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Perfume burner
  • Perfume burner
  • Pierre Gouthière (1732–1813) , (mounts)
  • François-Joseph Belanger (1744–1818), Designer
    Augustin Bocciardi (c. 1729–1797), Jasper cutter
  • France
  • Date: 1773 - 1775
  • Medium: Jasper and gilt bronze
  • Height: 48.3 cm
  • Diameter: 21.7 cm, bowl
  • Inv: F292
  • Location: Study
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Further Reading
  • Considered to be one of the most outstanding pieces of French gilt bronze of the eighteenth century, the perfume burner is one of the most celebrated works by Pierre Gouthière (1732–1813), one of the leading bronziers in France before the Revolution. Gouthière has used all his skills as a chaser and gilder to produce something of delicacy and refinement that has been highly-prized by collectors since the 1770s. Its first owner was Louis-Marie-Augustin, duc d’Aumont (1709–1782), first gentleman of the king's bedchamber and a leading art patron, who commissioned the architect François-Joseph Bélanger to design tables, columns and objets d’art for him incorporating precious materials such as hardstones and porcelain, all mounted in gilt bronze. Gouthière was responsible for many of the gilt-bronze mounts on Bélanger’s pieces, and it was these that helped to spread the bronzier’s fame over the ensuing decades.

    The quality of the chasing is extraordinary: each grape on the vine is clearly defined and each hair on the goats’ hooves delicately textured. The satyrs’ faces at the top of the legs appear to have had life breathed into them, while every vein and every wrinkle of the leaves has been chased with great naturalism. The bowl of the perfume burner is made of red jasper, probably cut in the workshop set up by the duc d’Aumont.

    The design incorporates a tripod with its legs entwined by a snake, a motif that is also found in design drawings by other architects and ornament designers of the period, and was employed perhaps for the first time by Claude-Nicolas Ledoux, for a chimneypiece made for Madame du Barry’s new pavilion at Louveciennes in 1771–3, also with gilt-bronze mounts by Gouthière. Such designs are testament to the contemporary preoccupation with the Antique as a source for art, and the ultimate source for the perfume burner is a Renaissance marble bas-relief flanking the entrance to the Cesi chapel in the church of Santa Maria della Pace in Rome. Although carved in the early sixteenth century by Simone Mosca (1492–1554), the chapel was thought in the eighteenth century to have been the work of Michelangelo and was one of the buildings regularly studied and drawn by foreign architects and artists visiting the city.

    D’Aumont displayed the perfume burner and other objects designed by Bélanger in his newly renovated apartment on the Place Louis XV (now the Place de la Concorde). After his death they were sold at a reknown auction in 1782 at which buyers included both the king and the queen and some of the richest collectors in France. The dealer Jean-Baptiste-Pierre Le Brun, husband to the illustious artist Élisabeth-Louise Vigée Le Brun, bought the perfume burner on behalf of Marie-Antoinette, paying the highest price for a single object at the sale. The queen placed it in the centre of a display on the chimneypiece of one of her newly-renovated private rooms, the Cabinet de la Méridienne at Versailles. Although she entrusted it to the dealers Martin-Éloi Lignereux and Dominique Daguerre for safe keeping in 1789, it was subsequently seized and sold to raise money for the French state.