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Sèvres Biscuit Group

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Dates Circa 1775
Medium Porcelain
Origin France
Description A rare and extremely important Sèvres biscuit group of L’Autel Royal, circa 1775, modelled by Louis-Simon Boizot, as the newly crowned Louis XVI and Marie-Antoinette wearing coronets and voluminous ermine-lined robes patterned with fleurs-de-lis over sashed tunics, their right hands touching a globe moulded with three fleur-de-lis and supported on the triangular ‘royal altar’ moulded with garlands of fruit and flowers suspended beneath a ram’s head at each corner and standing on a circular base.

Marks: Incised numeral 19 on the back edge of the base. Height: 11¾in. (29.7cm)

The inspiration for this very rare group commemorating the coronation of Louis XVI is described rather fulsomely by Émile Bourgeois, Le Biscuit de Sèvres au XVIIIe Siècle, Volume I, pp, 111-113, who illustrates opposite, p.112 (and also ibid., Volume II, pl. 48) the example at Versailles on a monogramed and cornucopia-moulded base with the inscription AU BONHEUR PUBLIC on the altar and translated from the French original, writes:

“On 9th June 1775 in the cathedral of Rheims, superbly ornate and adorned for the occasion of the anointment and coronation, Louis XVI received from Cardinal de La Roche-Aymon, Chief Almoner to the King of France, the holy unction that elevated him to sovereign above all sovereigns, the chosen of God to be the ruler of the people and defender of the faith. The young king, garbed in a majestic royal robe with a long train lined in blue ermine and partnered with gold fleur de lis, beneath which was visible his dalmatic and tunic and on his head the great crown of Charlemagne, sat upon a raised throne below a canopy in the chancel of the church. A burst of trumpets

proclaimed him master; the doors opened and the people of France cheered the new regime with enthusiastic ovations.

“Although custom did not permit Queen Marie-Antoinette to participate officially in the ceremonies of the coronation, even in the procession from Versailles she had been paid the same homage as her husband by the peasantry as well as the nobility of both the court and the provinces. Through their cheers the French reversed her exclusion from the official ceremonies and through their testimony of hope and love they had their sentiment separated the royal couple. “The beauty of this sacred day” exclaimed Marie-Antoinette, “I shall never in my life forget.”

“It seemed that with these two monarchs, embued with the grace and noble promises of their youth, attached as they were to one another and to their duties, a new era had dawned. The Sèvres factory associated itself with this national homage and sense of hope. A small monument in soft paste porcelain, ‘L’Autel Royal’(The Royal Altar), of which an example exists at the Petit Trianon [at Versailles], a gift of the happy accession from Louis XVI to his wife, was presented by the royal factory in 1775 to the young monarchs: ‘Le Couronnement du Roi’ (The Coronation of the King).

“On a socle beautifully executed in the Louis XVI style, moulded in the centre with interlaced L’s forming an A beneath a crown [in fact the A is garlanded but not crowned] and further moulded on one side with a fleur-de-lis and on the other with the Austrian eagle, above which in the centre stands the royal altar of antique form and adorned with ram’s heads. It is supported on two cornucopias [again a slightly incorrect observation, as the cornucopias are on the large separate base in front of, rather than beneath, the altar] and surmounted by an orb decorated with fleur-de-lis, upon which the king and his wife, standing crowned and wearing ceremonial robes, join hands in a gesture of protection. This is a commentary on the words of the ceremony: ‘Receive this sceptre, symbol of royal power, and called the sceptre of rectitude and administrator of justice, for your good leadership of the Church and the people.’

“Through this homage, which must have touched the heart of the young queen, the sculptor at Sèvres, like the spectators at Rheims, had wished to place the kingdom of the lilies at once under the guardianship of the son of St. Louis and the Archduchess who had come from Austria to share with him the throne and the confidence of the French; and while this was not a representation of the official coronation ceremony, it was the expression of its spirit and significance. Art has privilege refused to history.

