These pedestals by Paul Sormani, one of the leading Parisian furniture makers of the 19th century, are fine examples of his firm’s high level of craftsmanship. The lion pelt decoration – a theme often employed in the French decorative arts – references the power, nobility and royalty generally associated with the hunt of a lion, as well as the story of Hercules, the celebrated mythological hero. As punishment for killing his own children, Hercules was made to perform a series of twelve labours in service of the king of Tiryns, Eurystheus, the first of which was to kill the Nemean lion, an animal which menaced the citizens of Nemea. Because of his successful completion of the task, the lion’s pelt became associated with Hercules, and was frequently depicted with him in artistic representations through the centuries.
On account of their symbolic power and mythological connection, lions’ pelts were frequently represented in the decorative arts, notably during the Ancien Régime, in the form of finely chased ormolu mounts. Perhaps the most famous examples are those on the angles of the celebrated Bureau du Roi, created by Jean-François Oeben and Jean-Henri Riesener, delivered in 1769 to Louis XV’s Cabinet intérieur at the Château de Verasilles, and today still in the room to which it was supplied (OA 5444). The mounts on the renowned royal bureau inspired many ébénistes and bronziers of the Ancien Régime, as well as their 19th century confrères, who created faithful replicas of works from the previous century and innovative interpretations in their spirit. Sormani’s pedestals are of this second category. With their mounts, they reference both the celebrated ormolu decoration of masterpieces of the Ancien Régime, and the symbolic, mythological and artistic precedent long associated with lion’s pelts.