The surtout de table was a fashionable item of table ornamentation in the 19th century when changes to modern dining with the adoption of a service à la russe in which each course was served separately allowed for space on the dining table for a garniture. The present magnificent example, ornamented with vines, an illusion to the wine served at table, although unsigned, is identical to a surtout de table by one of the finest sculptors and bronziers of the period, Pierre-Philippe Thomire (d. 1843) (illustrated in Hans Ottomeyer/Peter Pröschel, Vergoldete Bronzen, vol. I, Munich, 1989, p. 387, fig. 16.13). Elements of the pierced gallery of this example, the vine garland and urns from antiquity filled with fruit, also feature in two designs for a frieze by Thomire held at the Bibliothèque Nationale, Paris (ibid. p. 388, fig. 5.16.15).
A number of comparable examples by Thomire exist, in particular the renowned model dated 1810-13 formerly in the collection of Pauline Bonaparte-Borghese, the sister of Napoléon, and wife of the Italian prince, Borghese, at her hôtel in the rue du Faubourg St. Honoré, Paris, and later acquired by the Duke of Wellington, when ambassador to France. The latter is still largely intact and in use at the British Embassy in Paris today (Sir Pierson Dixon, K.C.M.G., 'French Empire clocks in the British Embassy at Paris', The Connoisseur, January 1964, Vol. 158, No. 635, p. 3).
Another important and similar surtout de table, the Casa de Saboia table garniture, was previously in the collection of King Umberto II of Italy (sold Christie's, London, 9 December 2004, lot 43, and illustrated in António Homem Cardoso, Reais Mesas do Norte de Portugal, Lisbon, 1997, pp. 22-25), while one of the most recognizable is at Waddesdon Manor, Hertfordshire, the property of the Rothschild Family Trust, which was presented by Louis XVIII in 1818 to Prince Ruffo Della Scaletta, then ambassador of the Kingdom of the two Sicilies, before the latter left Paris to return to Naples.
The zenith of Pierre-Philippe Thomire's career as the creator of exceptional bronzes occurred during the early 19th century when the style and taste of the French Empire were profoundly influenced by the authoritarian personality of Napoléon who encouraged a revival of the fine arts in the Roman, and particularly Pompeian styles, to refurbish the Royal residences that had been pillaged during the Revolution. After Napoléon's second marriage to Marie-Louise of Austria in 1810 there was an outburst of productivity by the Parisian fondeurs-ciseleurs-doreurs in response to demands for ornaments to replenish these palaces and to supply the numerous fêtes and functions to which the Imperial marriage gave rise. In 1809, Thomire was granted the title of Ciseleur de l'Empereur, and in 1811, his firm was appointed Fournisseur de leurs Majesté, to address this demand for gilt bronze decorative art.