This vase was a lavish Imperial gift to Emperor Napoleon I’s sister-in-law, Princess Catharina Frederica of Württemberg, Queen of Westphalia (1783-1835) and wife of Napoleon’s brother Jérôme Bonaparte. The vase is recorded in the Sèvres sales registers on 24 December 1813 '1v. Fuseau 2e fd bleu, portrait de l'impératrice d'apris Gérard par Constantin ornements en or et platine' (vv1:12 vo - 17) and was one of a pair of vases ‘fuseau’, the other being decorated with a portrait of the Emperor Napoleon after Gérard. The pair were delivered to the Queen of Westphalia as a New Year’s gift on 1 January 1814 at a cost of 2000 livres each: 'Vase de même forme et décor. Portrait de L'Impératrice Marie-Louise d'apres Gérard. Même prix/Feuille d'appréciation No. 70 (24 Décembre 1813) (Ces deux vases ont été offerts en présents à l'occasion du 1er Jour de l'An 1814).'1 Between 1806 and 1813 the Sèvres manufactory produced eleven vases ‘fuseau’ of which six were decorated with a dark-blue ground and all of them painted with a portrait of the Emperor after Gérard; several of these examples were paired with a corresponding vase decorated with a portrait of Empress Josephine (those produced before 1809) and subsequently with the Empress Marie Louise. These pairs of vases were presented as Imperial gifts to some of the most important royal and military figures of the period. A vase ‘fuseau’ from this series, decorated with a portrait of Napoleon I and with the same Imperial emblems and ormolu handles was presented by Empress Marie Louise in 1813 as a New Year’s Day gift to the Duchess of Elchingen, wife of Maréchal Ney. This vase is now in the collection of the Fondation Napoléon, Paris.
Marie Louise of Austria (1791-1847) was the second wife of Napoleon I of France and the eldest child of the Habsburg Emperor Francis I of Austria and his second wife Maria Theresa of Naples and Sicily. In 1810 she married Napoleon following the end of the War of the Fifth Coalition, which brought about an important alliance between warring revolutionary France and Austria. Marie Louise became Empress of France for a short period between 1810-14. Following Napoleon's abdication and exile to Elba in 1814 Marie Louise was given the duchies of Parma, Piacenza and Guastalla, which she ruled as duchess of Parma until her death in 1847. The present vase is a fitting Imperial gift from either the Emperor himself or from Empress Marie Louise, to her sister-in-law Princess Catharina Frederica of Württemberg, whose own marriage was arranged by Napoleon in order to solidify a powerful alliance between France and Germany, thereby creating the Kingdom of Westphalia.
Born in Geneva, Abraham Constantin was as an enameller of clock and watch dials until his arrival in Paris in 1807, when he became a protégé of the painter François Gérard. Presented to Empress Josephine, he became the portraitist to the Imperial family for paintings on enamel and subsequently painted on porcelain at Sèvres from 1813. Constantin specialised in portraits and copies of Old Master paintings. Other portraits on Sèvres porcelain by Constantin include a vase painted with a portrait of the Count of Artois, after Gérard and dated 1817, in the collection of the Royal Palace of Naples.
The ornament of the vase includes symbols that are all emblematic of the empire and which were adopted by Napoleon for his coat-of-arms in 1804. The eagle, a symbol of Imperial Rome associated with military victory is shown clutching a thunderbolt. The bee, a symbol of immortality and resurrection, was considered the oldest emblem of the sovereigns of France, and the hand of justice and the sceptre were both 'Honneurs' of Charlemagne and reused for Napoleon's coronation on 2 December 1804.
The form of this vase was designed by the architect Alexandre-Théodore Brongniart, whose son, Alexandre, took over the running of the factory and became its director in 1800. It was one of the first designs that he produced for the factory and was manufactured in a number of sizes with portraits, cameos or other decoration. It proved to be a very successful design and was used throughout the 19th century and could be embellished with a variety of handles in ormolu or porcelain, see Tamara Préaud ed., The Sèvres Porcelain Manufactory, Alexandre Brongniart and the Triumph of Art and Industry, 1800-1847, New York, 1997, p. 174, no. 9 for a watercolour of a vase 'fuseau' by Charles-Eloi Asselin, 1804. For a vase 'fuseau' painted with a portrait of Napoleon I, within a similar inscribed gilt border in the collection of the Capodimonte Museum, Naples, see Marcelle Brunet et Tamara Préaud, Sèvres, des origines à nos jours, Fribourg, 1978, pp. 252-253, pl. LXII. A green-ground vase 'fuseau' dated 1811 and decorated with a portrait of the Emperor amongst imperial trophies is in the collection of the Château de Compiègne. For a pair of vases with similar handles with cameo decoration, sold in these Rooms on 9 July 2001, lot 181, which are now in the Richard Baron Cohen Collection, see Samuel Wittwer et al., Raffinesse & Eleganz, Königliche Porzellane des frühen, 19. Jarhunderts u der Twinight Collection, New York, Munich, 2007, pp. 162-165, cat. no. 12a & 12b.
1. Sèvres sales register, Vbbb.5, 2.