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Pair of bellows

Pair of bellows

  • Place of origin:

    Italy (possibly, made)

  • Date:

    1830-1850 (made)

  • Artist/Maker:

    Unknown (maker)

  • Materials and Techniques:

    Carved walnut, with velvet and gilded metal studs

  • Museum number:


  • Gallery location:

    In Storage

Images of Vulcan and Venus, his wife, were often used to decorate items used at the hearth, such as bellows or andirons. In classical myth Vulcan was the armourer of the gods on Mount Olympus, so he is often shown with a hammer, an anvil and a blazing fire. Here he is shown forging arrows for Cupid. The bellows are carved in the style of about 1500-1600, but are likely to have been made as a fake in the 1840s, just before they were bought by the famous French collector Jules Soulages. His complete collection was one of the earliest purchases of the Museum in 1856.

Physical description

Pair of very large carved walnut bellows, the front carved with figures from the story of Vulcan and Venus, the bellows section of purple velvet, fixed with gilded studs in the form of masks. The nozzle is of cast and chased bronze.
The front face of the bellows is a single panel, carved all over with a central scene of the Roman god Vulcan working at his forge, making arrows for the infant Cupid,who stands beside the anvil, with Venus and another goddess looking on. The central scene is surrounded with a frame of higher relief, showing the clouds of Olympus, on which sit various other gods and goddesses. Jupiter sits at the top with his eagle and thunderbolts. Reading clockwise from Jupiter the figures are as follows: Saturn with a scythe; Mercury with his caduceus (a staff wound round with two snakes); Juno with a diadem; Apollo with his lyre and his sunburst headdress; Venus and Cupid; Mars with his helmet and shield. A separate section below the hinge is carved with a satyr's mask.
The back panel of the bellows is carved on the back with a central, draped mask, its open mask providing the air intake for the bellows. The edge of the back is carved with a framing of alternate formalised shells and flower heads within semi-circles. The handle extension of the back is carved on both sides with formal leaf and anthemion motifs, as is the base of the back panel, just above the nozzle.
The carving of the front panel is much softer and of a very different quality from that of the back. It may be an older panel re-used with new back and lower section.
The bronze nozzle is triangular in section and is cast and chased with formal scrolls, masks and foliage.
The bellows section is of purple velvet, now much faded on the outer edges. It is attached with gilt studs in the form of small masks, along a band of purple gimp.

Place of Origin

Italy (possibly, made)


1830-1850 (made)


Unknown (maker)

Materials and Techniques

Carved walnut, with velvet and gilded metal studs

Marks and inscriptions

'SOULAGES / No. 676'
Small rectangular label on inside of upper handle, the text printed in black, the number (now faint) added in ink.


Length: 91 cm, Width: 36 cm, Depth: 10 cm approximately

Object history note

From the Soulages Collection

Descriptive line

Pair of bellow of walnut, carved with a scene from the story of Vulcan and Venus

Bibliographic References (Citation, Note/Abstract, NAL no)

H.Avray Tipping, Italian furniture of the Italian Renaissance as represented at the Victoria and Albert Museum, Country Life March 31st 1917, pp. 3-8

Production Note

Possibly made Italy, 1500-1600, or 19th century fake


Walnut; Velvet; Gilt bronze


Carving; Casting; Chasing; Gilding

Subjects depicted

Anvils (tools)




Furniture and Woodwork Collection

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