Edgar Brandt was the protean artist/blacksmith of his era. Brandt, an able conjuror of metal casting, produced these magisterial and lordly bronze cobras. One pair of cobra heads, on the right side of each urn, stare down the opposite pair in an authoritative posture of opening their jaws wide and flaring their lethal fangs and tongue. Their long bodies, placed vertically on the vessels, replicate their muscular ability, in real life, to stand upright just before they strike out at their prey. The yellow/brown-speckled patina alludes to the outer skin of a serpent. Uncharacteristically, this formidable and venomous King Cobra builds a nest for its young, one of the only serpents to do so. With the protrusions at the base of the urn, Brandt delicately alludes to the eggs of the nest. When the king feels threatened, he erects a flap of skin on either side of his head thus forming the hoods.
Snakes have always evoked a dual fascination of peril and awe. Many cultures worshipped the snake and archeologists have found serpent images as far back as the Paleolithic period. They were important symbols in ancient Greece, and before that, ancient Egyptian pharaohs wore the uraeus on their crowns. Priests placed serpent images in temples in the hope that they would ward off enemies.
Decorative artists have always been fascinated by snakes because their flexible bodies can be twisted into many varieties of handles and forms. In the nineteenth century, the goldsmith and jeweler Lucien Falize (1839-1897) formed an Art Nouveau silver teapot with a lizard spout and a serpent handle. By the 1920s, snake motifs were ubiquitous in French decorative art. Brandt, motivated by nature, studied seaweed, ginkgo leaves, maple pods, mistletoe, pinecones and needles. He explored many inspirational motifs but the serpent continued to provide the most dramatic subject for the ferronnier.
Brandt used the long upright serpent bodies of the Boa canina or the Python recticalus as models for torchères in varying sizes. In 1926, he forged rippled snake bodies into imperious andirons that were among the most brilliantly forged pieces to come out of the Etablissements Brandt.
The ironsmith devised yet another urn, of wrought iron, using thin serpents slithering up two sides of a small mouthed vessel, their bodies surrounded by the snail shells and drops of water. Brandt followed in the footsteps of René Lalique (1860-1945) who made various snake sculptures, as well as, intertwined serpents to form the clasp of a woman's evening purse. Jean Dunand (1877-1942) also produced serpent sculptures, some coiled in a flat circle; and one depicting a snake with an upright body that was curled around an orb, producing a striking paperweight. Edgar Brandt made a gilt bronze oval charger with handles formed by two entwined serpents clutching an egg. The ironsmith also produced a bronze cache-pot in which two predatory serpents keep their eyes on an eagle nervously perched nearby.
A PAIR OF 'KING COBRA' URNS, CIRCA 1921-1922