Charles Avery, "Florentine Renaissance Sculpture", 1970, p. 240, pl. 176, illustrating Giovanni Bologna's Mercury of circa 1580, now in the Bargello, Florence. "The Treasure Houses of Britain", Washington National Gallery of Art Exhibition Catalogue, edited by Gervase Jackson-Stops, 1985, p. 359, no. 286, illustrating Giacomo Zoffoli's identical bronze figure of Mercury after Giovanni Bologna, circa 1769.
A very rare pair of Empire gilt and patinated bronze and Siena marble figural five-light candelabra by Claude Galle or his son Gérard Galle, each with a central torch-shaped light issuing from a circular shaft from which issue four scrolled tapering circular and foliate wrapped branches each with circular sockets and drip pans, each held aloft by the respective figures of Mercury and Iris. The figure of Mercury inspired after the original Renaissance model by Giovanni Bologna with winged ankles, wearing a petasus or winged hat and holding his distinctive caduceus or magic wand in his left hand, standing balanced with his left foot on an upturned putto head representing the wind and looking up to the branched light held aloft in his right hand The figure of the female winged Iris inspired after a model by Canova, with scant diaphanous drapery, balanced with her right foot upon an celestial globe holding a wreath of irises in her right hand and looking up toward the branched light held aloft in her left hand, each on a circular Siena marble plinth ornamented with alternate winged putto torsos and flaming torches on a square Siena marble base
Paris, date circa 1812-20
Height 105 cm. each.
The reappearance of these rare and magnificent candelabra is an exciting discovery, their identity and authenticity has recently been confirmed by Jean Dominique Augarde of Paris. The pair were either made by the celebrated Empire bronzier, Claude Galle (1759-1815) or by his eldest son Gérard Galle (1788-1846), who worked with his father and took over the family business at rue Vivienne on the latter's death. Gérard, whose business was regarded as one of the best in Paris and frequented by the richest clientele, soon proved that he could maintain his father's excellent reputation.
A pair of candelabra with figures of Mercury and Iris was recorded in the inventory of Galle's stock made in 1812, priced at 60 francs. There is also a record of another pair with the same figures, cast in 1815 estimated at 50 francs. Furthermore the inventory made after Claude's death in 1815 listed a pair of bronze candelabra with Mercury and Iris both carrying a three-branch light, each on green marble socles, Ntée 9285 priced at 550 francs. At the Exposition des Produits de l'Industrie, 1819 Gérard Galle exhibited a pair of candelabra with identical figures carrying a seven-branched light. Their description in a memoir of the Garde Meuble de la Couronne directly corresponds with the present figures noted as measuring 41 pouces and estimated at 1600 francs. Other identical models by Galle can be found at the Musée Marmottan-Claude Monet in Paris and in the apartments of the royal palace in Madrid at the Patrimonio Nacional.
According to mythology, Iris and Mercury were both messengers of the gods and thus although appropriate partners the combination of the two only appeared in art during the Empire and subsequent Restauration period. Therefore the rare combination of the two mythological figures significantly adds to their historical importance. The renowned bronzier, Pierre-François Feuchère, (1737-1823) was another to be similarly inspired by the two figures since a record of his collection, 1824 lists a pair of bronze figures of Mercury and Iris on griotte d'Italie socles.