A Fine And Unusual Portuguese Bronze Mortar
Lot 238
A Fine And Unusual Portuguese Bronze Mortar
By Bartolomeu Da Costa, Lisbon, Dated 1778
Sold for £ 21,600 (US$ 28,616) inc. premium

Lot Details
A Fine And Unusual Portuguese Bronze Mortar
A Fine And Unusual Portuguese Bronze Mortar
By Bartolomeu Da Costa, Lisbon, Dated 1778
Cast in three stages decorated in relief with mouldings including a raised stepped muzzle-ring, the central section surmounted by a pair of finely detailed dolphin lifting handles characteristic of the maker, the rear section bearing in relief the crowned Royal arms of Portugal above the legend 'Maria I / Et Petrus III / Reges' within a decorative cartouche, flanked by the stamped inscription 'M.el Gomes Decar.vo Es.a / Te.ne Gn.al Daart.ra Dor.no / Lx.a Arcenal Real Do Exercito . 1778.' ('Made to the order of the Kingdom's Artillery Commander, Manuel Gomes do Carvalho e Silva, Lisbon Royal Arsenal. 1778.'), rounded at the base and bearing a further central dolphin lifting handle, its tail incorporating the vent, extended in the form of a raised fluted scroll tapering down to a lug pierced horizontally for the iron elevating rod (the rod corroded and incomplete), the scroll stamped with the number '3', on the right side of the scroll the stamped weight '2-1-20', plain trunnions, and light green patination: on a weathered two-wheel stepped oak carriage with iron mounts (left trunnion-cap incomplete)
64 cm. barrel, 15.4 cm. bore


  • Provenance:
    Believed to have come from Downhil, Co. Antrim, N. Ireland, demolished in 1950, leaving only the ruins and the Mussenden Temple, built in 1783 in the form of a rotunda and dedicated to Mrs. Mussenden. The ruins and the Temple have been in the care of the National Trust since 1980. There were disposals from Downhill, including fine paintings and marble sculptures, in the 1920s and later in the 1950s

    Downhill was one of the creations of Frederick Augustus Hervey (1730-1803), known as the Earl-Bishop, Bishop of Cloyne (1767-68), Bishop of Derry (1768-1803), fifth Lord Howard de Walden, and fourth Earl of Bristol, PC. Mrs. Mussenden was his cousin

    The Earl-Bishop is best remembered for his passionate love of building, collecting works of art, and travelling - the Hotels Bristol all over the Continent are named after him. After Downhill he transfered his interest to Ballyscullion, on the shore of Lough Beg (begun in 1787 but never completed, and dismantled in 1813), the prototype of Ickworth in Suffolk, on which he embarked in circa 1794. The wings of Ickworth were to house his impressive collections of paintings and sculptures. He was a friend and admirer of Canova, and would no doubt have been attracted to the sculptural quality of this mortar. However his collections were confiscated by the French in Italy in 1798 and he himself imprisoned in Milan as a suspected spy. Never to return to England after his release, he continued to travel in Italy, died outdoors on the road to Albano in 1803, and was buried in Ickworth church

    Known as clever, cultured and at times philanthropic, but licentious, eccentric and ostentatious, he gave fresh point to the saying that God created men, women and Herveys. His portrait was painted by Pompeo Batoni, Angelica Kauffmann, and his close friend Elisabeth Vigée-Lebrun, and drawn by Hugh Douglas Hamilton (see illustration). That of his elder son, John Augustus, was painted by Gainsborough, and those of his second and third daughters were painted respectively by Angelica Kauffmann and Romney

    Bartolomeu da Costa (1731-1801) was a founder of exceptional skill and the best-known Portuguese gun founder of his time. He was in charge of the artillery foundries, and directed the Royal Arsenal (Arcenal do Exercito) in Lisbon, attaining the rank of Lieutenant-General. As well as supervising the production of many fine guns, he is especially noted for the famous full-sized equestrian statue of King Joseph I (1750-1777), which is said to be cast in a single piece of bronze, a unique achievement. A three-day national holiday was declared when the statue was completed in 1774, and erected with machinery of his own invention. It still stands in front of the Royal Palace in Lisbon, in the Praça do Comércio (also called the Largo do Paço). Most of his guns bear dates in the 1760s and 1770s (1774 appears to be the most common year), up to 1776, after which his name ceased to appear on guns cast in the Arsenal. Da Costa also invented a hard paste porcelain

    The legend below the Royal arms refers to Queen Maria I who acceded in 1777 on the death of her father, King Joseph, and to her uncle, whom she married and who became King Consort as Pedro III (d. 1786). After 1788 she became insane, leaving her second son D. John to take over in 1792, becoming regent in 1799

    An almost identical (but slightly smaller) mortar is in the Dick Institute, Kilmarnock. As the Earl-Bishop inherited the title Baron de Walden, there may perhaps be a connection between the two mortars. The sixth Lord Howard de Walden (his great-grandson, Charles Augustus Ellis) married Lucy Cavendish-Bentinck, who inherited the Kilmarnock estate. He served as ambassador in Lisbon from 1833 to 1846. The eighth Lord inherited the estate in 1899 directly from Lucy (his grandmother) and formed the fine collection of arms and armour gifted to the Burgh of Kilmarnock by the ninth Lord in 1975, along with Dean Castle. The Dick Institute opened in 1901 and may perhaps have received its mortar from the eighth Lord at that time

    Bonhams gratefully acknowledges the assistance of Rainer Daehnhardt, Bruce Morgan (East Ayrshire Council) and William Reid in the preparation of this footnote
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