Work Pair of firedogs ('feu') with perfume burner
Department of Decorative Arts: 18th century: rococo
Pair of fire-dogs
© 2005 Musée du Louvre / Peter Harholdt
18th century: rococo
The term 'feu' refers to the two firedogs decorating the front of a hearth and concealing the wrought-iron bars supporting the logs. The history of the Louvre 'feu', which doubled as a perfume burner, is particularly well documented; it is signed by the goldsmith François-Thomas Germain and dated. The lavish, scrolling lines, the spiraling movement of the composition and the richly detailed chasing all designate these pieces as exemplary of the art of rocaille bronze furnishings.
A 'feu' that evokes the work of goldsmiths.
Each firedog is composed of a fluted perfume burner of flaring form with a gadrooned knob on the bottom. The burner is closed with a lid pierced with openwork ornaments of rosettes and fleur-de-lis, chased with swooping foliage and topped with a burning flame. The lid itself is set in a thick mount adorned with ribboned bulrushes, an ornament often found in the work of goldsmiths on the rims of lids and plates. A tripod supports the perfume burner. Rings hang from its sides, with drapery passing through them. A large, sweeping swirl wraps around it, buds and foliage springing from its curves. These buds come up repeatedly on the lids of contemporary pots-à-oille. As for the base of the firedog, it imitates a clump of rocks, a motif specific to the rocaille decorative repertoire. All these various elements are to be found not only on bronze furnishings but also in the work of goldsmiths. More specifically, the chasing and gilding of the firedogs, which alternates between smooth and dull parts, is reminiscent of the precise technique of certain goldsmiths, and associates these pieces with the manner established by the goldsmith Claude Ballin and perpetuated by his followers.
François-Thomas Germain and the art of bronze casting
The author of this 'feu' is indeed a goldsmith. François-Thomas Germain (1726-1791) was the grandson of Pierre Germain who took part in the production of Louis XIV's silver furniture, and the son of Thomas Germain, a goldsmith of Louis XV. He became famous with the silver pieces he made for the courts of Russia and Portugal as well as with the commissions he received from Louis XV as goldsmith and sculptor by appointment to the King. He was also involved with the decoration of various interiors, designing bronze furnishings for the Palais-Royal and the Hôtel de Soubise in Paris and the Palais Bernstorff in Copenhagen. The king granted him lodgings in the Louvre, which enabled him to work both bronze and silver without abiding by the rules of the guilds. François-Thomas Germain kept in his studio models from the goldsmith Ballin, from which he borrowed some motifs. The Louvre 'feu' with its suprising size bears the imprint of Germain's powerful designs for silver.
For whom was this piece made?
Judging by where they were made, these firedogs are probably of a royal provenance. They come from the Budapest residence of the Princess Windischgraetz (the granddaughter of the emperor Franz Josef). It is therefore likely that they were the property of the Habsburg family. They are said to have been commissioned by or for Madame Infante (one of the two older daughters of Louis XV). However no trace of this commission has been found in the archives. On the other hand, Germain was working on the bronze decoration of the Palais-Royal between 1755 and 1758, and we know that he provided that palace with a monumental sized 'feu' for the Grand Salon of the Duchess of Orléans, Louise-Henriette of Bourbon-Conti. It is probable that this is the 'feu' now in the Louvre.
BibliographyPerrin Christian, François-Thomas Germain, orfèvre des rois, Éditions Hayot Monelle, Paris, 1999.
Verlet Pierre, Les bronzes dorés français du XVIIIe siècle français, Éditions Picard, Paris, 1987, pp. 17, 54, 55, 194 et 388.
Ottomeyer Hans, Vergoldete Bronzen, Klinkhardt & Biermann, Munich, 1986, p. 135.
Exposition "Louis XV un moment de perfection de l'art français", Paris, Hôtel de la Monnaie, 1974, p. 336.
Verlet Pierre, "Musée du Louvre, objets d'art modernes : les chenets de François-Thomas Germain", Bulletin des musées de France, 7e année, n 10, décembre 1935, pp. 154-155.
François-Thomas GERMAIN (1726 - 1791)
Pair of fire-dogs
Signed François-Thomas Germain
H. 57 cm; W. 59 cm; D. 4 cm
Delivered for the Palais-Royal, Paris?; Princess of Windisch-Graetz collection in Budapest; acquired in 1935 with the support of the Caisse des Monuments Historiques and various collectors , 1935
OA 8278, OA 8279
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