“Like France itself, the Sèvres factory and the art of biscuit had entered a year earlier into a period of rejuvenation, the credit for which must be attributed to the artist who had executed this group and who, in this little kingdom, since April 1773, had applied his young talent to the restoration of the factory’s prosperity and fortune: Louis-Simon Boizot. This sculptor, who for thirty years had devoted the best of his ideas and time to the anonymous and collective oeuvre of French porcelain, is not nearly as well known to posterity as he should be. His modesty perhaps contributed to this oversight, if it can be judged by the absolute absence of any image of him, either painted, engraved or sculpted – an unusual lapse in a period and in a family that included many artists.

“The history of biscuit, which parallels Boizot’s own, under the reign of Louis XVI and until the end of the 18th Century, will restore to him at the very least a deserved recognition for his pieces and his place in the art of France.

Émile Bourgeois continues his discussion of Boizot, whose biography and accomplishments are far more succinctly compiled by Rosalind Savill, The Wallace Collection Catalogue of Sèvres Porcelain, Volume III, pp. 967-968, who wrote that Louis-Simon Boizot (1742-1809), “sculpteur du roi”, became director of sculpture [at Sèvres] on 1 April, 1773,” and worked at the factory, while continuing “as an independent sculptor in Paris” until his death. “He chiefly designed biscuit groups….[and these and his] biscuit figures made from 1773-80, while he was head of the sculpture studio as well as director of sculpture, are incised Bo.” But “he also designed a large number of useful wares [and vases]

between 1774 and 1803, including…probably the Catherine II service” (ibid, Volume I, p. 464), on which his unremunerated work is said to have bankrupted him (p. 968); and he “supervised Genest’s designs for jewelled enamelling” as well. “Bourgeois lists almost 150 groups designed by Boizot before the Revolution and others subsequently, many representing classical history and mythology. His earliest royal commission marked the marriage of the comte d’Artois [who became Charles X] to Marie-Thérèse de Savoie in 1773; and in 1774 he created L’autel royal marking the coronation of Louis XVI and Marie-Antoinette.”

Boizot became a member of the Académie Française in 1778, and he also “was a member of the Revolutionary commissions for the protection of works of art and science.” By the early 1790’s his works, “exhibited at the salon in 1793 [had begun to reflect] Revolutionary ideas…..He apparently resigned as director of sculpture [at Sèvres] in 1800 but continued to provide models until his death in 1809.” During his career, Louis-Simon Boizot worked for some of the most important patrons of the time: Catherine II of Russia, Louis XVI and Marie-Antoinette and Madame Du Barry, among others; and with some of the most distinguished artists and craftsmen in France: Pierre Gouthière, Pierre-Philippe Thomire, Guillaume Beneman and Pierre-Auguste Forestier. And throughout his career Boizot’s work is characterized by its originality, while remaining true to the spirit of the complicated years and the rapidly changing styles and tastes of the late 18th and early 19th Century France.

Very little about L’Autel royal appears in the literature on Sèvres. It seems likely that one of the groups of L’Autel royal purchased by the King is the aforementioned example at Versailles, which for many years (until the recent restoration project) was displayed among the contents of the Petit Trianon and is illustrated by Serge Gauthier, Les porcelainiers, du XVIIIe sièle français, p. 219; and by Georges Lechevallier-Chevignard, La Manufacture du Porcelaine de Sèvres, Volume I, p 85, who in Volume II, p. 92, comments that “only a very few examples of this group were made – it seems only three or four – and we are fortunate to find one of these absolutely intact in the music room at the Petit Trianon.”

Another group of this model with its base, but like the present example, lacking the inscription “Au Bonheur Public” on the altar, is illustrated by Émile Bourgeois and Geo. Lechevallier-Chevignard, Le biscuit de Sèvres, pl. 22, no 75, who provide no collection information for that example, but it is perhaps the group that Mme Préaud has indicated is in the collection of the Mobilier National (though they apparently are unaware of such a group among their holdings). If that is the not the second example belonging to the King, then it is entirely possible that the present group is – its base having disappeared during the past two centuries – but its emergence into the public domain at auction in Vienna in the 20th Century offering the possibility that it might have been bought by Louis XVI as a present for his mother-in-law, Empress Maria-Theresa of Austria, and sent to her as a souvenir of her daughter’s most cherished moment.

Condition: Some repairs, restorations and imperfections