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Work Fuseau Vase

Department of Decorative Arts: 19th century

"Vase fuseau" of Madame Mère

Decorative Arts
19th century

Author(s):
Barbier Muriel

On the baptism of his son, King of Rome, on 10 June 1811, Napoleon offered the infant's godmother - his own mother, Madame Mère - this spectacular porcelain fuseau vase. The tortoiseshell ground provides a sumptuous setting for a portrait of Napoleon crossing the Alps, after David's famous painting. The vase is typical of the designs of Alexandre Brongniart (1770-1847), director of the Sèvres Manufactory, who saw in porcelain a way of giving great history painting imperishable form.

A fuseau vase

The shape of this decorative piece, typical of the neo-classicism of Napoleon's reign, is derived from that of the ancient amphora, to which a foot has been added. The vase, which rests on a base of gilt bronze, consists of three separate parts - neck, body, and foot - and is held together by a threaded rod fixed on the inside between the neck and body. Fitments of gilt bronze between neck and body, and between body and foot, help join the parts together. A crown of laurel leaves around the bottom of the body completes the structural support. At the shoulder, two gilt-bronze handles rise from female masks, terminating in rosettes at the lip.

To the glory of the emperor

The front of the vase is decorated with a rectangular panel reproducing the picture of Napoleon Crossing the Alps by Jacques-Louis David, painted here by Jean Georget, the most renowned of the porcelain painters employed by the Sèvres Manufactory. Alexandre Brongniart, its director since 1800, saw in painted porcelain, much more durable than painting on canvas, a way of making great history painting imperishable. Another enthusiasm of Brongniart's was the imitation in porcelain of such costly materials as lapis lazuli, vermilion, and tortoiseshell. Tortoiseshell was chosen for the ground here, complemented by gilt ornament: the neck and foot have vertical stripes and bees, the latter being symbols of the Empire, while the lower part of the body has leaves of chestnut and laurel. On the reverse, also painted in gold, is an antique altar with an eagle in a laurel wreath, together with arms, a reference to Napoleon's battles.

Gifts for a godmother

The christening of his son gave the Emperor the opportunity to offer a great many gifts of Sèvres porcelain. This exceptional fuseau vase, whose decoration was painted Claude-Charles Gérard, head painter at the Manufactory, was one of a series of presents offered to Madame Mère, which included a large bust of the emperor, a cup with the portrait of the empress Marie-Louise, a vase 130 cm in height, and two smaller vases decorated with scenes of rejoicing at the peace of 1809.

Bibliography

Musée du Louvre, Nouvelles acquisitions du Département des Objets d'art 1985 - 1989, Paris, 1990, pp. 254 - 255.

Technical description

  • Manufacture de Sèvres

    "Vase fuseau" of Madame Mère

    1810

    Sèvres

  • H. 1.07 m; W. 0.38 m; Diam. 0.34 m

  • Gift of Mme Maria Teresa Castro de Polo, 1986

    OA 11056

  • Decorative Arts

    Richelieu wing
    1st floor
    Alexandre Brongniart
    Room 71
    Display case 1

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Additional information about the work

Signature in the painted panel, on the harness: GEORGET, D'APRES DAVID.Inscriptions on the panel: BONAPARTE./HANNIBAL/KAROLUS.MAGNUS.IMP.