Capital for a Porphyry Column

gilt bronze capital decorated with leaves intended to be the top of a column

Capital for a Porphyry Column, ca. 1775–80
Pierre Gouthière (1732–1813)
Probably after a design by François-Joseph Bélanger (1744–1818)
Gilt bronze
Musée du Louvre, Paris; Founding collection

This capital epitomizes the relationships Gouthière had with the most inventive architects of the time, the purity of the neoclassicism he developed under their guidance, and the extravagance of the objects he created for his most illustrious patrons. The capital was made to crown an antique porphyry column owned by the Duke of Aumont, who, during the second half of the eighteenth century, assembled a prestigious collection of marble columns and hardstone vases. These objects were highly sought after by the most refined collectors in Europe since the Renaissance.

prepator drawing representing column and milliary ballphoto of antique yellow and white marble with gilding on the capitalFrançois-Joseph Bélanger, who probably designed the capital, was inspired by an antique column that also belonged to the duke (see inset). A large marble ball (now lost) was originally placed on top. Today, only the preparatory drawing for the catalogue engraving gives an idea of the superb contrast of colors between the gilt bronze and the various marbles used (see inset).

At the sale of the Duke of Aumont’s collections, the complete column was acquired by Louis XVI for the enormous sum of 6,999 livres (about twice the annual salary of a teacher). The king purchased it for the future “Muséum” du Louvre (now the Musée du Louvre), which opened in 1793 and still houses the column and capital.


Antique Column. Antique yellow, white, and Brocatelle d’Espagne marble with traces of gilding on the capital. Musée du Louvre, Paris

Pierre-Adrien Pâris, Preparatory Drawing for the Engraving, Representing a Column and a Milliary Ball, 1782. Pencil, ink, and watercolor on paper, 7 7/8 × 5 1/8 in. Bibliothèque Nationale de France, Paris

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