphyry, dark green and gray granito verde fiorito della sedia di San Lorenzo, granito bianco e nero, green verde antico, oblong panels of brèche violette, and oval-ended panels of imperial Egyptian and green serpentine. These surrounding panels are themselves divided by bands of golden yellow giallo antico, and narrow borders of black Belgian marble. The floor of the lobby containing the bronzes is formed with triangular- and diamond-shaped pieces of green serpentine, yellow giallo antico, and red porphyry, a pattern recalling Cosmati mosaics. Indeed, displayed in the main room is a small piece of Cosmati mosaic from the Early Christian Basilica di San Paolo fuori Le Mura in Rome. An inscription on it records that it was taken from the church after the disastrous fire of 1823 that largely destroyed it.
A fascinating demonstration of the revival of the art of hardstone carving in the twentieth century is a set of six libation bowls by Stephen Cox of 1989 in pegmatite, basalt, white diorite, green serpentine, imperial porphyry, and in a breccia from Wadi Hammamat (see Figs. 12, 13).

The room piles richness on richness, for rare marbles are mounted on all the doors and the friezes of the bookcases are set with samples of Italian breccias. The centerpiece of the room is a superb Roman pietre dure tabletop of about 1580 set on a base specially commissioned by Hewat-Jaboor and designed by the French architect and designer Pierre-Hervé Walbaum. And there is more richness to come, for on the table is a magnificent George III gilt- and patinated-bronze candelabrum of about 1770. Its three-legged stand is after a design by James “Athenian” Stuart (1713–1788) for restoring the tripod surmounting the Choragic Monument of Lysicrates in Athens. This and the bowl it supports are probably by Diedrich Nicolaus Anderson (active 1760–1767), while the early nineteenth-century candle branches are attributed to Benjamin Lewis Vulliamy (1780–1854). The furniture in the room also includes a French mahogany Empire sofa by Georges and François Honoré Georges Jacob-Desmalter, and a magnificent pair of gilded armchairs with sphinx arms of about 1800 to 1810 after a design by Lorenzo (1783–1839) and Dionisio Santi (active 1809–1830) (see Figs. 2, 12). In 1816 William Beckford bought the chairs in Paris at the sale of Joseph, Cardinal Fesch, and placed them in the grand drawing room of his house Fonthill Abbey, from where they were sold in 1823.2 Most appropriately, Beckford, who formed one of the greatest collections of pietre dure of his day in England, was the subject of William Beckford (1760–1844): An Eye for the Magnificent, a major exhibition held in 2001 and 2002 that Hewat-Jaboor conceived and brought to fruition.

1 Wolfram Koeppe and Annamaria Giusti, Art of the Royal Court: Treasures in Pietre Dure from the Palaces of Europe (Metropolitan Museum of Art, New York, and Yale University Press, New Haven, 2008), No. 145.
2 William Beckford (1760–1844): An Eye for the Magnificent, ed. Derek E. Ostergard (Yale University Press, New Haven, 2001), p. 336.

DAVID WATKIN is a professor of the history of architecture at the University of Cambridge.

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[Compiled by Bill Stern, Executive Director at the Museum of California Design, Los Angeles. Originally published in "Curator's Eye" in Modern Magazi

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