Fine French silver centerpiece
Paris, second half 19th century
The domed base with four couples allegorical of the four continents: Europe, America, Africa, and Asia, alternating with shield and crown-form appliques with central medallions depicting heraldic devices, the stem formed by four children bearing arms and armor, all below a lobed floriform bowl with openworked rim, the base with French guarantee mark of Minerva's head for .950 standard, one figure marked with French guarantee mark for .800 standard, the underside of base with insect bigorne mark and rubbed maker's mark.
H: 10 1/2, Dia: 13 in. 193 oz. (approx).
Descended in the von Friebeis family to the current owner.
See page 41 for a note on the family history of this piece.
The fine French silver centerpiece comprises a finely chased bowl supported by four seated human couples, each representative of the four continents. The allegory of the four continents as female figures has been depicted symbolically in works of art for over 400 years. In the late 16th century, at a time when exciting geographical discoveries greatly increased, a new iconographic genre began to emerge which personified these colonial expansionist discoveries. Such features including the four continents, seasons, cardinal directions, wind-heads, and classical elements became commonplace on maps and atlases in particular. Variations of these themes have been reinterpreted and seen throughout the past few centuries, and are indicative of power, influence and education.
On top of the domed base rests four couples representative of Europe, America, Africa, and Asia. Each figural group is depicted in what would have been considered typical dress, likely adapted from contemporary engravings or color plate books published in the 19th century. Each bears elements symbolic of the continent they depict, with each woman holding a different item. For example, the American women holds a native bird in hand, the African woman a sheaf of wheat, the European woman with a wreath, and the Asian woman holding a fan. Each figural group is separated by shield and crown-form appliqués with central medallions incorporating heraldic devices - a displayed eagle, a rampant lion, arrows, and a shield, further accentuating the symbolism of power.
Sold for $15,000 (buyer's premium included)