A rare and important pair of Empire gilt bronze and Vert de Mer marble covered vases attributed to Claude Galle, each of krater form surmounted by a domed cover with a foliate vase-shaped finial and mounted with pierced palmette decorations, the main body cast with dancing maenads in diaphanous dress each interspersed by a flaming athénienne, the vase with rams' head handles upon which are seated a pair of outward facing putti, one playing a pair of cymbals the other a triangle, the base of the vase cast with a pierced anthemion frieze on a fluted foot set upon a rectangular gilt bronze mounted Vert de Mer marble plinth, mounted with a pair of winged griffins each with a paw set upon a central flaming torchère, on a stepped and square base
Paris, date circa 1810-15
Height 60.5 cm. each.
The design and form of these imposing pair of covered vases combine a number of elements that are typical of the work of Claude Galle (1759-1815), who was one of Napoleon's favourite bronziers. Firstly one can cite the similarity between the rams' head handles that also appear on a slightly earlier Galle vase of circa 1800, examples of which are in the Villa Hardt, Eltville and Ludwigsburg Castle (illustrated in Hans Ottomeyer and Peter Pröschel, "Vergoldete Bronzen", 1986, p. 303, colour pl XXXV and p. 365, pl. 5.12.11). Secondly, like the latter, the present vases feature on the main body figures associated with Bacchus, god of wine and thirdly they, like the latter as well as other Galle bronzes are decorated with intricate pierced palmette and anthemion decorations. The dancing maenads can also be compared with those appearing on an unattributed Paris made covered vase of circa 1815 (illustrated ibid., p. 364, pl. 5.12.7) as well as those appearing on a vase with Bacchanalian reliefs made by Pierre-Philippe Thomire (1751-1843), in the Museum für Kunsthandwerk, Budapest (illustrated ibid., p. 362, pl. 5.12.3).
Although such luxury objects were intended merely for decorative use the predominance of Bacchic motifs was quite common since some of the antique prototypes on which they were modelled or inspired by, were probably intended to hold wine. Thus here one sees dancing maenads, the female followers of Bacchus who celebrated the god in abandoned revelry. The horned rams were also associated with the ancient god, as were cymbals and other musical instruments held by the adorning putti.
The work of the illustrious fondeur and ciseleur, Claude Galle was almost unrivalled and has often been confused with that of Pierre-Philippe Thomire, with whom he sometimes collaborated. Like Thomire, Galle supplied work to Louis XVI's court and later to the Imperial household as well as the cream of Parisian society and foreign clients. Born at Villepreux near Versailles, the son of a poultry trader he served his apprenticeship in Paris under the fondeur, Pierre Foy, whose workshop he later took over and built up into one the finest of its kind. First listed in the trade registers in 1784 he was received as a maitre-fondeur in 1786 and promptly gained the first of many commissions from the Garde-Meuble. Such orders included the creation of numerous vases, light fittings, figural clock cases and other fine bronze furnishings for the palaces at Saint-Cloud, the Trianons, Tuileries, Fontainebleau, Compiègne, Rambouillet and a number of the Italian palaces including Monte Cavallo, Rome and Stupinigi near Turin.
Today his work can be found among the world's finest collections including 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.