A superbly decorative Grand Tour collection of porphyry specimens, to include Egyptian red porphyry, Greek green porphyry, and Italian green serpentine, often called “serpentine porphyry”.
Italy, 17th – 20th century.
We love the colour and sculptural quality of these rare objects, evoking the classical sophistication of a well-travelled gentleman’s library of the Enlightenment era.
The two columnar fragments are made of Egyptian red porphyry, also called Roman Imperial porphyry (porfido rosso romano).
The term porphyry is from the Ancient Greek πορφύρα (porphyra), meaning “purple”. This ‘Imperial Porphyry’ comes from 600 million-year-old volcanic rock from Gabal Abu Dukhan quarry in the Eastern Desert of Egypt which was discovered by Romans in AD 18. It is highly prized for its rarity and noble ‘Imperial’ purple colour, a symbol of power. Pieces such as these were often made from broken ancient pieces, ‘upcycled’ in the 17th-19th centuries.
Greek green porphyry, (porfido verde antico)
‘One of the most precious kinds is the green Lacedaemonian marble, more beautiful and vivid than any other’. [Pliny] ‘Lacedaemonian’ being another name by which Sparta was called. Together with the red porphyry, the stone had been used to stunning decorative effect since the Roman times through to the Renaissance, including the Cosmati floors in various cathedrals.
Italian green serpentine, sometimes called “serpentine porphyry” (“porfido serpentino”)
Used since the antiquity for sculpture and architectural elements, this spinach-green stone is very decorative in its appearance. A 2nd century AD dog statue from Gardens of Maecenas carved from this stone is at the Capitoline Museum in Rome. The present sphere dates to the 17th/18th century and was probably part of architectural decoration.