Work Pair of candelabras
Department of Decorative Arts: 18th century: rococo
Pair of girandoles
© 2007 Musée du Louvre / Martine Beck-Coppola
18th century: rococo
The Portuguese royal collection of silver tableware was destroyed in the 1755 earthquake which devastated Lisbon. Joseph I (1714-1777) turned to the French goldsmith François-Thomas Germain (1726-1791), one of Europe's leading masters of the art. The commission for these two candelabras was the largest order that the Portuguese monarchs placed with the French royal goldsmiths. These two candelabras bear witness to the magnificence of the Portuguese court and to Germain's brilliant talent.
A reference to the Lisbon earthquake
The two candelabras were originally part of a set of four. The other two are now in a private collection. The base is moulded in the shape of a rocky hillock. The central stem is in the shape of a cherry tree growing on this base. The candle-holders, complete with dangling cherries, are at the end of the three branches. Two naked children - one standing on the base, one climbing the tree - are reaching out to pick the fruit. The lighthearted scene contrasts sharply with the two deep rifts in the upper part of the base and the hillock which refer to the devastating Lisbon earthquake, described by Voltaire in Candide. The candelabras were designed as part of a great table centrepiece, other elements of which depicted the Portuguese king giving orders for the rebuilding of the city.
Joseph I of Portugal's silverware
On November 1, 1755, a terrible earthquake devastated the Portuguese capital, destroying numerous buildings as well as the royal collection of silverware which Joao V (1689-1750) had commissioned from Thomas Germain (circa 1673-1748). Joao's son, Joseph I (1714-1777), decided to replace the lost tableware and commissioned a new service from Thomas's son, François-Thomas Germain (1726-1791). Germain planned to make four services, as required by the French style of serving, in which all the dishes were placed on the table at the same time. In order to complete such a huge commission, he employed over a hundred craftsmen in his workshops in the Palais du Louvre. Unfortunately, he was bankrupted in 1765 and never finished the fourth service. Nevertheless, he was able to deliver some 1,200 pieces to the Portuguese court. Many of these superb pieces of silverware can still be seen in Portugal, while others are in the Metropolitan Museum in New York, the Musée des Arts Décoratifs in Paris, and, of course, the Louvre. The supremely ostentatious silver tableware was first used on the occasion of the coronation of the new queen, Joseph I's daughter, in 1777.
From father to son
For the design of the candelabras, François-Thomas took inspiration from one of his father's last works - a pair of large gold girandoles with five branches, completed in December 1747 for the king's bedchamber in Versailles. A number of contemporary drawings and descriptions of these girandoles survive. François-Thomas had kept the lead casts in a cupboard in his workshop. He adapted his father's design, transforming the spirit of the work completely and including details then fashionable in Rocaille goldsmithery such as the figures of children, also found on the salt cellar from the Penthièvre-Orléans service made by Antoine-Sébastien Durand (OA 10412) and the mustard pots made by the same artist for Madame de Pompadour, now in the Gulbenkian collection in Lisbon.
- PERRIN, François-Thomas Germain orfèvre des rois, Paris, 1994, p152-154.
- Versailles et les tables royales en Europe, Catalogue d’exposition, Paris, RMN, 1993, p 303-310.
- Nouvelles acquisitions du département des Objets d'art 1980-1984, Catalogue d’exposition, Paris, RMN, 1985, p 88-91.
Maître : FTG (François-Thomas Germain) avec une toison ; maison commune : Q couronné (Paris 1756-1757) ; charge : herse (Paris 1756-1762) ; exportation : vache.
François-Thomas GERMAIN (1726 - 1791)
Pair of girandoles
H. 46 cm; Diam. 32 cm
Acquired in 1984 , 1984
OA 10961, OA 10962
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Additional information about the work
Hallmarks: Maker's mark: FTG (François-Thomas Germain) with fleece; town mark: crowned Q (Paris 1756-1757); tax: portcullis (Paris 1756-1762); export: cow. Inscription FAIT PAR F.T.