Wednesday, November 30, 2011

Decorative Urns in Drawings and Paintings

Simple curves emphasize the play of light on this English vase. Jeffrey Wyatville, Derbyshire (1820)

"Monsieur, je deteste les urnes! Elles devraient être brisées en morceaux pour pavez nos rues!"

Not exactly sure why I wrote that in French, as Johnson was a blue-blood Brit. Probably because I knew it would piss him off. Anyway, Johnson may want them smashed to pave our streets, but I happen to like urns. Especially old drawings and paintings of them.

They come in pretty handy for designing murals, too. Throw in an ornamental urn or two and you've instantly grounded your landscape and added an extra dimension of historic authenticity. That's why I tossed one into the mural above. I feel that their symmetrical curves and tight decoration offset a loosely painted landscape nicely. Reference images can be hard to come by, so I'm posting some here for you.

Mural I did for Kips Bay Show House, New York City

The urn I used in the mural, by Claude Ballin for Versailles (1665)

A little moss will help your urn 'sit' in your landscape. Charles Nizet, Chateau de Raray

Up to the challenge? Try painting this Charles le Brun vase. Versailles, (1678)

I love the shape of this tree. Urn by Claude Ballin for Versailles (1665)

All Illustrations above are from a fantastic book that I highly recommend, called Garden Vases, with incredible paintings by the talented architectural painter, Andrew Zega.

Architectural drawings of urns are scattered throughout literature. Architects on their Grand Tours of Italy and France would painstakingly measure and draw every urn they came across, along with everything else. I've collected a few together for you here. Whether you use them as reference material is up to you, I enjoy them simply as an example of draughtsmanship and the thirst for knowledge displayed by their authors.

from; William Pain, House Carpenter (1792)
from; Ornamental Drawings, Batty
Urns and Ornaments, by Benjamin Asher
Urn engraving, by Stefano Della Bella
'The Breakers' Mansion, Rhode Island
By George Smith, Cabinetmaker

I posted a huge set of Blouet's drawings here.

And the last word goes to the great Paolo Uccello


  1. You continue to find and amaze!

  2. Just about to start a garden mural with potted trees- thanks for the references! I'll post on the image as I go.

  3. Great post! I actually have some of those urn images saved as reference and had forgotten about them. I really like the "architectural" sketches you've shown here, too! I can't imagine mapping everything out like that, but it would be very helpful to keep in mind when painting.