The andirons are illustrated in the dining room at Ferrires in a watercolor executed circa 1860 by Eugne Lami. They were subsequently moved to the Great Hall where they may be seen in a photograph of circa 1880.
THE CHATEAU DE FERRIERES
The chteau de Ferrires in the dpartment Seine et Marne was purchased in 1829 from Joseph Fouch, duc d'Otrante, by the distinguished banker James de Rothschild (1792-1868), founder of the French branch of the family. Finding the house somewhat small for his social ambitions, he demolished it and in 1854 commissioned the great English architect Joseph Paxton to construct a far grander house along the lines of Mentmore which he had built in 1850 for his cousin Mayer (1818-1874). Paxton's initial plans for a house like Mentmore in the Jacobean style, were modified to include English, French and Italian Renaissance elements. Work began in late 1856 and the interior decoration was entrusted to the painter Eugne Lami (1800-1890) who also advised James de Rothschild on his purchases. The resulting eclectic mix, ranging from the 16th to the 19th centuries, set Ferrires very much apart from the prevailing decorative style in the larger French country houses. For a further discussion of the building and decoration of Ferrires see P. Prvost-Marcilhacy, Les Rothschild btisseurs et mcnes, Paris, 1995, pp. 94-98 and pp. 106, 107, 109, 123, 124-5, 129, 131, 134, 135 for watercolors by Lami of the main rooms.
VENETIAN SMALL BRONZES AND TIZIANO ASPETTI
The attribution of the present pair of andirons to Tiziano Aspetti (c. 1559 Padua - Pisa 1606) is based upon the comparison of the two finial figures with a body of bronze statuettes generally accepted as by Aspetti (Planiscig, op. cit, figs. 620-1, 625). Another example of the male figure, though of inferior quality, has been attributed to the circle of Aspetti and can be found in the Museum of Fine Arts in Budapest (Bologh, loc. cit.).
By the late 16th century, andirons had become a speciality of Venetian sculptors. While changing fashions meant that the lower elements of such andirons would be discarded, the bronze finial figures often survived as art objects in their own right, making the present andirons remarkably noteworthy for their complete state. The decorative lower portion of these andirons relates to another pair in the Bargello attributed to Niccol Roccatagliata (Planiscig, op. cit., figs. 663 and 664), and a further pair from the Pierpont Morgan Collection, London by Alessandro Vittoria (W. Bode, The Italian Bronze Statuettes of the Renaissance, 1980, figs. 65 and 66). Such ideas and motifs appear to have travelled freely between workshops and foundries, though it is interesting to note that Aspetti's oeuvre shows the influence of Vittoria above any other.
The female figure atop one of the present andirons is symbolic of Virtue for her attibutes, the sun on her breast, the tortoise under her foot and the club, emblematic of Virt Heroica, that are borrowed from Cesare Ripa's Iconologia, first published in 1593. Such a precise identification is not possible with the male figure surmounting the other andiron. This figure, wearing a laurel wreath and holding a baton, was probably meant to be identified as a Roman emperor and so could be symbolic of good government and temporal justice.