Christofle Company, Paris, 1852-1858
François Gilbert (1816-1891),
Georges Diebolt (1816-1861),
Pierre-Louis Rouillard (1820-1881), sculptors
Galvanic bronze and silver-plated bronze
100 x 292 x 105 cm
Gift of Paul Christofle and Henri Bouilhet, 1891
Inv. 7023 A
© Les Arts Décoratifs
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From the seventeenth century onward, a “centerpiece” comprising a number of sculpted elements was placed in the center of ceremonial dining tables where it served both as a decoration and as a support for candelabra and condiment containers. Over time, these centerpieces – initially made of precious metal, then of porcelain – became increasingly monumental.
This centerpiece for a table of a hundred guests is huge in size. It was commissioned in 1852 by the Prince-President Louis-Napoleon Bonaparte (the future Napoleon III), and produced by the Christofle company. Designed to stand on a thirty-meter table for a hundred guests, the centerpiece comprises fifteen monumental electroplated pieces; the Prince-President justified his choice of electroplating by the fact that most of the large centerpieces made of precious metals had been melted down to finance wars. Electroplating is a process that uses electrolysis to apply a layer of metal to the surface of a bronze object. This centerpiece was originally silver-plated. Its present color, rough areas and blisters are due to the terrible fire that destroyed the Tuileries Palace during the Commune in 1871.
The role of these allegorical figures, placed on the Emperor’s table, was to convey a political message based on the promise of progress and prosperity. The neoclassical style was probably chosen to add a sense of eternity.