LUIGI AND FRANCESCO MANFREDINI
Born in Bologna the Manfredini brothers moved to Milan in 1798, where Luigi worked at the Mint, becoming head engraver in 1808 and producing a number of medals for the Emperor. A year earlier the brothers established the 'Manufacture Royale de Bronze de Fontana' under the protection of the Viceroy, near the Porta Cosima in Milan. There they produced the bronzes of the Arc du Simplon, bronze busts of both the Emperor Napoleon and his stepson Viceroy Eugène de Beauharnais, as well as reductions of sculpture by Canova.
THE TRIPOD OF THE TEMPLE OF ISIS AT HERCULANEUM
Conceived in the 'antique' manner, this athenienne is based upon the celebrated Roman tripod stand discovered in the Temple of Isis at Pompeii and now in the Museo Archeologico, Naples. Widely popularised by an engraving in C. Percier and P. Fontaine's Recueil de Décorations Intérieures of 1801, a water colour of that same year (now at the Musée de Carnavalet and illustrated, D. Irwin, Neoclassicism, London, 1997, fig. 211) shows such a tripod prominently displayed at the 1801 Exposition des Produits de l'Industrie in the Cour Carrée of the Louvre, while a pair of such tripod basin stands was supplied for the bedroom of the Emperor Napoleon and Empress Josephine at the Château de Saint-Cloud around 1802/03.
A ROYAL BAPTISM FONT?
This athénienne belongs to a small group of tripod-supported basins linked to the birth of Napoleon's son, the King of Rome. While the full provenance remains to be etablished it is believed that the first 'font' within this group, a virtual pair to the present one, similarly inscribed beneath the silver-gilt bowl and dated 1811, was a gift of Eugène de Beauharnais, Viceroy of Italy, or the city of Milan, to the Emperor on the occasion of the birth of his son. That athénienne is now in the Schatzkammer of the Hofburg in Vienna.
The present example, the only other to bear the dated inscription of the Manfredini brothers, is speculated to have been commissioned by the Viceroy, under whose protection the Manfredini borthers had opened the foundry in Milan, and it is possible that it had been intended as a present to the Empress Marie-Louise.
An example with its frieze and tripartite base in sumptuous lapis lazuli, though topped by a circular marble instead of the silver-gilt dish, is recorded at Pavlovsk, St. Petersburg (ill. Pavlovsk: Le Palais et le Parc, St. Petersburg, 1976, pp. 78-79), while another was recorded in the inventory drawn up on the death of King Maximilian I Joseph of Bavaria, father-in-law to Viceroy Eugène de Beauharnais, and described as a present by the latter to his father-in-law,underlining the theory that the athéniennes were gift from the Viceroy to close members of the family. Achille Viscardi, nephew of the Manfredini brothers, indicates that by 1880 four such atheniennes were known to be in the collections of the King of Bavaria, including two with green verde antico marble instead of the deep blue lapis. The athenienne now at Pavlovsk might well be one of those previously recorded in the collections of the King of Bavaria. A further athenienne in ormolu and verde antico marble sold from the collection of Léonce Rosenberg, Hôtel Drouot, Paris, 3-4 May 1932, was with Galerie Kugel ('Antiquomania', A. Kugel, Paris, 2010, cat.7).