The portrait painter and enamellist Paul-Louis-Alfred Serre made his
début at the Salon in 1869, excelling in producing Romantic images to satisfy the current vogue. The two plaques incorporated here copy
paintings of Charity and The Holy Family with Elizabeth and Infant St. John by the 16th century Italian painter Andrea del Sarto. Serre would have had access to both paintings in the Louvre.
Ferdinand Barbedienne (d. 1892) began his Parisian foundry in 1839, eventually becoming one of the most active and distinguished bronziers of the 19th century. Although trained as a wallpaper manufacturer, in 1838 he changed his profession to become a fondeur in partnership with Achille Collas (d. 1859). The Barbedienne workshops were equipped to perform bronze reduction, fine metal cutting, bronze mounting, marble work, turning, enamel decoration, and crystal engraving. They were famous for bronze editions, but also produced decorative objects in styles that reflected the various exotic and revival trends popular at the time. After Ferdinand's death, the business was taken over by his nephew, and continued production until 1953. From the 1850s, the firm won numerous medals at the major international exhibitions.
This highly unusual double-sided tabernacle is a collaborative effort by Barbedienne and Serre almost certainly produced as a unique piece for exhibition. The precise dating and superior quality of both the enamelled plaques and the gilt-bronze frame and support indicate that the piece was probably made for the Paris International Exhibition of 1889. The collaboration between Serre and Barbedienne is known to have lasted for some years. In 1878 a monumental Renaissance style gilt-bronze clock incorporating enamelled plaques depicting Apollo, Diana, Dawn and Twilight was shown at the Paris universal exhibition (now in the Hôtel de Ville, Paris), whilst in 1891 Serre painted plaques of Venus and Cupid for an ormolu cigarette case made by Barbedienne and subsequently shown at the 1900 Paris exhibition.