AN EMPIRE SILVER-GILT SIX-LIGHT BOUILLOTTE LAMP
AN EMPIRE SILVER-GILT SIX-LIGHT BOUILLOTTE LAMP
AN EMPIRE SILVER-GILT SIX-LIGHT BOUILLOTTE LAMP
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AN EMPIRE SILVER-GILT SIX-LIGHT BOUILLOTTE LAMP
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THE MADAME MÈRE BOUILLOTTE LAMP
AN EMPIRE SILVER-GILT SIX-LIGHT BOUILLOTTE LAMP

MARK OF MARTIN-GUILLAUME BIENNAIS, PARIS, 1809-1819, AFTER A DESIGN BY PERCIER AND FONTAINE, THE SHADE BORDER SLIGHTLY LATER

Details
AN EMPIRE SILVER-GILT SIX-LIGHT BOUILLOTTE LAMP
MARK OF MARTIN-GUILLAUME BIENNAIS, PARIS, 1809-1819, AFTER A DESIGN BY PERCIER AND FONTAINE, THE SHADE BORDER SLIGHTLY LATER
The shaped tripod base raised on paw feet cast and chased with palmettes, acanthus, and rosettes, rising to a baluster form stem applied with bands of foliage and centered with the applied coat-of-arms of Napoleon's mother Madame Mère, the six acanthus-capped horn-form branches with cylindrical sconces with bands of stiff leaves and rosettes, the branches further mounted with winged demi-eagles supporting a laurel ring, the tapered cylindrical adjustable shade applied with matching coat-of-arms and with border of grapevine, dolphins, wheat, and bullrush, and with later silver-plated liner, with finial modeled as an eagle perched upon a star covered globe and clutching a twist of rope within its talons, marked on base, stem, branches, sconces, nozzles, finial, and shade frame and border with maker's mark and French hallmarks as well as later French control marks, the shade frame also stamped BIENNAIS
34 5/8 in. (88 cm.) high
272 oz. 4 dwt. (8,465 gr.) gross weighable silver
Provenance
Marie Letizia Ramolino Bonaparte (1750 - 1836), later styled Madame Mère.
By descent from a Marshal of France; Christie's, Geneva, 11 November 1975, lot 82.
The British Rail Pension Fund; Sotheby's, Geneva, 14 November 1988, lot 108.
Anonymous Sale; Sotheby's, New York, 12 April 1995, lot 170.
Acquired by Ann and Gordon Getty from the above.
Exhibited
London, Victoria & Albert Museum, 1976 - 1984.

