Indianapolis Museum of Art: Highlights of the Collection (2005)
Majestic and luxurious, this soup tureen is a prime example of French Empire metalwork. The style, which developed during the reign of Napoleon I, was one in a succession of late 18th- and 19th-century decorative approaches that revived the forms and motifs of ancient Greek and Roman art. Made by Jean-Baptiste-Claude Odiot, a goldsmith to Napoleon, the tureen is, in effect, a piece of Napoleonic sculpture that demonstrates France's passionate embrace of Classical forms at that time. Over the course of Odiot's career, the distinguished artisan regularly supplied important objects not only to Napoleon and other European rulers and aristocrats, but to the French emperor's mother, known as Madame Mère.
The tureen and its mate, now in the collection of the Rijksmuseum, Amsterdam, each feature two winged victories supporting a massive central bowl with swan's-head handles. The surface of the silver vessel is gilded, creating the impression that it is made of solid gold. The two tureens are the largest items in a 140-piece service commissioned by Count François-Xavier Branicki, a wealthy Polish nobleman. In 1819, the year it was commissioned, the complete service was displayed at the Louvre in a prestigious exhibition of contemporary French artistry. The IMA's tureen is one of the few pieces from this celebrated service that is known to survive.
[There is] no crowned head in Europe, no prince, nor private person of wealth who is not eager to come and order his silver. -Odiot catalogue, 1819
(Koopman Rare Art, Ltd., The London Silver Vaults, 53-64 Chancery Lane, London, WC2A 1QS; England); purchased by the Indianapolis Museum of Art in 1997.