Pair of wall sconces

Attributed to André-Charles Boulle (1642-1732)
Paris, c. 1715-1720
Gilt bronze
52 x 23 cm (each)
Gift of Ernest Grandidier, 1906
Inv. 12789 A-B
© Les Arts Décoratifs / photo: Jean Tholance

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Gilt bronze acquired new importance in furniture during the first third of the eighteenth century. Furniture pieces were covered with bronze mounts to accentuate the decoration of a piece or protect its edges and feet. Fireplaces were adorned with sumptuously decorated andirons; bronze-casters and chasers created window latches, window handles and doorknobs. From 1664 to 1732, the cabinetmaker, chaser, gilder and sculptor André-Charles Boulle directed a workshop in the Louvre that employed up to twenty-six people; it produced the cabinetwork pieces that made his reputation, together with bronzes of outstanding quality. Boulle, a cultivated man with a strong personality, assembled a vast collection of paintings, ornament drawings and sculptures that provided an endless source of inspiration. Concerned about his artistic legacy, he published a series of plates entitled Nouveaux Deisseins de meubles et ouvrages de bronze et de marqueterie (“New Designs for Furniture and Works of Bronze and Marquetry”) which illustrated the principal aspects of his work; these documents are a precious source of information about his oeuvre. Among the light fittings represented on plate no. 3, a “wall sconce for a large cabinet” corresponds to one of the elements of this pair. It seems that Boulle called them “lizard sconces” (bras à lézard) judging from the inventory drawn up after his death in 1732, which includes the following reference: “held in the workshop collection, models of lizard sconces.” They were composed of two branches with asymmetrical coils and different candle sockets (stylized flowers, one of which has drooping petals, the other fluting) and were fixed on either side of a mirror, in keeping with the principle of symmetry that governed interior design at that time. The branch nearest the mirror was reflected in it, resulting in a pleasing play of reflections that created the illusion of multiple light sources. A lizard winds its way down the top branch, its body matching the sinuous line; or perhaps it is a salamander, the mythical creature believed to have been created by fire and to feed on its flames, which it also had the power to quench. Below is a threatening dragon – another animal associated with fire – whose tail disappears into the leafy ornamentation of the lower branch. The salamander seems to be lying in waiting, ready to put out the fire the dragon is about to breathe. The dragon itself is placed on a small molded console table decorated with a pendant string of coin-like motifs (“piasters”) and supported by the head of a turbaned Moor – an evocation of the heat of the African continent and a discreet indication of the taste for exoticism.

S. M. Jean-Nérée Ronfort, “André-Charles Boulle: die Bronzearbeiten und seine Werkstatt im Louvre,” in Hans Ottomeyer and Peter Pröschel, Vergoldete Bronzen, die Bronzearbeiten des Spätbarock und Klassizismus, Munich, Klinkhardt & Biermann, 1986, cat. 4, p. 497.

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