A very fine pair of Empire gilt and patinated bronze three-light candelabra attributed to Claude Galle, each with a caryatid vestal virgin wearing a classical tunic over a long skirt, arm bands, bare feet and hair worn up under a veil that falls over her shoulders, holding a covered urn upon a dish in front of her and supporting on her head a gilt bronze baluster-shaped urn mounted on the front with a butterfly and enclosing a candle nozzle within its neck, the urn with scrolled handles mounted with rosettes at the top and terminated by a pair of lion masks, each of which issue a scrolled trumpet-shaped acanthus-wrapped candle branch with circular nozzles, each caryatid standing with both feet on a shaped square plinth on a splayed rectangular pedestal mounted on either side with flaming torches and on the front with classical maidens holding looped drapery over their head which falls down to the sides of her knees, on a stepped square gilt and patinated bronze base
Paris, date circa 1815
Height 56.5 cm, the base 12 x 12 cm. each.
These magnificent candelabra caryatids take the form of vestal virgins, the ancient priestesses who protected the temple dedicated to the Roman goddess Vesta. As here vestals wore veils, they were sworn to chastity and among their duties they ensured that the altar fire in the temple never went out, hence the presence of the flaming torches on the side of the pedestals. An almost identical pair of candelabra mounted on the pedestals with winged Victories were sold at Christie’s New York, 24th May 2001, lot 101.
Based on their quality and style these candelabra can be attributed to the esteemed fondeur-ciseleur Claude Galle (1759-1815), comparing for instance with candelabra by him in the Grand Trianon, Versailles which have a comparable caryatid shaft and a flaming torch mounted on the pedestal, (illustrated in Hans Ottomeyer and Peter Pröschel, “Vergoldete Bronzen”, 1986, p 335, pl. 5.2.19). Although the latter represents Victory she nevertheless stands in a comparable pose, her dress is also similar and as here the candle branches scroll downward in Galle’s often typical style. The same characteristic downward scrolling candle branches, again supported on a female head, can be seen on a pair of Egyptian style candelabra by Galle (illustrated ibid., p. 338, pl. 5.3.6) while similar lion head masks appear on a fender (for a fireplace) by Galle, housed in the Grand Trianon, Versailles (illustrated ibid., p. 341, pl. 5.4.5).
Claude Galle was one of the foremost bronziers of the late Louis XVI and Empire periods who having been received as a maître in 1786, gained many commissions from the Garde-Meuble de la Couronne and then enjoyed significant patronage under Emperor Napoleon. He is known to have collaborated with Pierre-Philippe Thomire (1751-1843) and was responsible for the majority of bronzes d’ameublement supplied during the Empire to Château de Fontainebleau. He also supplied numerous bronze furnishings and fittings for the palaces at Saint-Cloud, the Trianons, Tuileries, Compiègne, Rambouillet as well as a number of Italian palaces including Monte Cavallo, Rome and Stupinigi near Turin. Today his work can be found among the world’s finest collections which include the Musée National de Château de Malmaison, the Musée Marmottan in Paris, the Museo de Reloges at Jerez de la Frontera, the Residenz Munich and the Victoria and Albert Museum in London.