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Lot Essay

THE DESIGNS OF PERCIER AND FONTAINE
The design for the present lamp is connected to examples designed by Charles Percier (1764-1838) and Pierre-François-Léonard Fontaine (1762-1853), as depicted in their design illustration from circa 1809. Celebrated as key proponents of the Empire style, Percier and Fontaine likely first became associated in 1779 when they were both studying architecture in Paris. In 1786 the duo relocated to Rome for several years to further their studies. It was this period of exposure to ancient Roman architecture that was to form the bases of their future success. Their particular brand of French neo-classicism has been described as 'a combination of severity and pomp' involving a more strictly archaeological approach than had previously been popularized, drawing upon a mixture of ancient styles: Greek, Imperial Roman, and, following Napoleon's campaigns of 1798-1799, Egyptian motifs as well. Along with Vivant Denon (1747-1825), who published Voyage dans la basse et la haute Egypte in 1802, Percier and Fontaine choreographed the visual iconography that characterized Napoleon’s reign.
MARTIN-GUILLAUME BIENNAIS AND THE BONAPARTE FAMILY
Percier and Fontaine’s designs for metalwork were perhaps best expressed in silver through renowned goldsmith Martin-Guillaume Biennais (1764-1843). Biennais illustrious career began in Paris around the time of the Revolution as a marchand-ébéniste specializing in nécessaires-de-voyage, intricately fitted boxes holding services for dining and grooming to be used while travelling. Around 1800, Biennais was able to broaden his output and began producing furniture in addition to silver. By 1805, he had been appointed silversmith to their Imperial Majesties, and the rest of the Bonaparte family followed suit as patrons of Biennais. Former Metropolitan Museum of Art curator Clare le Corbeiller observes 'Basically an entrepeneur employing, it is said, over six hundred workmen, Biennais supplied Napoleon not only with table services but with coronation regalia, swords and sword mounts, shoe buckles, snuff boxes, tables cabinets, and, of course, nécessaires'. Despite the rapid growth of his firm and its production, Biennais’ work remained consistent in its exceptional quality and sophistication of design.
LAMPE BOUILLOTTES
Biennais is recorded as delivering six six-light bouillotte or desk lamps as part of a service for Emperor Napoleon in 1809 (Arch. Nat. O218). This number was increased to eight lamps as two additional examples were delivered by 1811 (Arch. Nat. O26), although records indicate that four lamps were initially ordered but only two delivered (Arch Nat. O220). Another four lamps were ordered in February 1812, and although these lamps have never been physically located, Napoleon’s official inventory dated 21 August 1815 records twelve lamps (Arch. Nat O3119). These include two lamps at the Château de Fontainebleau, one example in the collection of the Louvre, Paris (Inv. No. OA 9459), and five at the Mobilier National in the Elysée Palace (GML 1319/1 to 5).
In 1815, during the Restoration, Napoleon’s lamps underwent subtle alteration by Jean-Charles Cahier, who had been Biennais’ apprentice before taking over the company upon Biennais’ retirement in 1821. Cahier removed the Napoleonic emblems from the shades and finials, and replaced them with the symbols of Louis-Philippe (Arch Nat. O3136 and O2688). While the present lot is not listed as part of this group of lamps supplied to the Emperor, it is nearly identical to both the drawings by Percier and Fontaine, as well as the extant lamps, and with hallmarks indicating it was created during the same period.
The border applied to the shade of the present lot can be attributed to French designer Adrien-Louis-Marie Cavelier (1785-1867), who worked closely with Charles Percier and was also used on the famed dinner services produced by contemporary goldsmith Jean Baptiste Claude Odiot (1763-1850) for Comtesse Branicka circa 1819 (part of which is now in the collection of the Rijksmuseum, Amsterdam - Obj. No. BK-17031 - BK-17033) and for Count Nikolai Demidoff in 1821, sold Christie’s, London, 7 July 2011, lot 30. It is possible to suggest that this border was later added to update the style of the lamp in keeping with new fashion, and replaced the possibly too Napoleonic original border, much like the group of twelve lamps altered by Cahier.
MADAME MÈRE
Maria Letizia Ramolino (1750-1836), later styled Madame Mère, was born in Corsica in 1750 to Giovanni Geronimo Ramolino (1723-1755), an army officer of low ranking nobility and his wife Angela Maria Pietra-Santa (1725-1792). At the age of fourteen, she married Carlo Maria Bonaparte (1746-1785) and would later give birth to thirteen children, eight of whom survived. Following the death of her husband in 1785, the family was plunged in to a precarious financial situation. In 1793, her second living son, Napoleon, turned against Corsican patriot, Pasquale Paoli (1725-1807), and the Bonaparte family fled to France. As Napoleon rose to power in France, his mother demanded, and received, imperial accord, being eventually styled 'Son Altesse Impèriale, Madame Mére de l'Empereur'. She settled in l'hôtel de Brienne, and accrued immense riches, to the mild disapproval of the Emperor. Upon Napoleon’s downfall in 1814, Madame Mére also relocated to Elba, and is said to have financed him during his stay on the island. Upon Napoleon’s abdication following Waterloo, Madame Mère moved to Rome where she remained until her death in 1836.
Additional works in silver from Madame Mère’s collection that have sold recently at Christie’s include a pair of pot-a-crème by Odiot, sold Christie’s, London, 30-31 May 2012, lot 260, and a meat dish and pair of plates by Odiot, sold Christie’s, London, 19 October 2005, lot 134.

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