Sculptures, The Four Seasons

Probably Nevers, eighteenth century
Lampworked opaque white glass on a metal support; turned gilt wood base
Max. H. (with base): 17 cm
Bequest of Madeleine Lucile Joséphine Bougenaux, 1961
Inv. 38474 A-B-C-D
© Les Arts Décoratifs

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These four small figures are veritable glass sculptures that form an allegorical series representing the four seasons. Following widespread usage, Winter is depicted as a stooped, bearded old man wrapped in warm clothes, while the three other seasons are represented by young figures dressed in short, classical tunics and only differentiated by their poses and attributes: flowers for Spring, ears of wheat for Summer and grapes for Autumn. This group is typical of the craftsmanship of “heat lamp enamelers,” attested in Nevers from the seventeenth century onward; however, almost all the pieces that have come down to us date from the following century, when production is also recorded in Paris, Saumur, Rouen and Marseille. The enamelers did not make or color the glass themselves; instead, they used rods of enamel (i.e. of low temperature melting glass), usually opacified and colored, that they purchased from large factories such as the Nevers glassworks. In 1863, Louis du Broc de Segange, curator of the museum of Nevers, gave an interesting description of this craft: “The enameler sits in front of a table with a lamp above it, and a large bellows below to kindle and heighten the flame of the lamp. As he raises and lowers the bellows with his foot, the flame becomes considerably brighter and stronger. […] If the enameler decides to make a male figure, he begins by shaping the overall arrangement of the figure’s limbs with brass wire. He takes this framework in one hand and a solid enamel rod in the other. He presents the enamel to the lamp and, when it is molten, uses the flame to shape it around the wire, modeling it like paste with rounded and pointed tongs and other instruments.” Enamelers could therefore work independently; according to their capabilities, skills and clienteles, they produced highly sophisticated collector’s items and decorative pieces or more mainstream products such as tourist souvenirs and devotional objects.

J.-L. O. Louis du Broc de Segange, La Faience, les faïenciers et les émailleurs de Nevers, Nevers, La Société nivernaise, 1863.
James Barrelet, “Deux chefs-d’œuvre de verre filé,” Plaisir de France, no. 202 bis, August 1955, pp. 19-21.
Bernadette Bringuier, Émaux ou verre filés, dits de Nevers, Nevers, Musée Municipal, 1982.

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