The gilt AB monogram is the quality control mark of Alexandre Brongniart, the Director of the manufactory. The incised DC marks are for the thrower Louis Charles Descoins fils aîné.
Once Brongniart became Director of the Manufactory in 1800, he introduced new vase forms that were designed by his father, the architect Alexandre-Theodore Brongniart, and Charles Percier after antique forms. The vase Fuseau was designed in 1800 by Brongniart's father, and several drawings of vases of this form survive with the inscription 'Brongniart vase copied from the original'. The form was immensely successful and could be produced with handles of varying design and material.
Painting trompe l'oeil cameos in the manner of antique hardstone cameos had been attempted at Sèvres in the 18th Century, but was only convincingly mastered under Brongniart's Directorship of the manufactory. His training as a mineralogist could well have influenced the refinement of this technique of producing cameos in imitation of sardonyx, agate, carnelian and other hard stones. Cameos also had a particular appeal for Napoleon, and he ordered vases and services painted with them. Two services painted by Degault with figures from antiquity and each bearing the same name, service 'Iconographique', were ordered by Napoleon; the first was delivered in 1811 to Napoleon's uncle, Cardinal Fesch, the second was delivered to 'the court of Rome' in September 1819.
Cameos were well adapted for Imperial propaganda, lending an antique 'authenticity' to depictions of great figures from antiquity with which Napoleon chose to link both himself and his regime. In order to achieve the greatest accuracy and authenticity possible, the sources of the designs were chosen with the greatest care. In 1811, Brongniart even went to the lengths of requesting the second edition of the book (three volumes) on which Napoleon had placed an embargo in order that he could give them away as gifts. Brogniart wrote to comte Daru (Intendant Général de la Maison de l'Empereur) explaining that Ennio-Quirino Visconti's Iconographie grecque was 'indispensable to the factory; it would be inexcusable for me to allow errors to be made in the execution of any portraits published in this collection' (AN, O2 925, letter dated 21st January 1811). Five years earlier, during the preparation of the designs for the porcelain Table des Grands Capitaines, he had been ordered to obtain suitable models from Visconti (the curator of the antiquities at the Louvre). Visconti had sent cameos, medals, drawings and engravings of the relevant Commanders to Sèvres, and these were used as a basis for the simulated cameos of twelve great military Commanders of antiquity which were painted on its top about a central cameo of Alexander The Great.
Jean-Marie Degault (active at Sèvres 1808-1817) and Louis-Bertin Parant were the two painters at Sèvres who specialised in painting simulated cameos of this type on a dark brown ground. Although of the two, Parant was the leading artist in this field, he was not part of the regular workforce at Sèvres, preferring to work alone in his own studio in Paris, and he also worked painfully slowly, at times much to the frustration of Brongniart. At the time these vases were made, Parant would still have been engaged with finishing his work on the cameos on the Table des Grands Capitaines, commissioned by Napoleon in 1806 and which had taken six years to produce rather than the originally anticipated eight to ten months (Parant finished on 17th March 1812). During its production, Brongniart had had to provide a number of 'excuses' in explanation of its lengthy production, and it is no wonder that the painting of the cameos on the present lot was assigned to Degault.
Degault's 'cameo' of Julius Caesar on one of these vases bears an extremely close resemblance to Parant's Caesar on the Table des Grands Capitaines, and it is clear that Degault used the same original source for his cameo of Caesar as Parant. Both Degault's and Parant's Caesar also correspond to the two engravings (pls. 18.8 and 18.9) published by Visconti in his Iconographie romaine (Paris, 1817-26). Although published after the manufacture of these vases and the Table des Grands Capitaines, it would appear, as Sir Geoffrey de Bellaigue suggests (in his fascinating article 'A Royal Keepsake, the table of the Grand Commanders', Furniture History , Vol. XXXV, pp. 112-141), that the same cameos, medals, drawings and engravings sent by Visconti to Sèvres in 1806 later served as models for the engravings published in his Iconographie romaine (Paris, 1817-26). These engravings of Caesar were based on drawings of the colossal statue in the Palazzo dei Conservatori, Rome (Visconti had rejected the initial drawings as they had been taken from what he considered to be a less authentic source than the specified statue in the Palazzo Conservatori).
For an illustration of a vase Fuseau in the Museo di Capodimonte, Naples (inv. 6990), with identical handles and gilt decoration, but with a depiction of Napoleon instead of a 'cameo', see Marcelle Brunet and Tamara Préaud, Sèvres, des origines à nos jours (Fribourg, 1978), p. 253, pl. LXII (the companion vase is in the Palazzo Pitti).