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Work Centerpiece

Department of Decorative Arts: 19th century

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Epergne

© 2011 Musée du Louvre / Philippe Fuzeau

Decorative Arts
19th century

Author(s):
Barbier Muriel

The large centerpiece belonging to Luigi Braschi Onesti, Duke of Nemi (1745-1816) and nephew of the pope Pius VI, was confiscated by the French armies in Rome in 1795. This monumental centerpiece is by the Roman goldsmith and bronze artist Luigi Valadier (1726-85), who made valuable pieces in hard stone and marble. The centerpiece has lost the small items that topped it; some have been identified and are held by the Louvre.

A masterpiece by Luigi Valadier

Luigi Valadier (1726-85) was the most inventive of the goldsmiths and bronze artists of the second half of the eighteenth century. He made several works like the large centerpiece at the Louvre. He did one for the Borghese family in 1772, a similar piece for Archduke Ferdinand of Austria in 1780, and another one like it for the Portuguese ambassador to Madrid in 1784. The Braschi centerpiece is one of Valadier's most impressive works and he was certainly helped by his son Giuseppe. Indeed, drawings of this type of work by Giuseppe still exist. The centerpiece made a great impression when it was presented at a banquet held by Braschi in honor of the Palatine Elector during a visit of the latter to Rome.

A top in marble and hard stone

The top is the size of a large banqueting table. In white marble edged with amethysts, it is divided into compartments formed by sections of transparent alabaster laid on red foil. A disk of Aswan granite circled by green porphyry is placed in the centre. The two extremities taper off in green Corsican marble. The top stands on feet in the form of gilt bronze baskets of acanthus surmounted by finely carved marble masks and completed by garlands. Alabaster plaques decorated with twenty-eight depressions to house medals that are missing today are placed between each mask. The gold medals depicted the profiles of Roman emperors whose names are shown in enamel around the depressions. They were removed and sent to the Empress Josephine (1763-1814) by Dominique-Vivant Denon (1747-1825), director of the museums.

A virtual museum

Various objects were placed on the top: small antique items in marble and bronze framed by porticos, colonnades, and architectural features. All these architectural elements are missing today. They played a major role in Valadier's compositions, as is shown by another centerpiece in a private collection. Antique and modern items were set side by side on this work. Three Egyptian idols and three gilded sphinxes stood in the center on a pedestal in antique red marble decorated with four tritons. The architectural elements were completed by cameos, fibulae and statuettes, some of which had been restored. The centerpiece was designed as a virtual museum, as shown by the scale model of the Villa Albani fountain, the equestrian statue of Marcus Aurelius at the capitol, Farnese prisoners, and Borghese and Medicis vases. The few surviving items are now divided between the Objets d'Art, the Sculptures, and the Greek, Etruscan, and Roman Antiquities departments at the Louvre. This luxury object was thus an erudite archaeological anthology.

Bibliography

Alcouffe Durand, Luigi Valadier au Louvre ou l'Antiquité exaltée, Paris, Éditions de la Réunion des musées nationaux, 1994, pp. 128-177.

Technical description

  • Luigi VALADIER (Rome, 1726 - Rome, 1785)

    Epergne

    1784

    Rome

  • Various marbles, pietre dure, gilded bronze

    W. 5.06 m

  • MR XI suppl. 139

  • Decorative Arts

    Richelieu wing
    1st floor
    Valadier
    Room 67

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