Form Does Not Follow Function
I am grateful to my friend and colleague Peter Pennoyer for the pair of very big urns in the so-called cabinet room of my loft. He suggested I buy them because he knows I would appreciate their French origins, strong silhouette and, via the depiction of Lady Liberty on the sides, their American historical connection. They are from about the same date as the Statue of Liberty, a gift made from France to the United States in 1886. These urns along with the widely inventive examples by Piranesi are my favorites. I like their inventive nature and their "guts."
In general, I think urns are prime examples of the decorative arts because they are almost purely about beauty and intellectual ideas and not about function. Even though the urn has traditionally served as a funereal device ora container for plants (a dichotomy I find ironic,) their primary purpose is not utility.
For example, Greek urns reveal the ideals of beauty of the ancients, Renaissance urns are often about the play of ornament and the expression of social connections through armorial devices, and 18th-century porcelain urns many times illustrate the beauties of nature, particularly landscapes and flowers. In fact, this important aspect of urns was pointed out to me when I was studying the porcelain collections in Berlin with Dr. Samuel Wittner, a scholar in the field.
The urn is proof the form does not always follow function.
From top: series of urn drawings by Piranesi; the cabinet room at Thomas Jayne’s loft in New York City, photo by Thomas Jayne; “Euphronios Krater,” terracotta calyx-krater (bowl for mixing wine and water), circa 515 B.C., signed by Euxitheos as potter, signed by Euphronios as painter; empire urn by the Royal Berlin Porcelain Manufactory signed on the base with the initials K.P.M., view of Potsdam, attributed to Eduard Wilhelm Forst; snake-handled vase with scenes from Amadis of Gaul, Urbino or Turin, circa 1560–70, probably the workshop of Orazio Fontana.