Designed by the banker Jean-Henri Eberts (1726-1803) after that of similar form in Joseph-Marie Vien's painting of 1762, La vertueuse athénienne and introduced in an advertisement in the Parisian newspaper the Avant-Coureur for 27 September, 1773, the athénienne symbolizes the marriage of archaeological forms and fancy during the late 18th century when the neoclassic style was all the rage in fashionable intimate interiors. The multi-purpose ormolu-mounted patinated copper cassolette, silvered on the inside and containing a removable spirit lamp, above which was set a tin-plated double boiler, was surmounted by a marble slab and a patinated copper cover. The uses of the athénienne were eight: as an ornament and focal point in the middle of a room; as a table under a pier mirror, or in a corner, or as a pedestal to support a candelabrum or a piece of sculpture; as a perfume burner; as a heater for making coffee, tea, or chocolate; as a goldfish bowl; as a planter to grow bulbs in winter; as a bowl for cut flowers; and as a device for keeping bouillon or other drinks warm. The athénienne was first retailed from the shop near the porte Saint-Martin of the painter, gilder, varnisher, and author of the famous treatise on gilding, Jean-Felix Watin (b. 1728).
An identical athenienne is in the musée Nissim de Camondo, Paris and is illustrated in N. Gasc and G. Mabille, The Nissim de Camondo Museum, Paris, 1991, p.49. Interestingly, it displays an apparently identical liner. A further pair of almost identical athéniennes, together with a pair of later copies made in the 1930s under the direction of Lord Duveen, were acquired by Anna Thomson Dodge from Duveen Brothers for Rose Terrace, Michigan. The 18th Century pair is now in the Detroit Institute of Art (T. Dell, et al., The Dodge Collection of 18th-Century French and English Art in the Detroit Institute of Arts, New York, 1996, p. 25), whilst the pair of later copies was sold by the Detroit Institute of Arts to Benefit the Acquisitions Fund, Christie's New York, 24 May 2000, lot 316 ($23,500).