Pierre Gouthière and Madame du Barry

  • gilt bronze window knob, adorned with overlapping "DB" at its center

    Knob for a French Window, ca. 1770
    Pierre Gouthière (1732–1813)
    After a design by Claude-Nicolas Ledoux (1736–1806)
    Gilt bronze
    Musée des Arts Décoratifs, Paris

    Gouthière made this knob for one of the most lavish French eighteenth century buildings, the pavilion of Louveciennes, designed by the architect Claude-Nicolas Ledoux for Madame Du Barry, Louis XV’s mistress. Although the pavilion can no longer be viewed in its original splendor — the interior decoration was removed and sold to various collectors after the French Revolution — rare elements like this knob made for its Salon en Cul-de-Four, as well as Jean-Honoré Fragonard’s four panels depictingThe Progress of Love, painted for the same room and now in The Frick Collection, attest to the building’s former glory.

    Each myrtle leaf, a symbol of the goddess Venus, is rendered in unique detail, forming an extraordinary lacework of leaves that contrasts with the smooth surface of the interlinked D and B of the royal mistress’s initials. The knob alone confirms the recollection of the painter Élisabeth Vigée Le Brun, who, reflecting on her time spent in Du Barry’s residence decades earlier, wrote: “the locks [at Louveciennes] could be admired as masterpieces of the goldsmith’s art.”

  • pair of gilt bronze firedogs, decorated with leaves and scenes inlcuding one of child leading goat to sacrifice

    Pair of Firedogs, 1771
    Pierre Gouthière (1732–1813)
    Gilt bronze
    Private collection

    For the Grand Salon Carré in Mme Du Barry’s new pavilion at Louveciennes, Gouthière supplied two pairs of firedogs to complement the two chimneypieces of white marble and gilt bronze. According to Gouthière’s invoice, he presented several drawings and models of firedogs to Du Barry, one of which was found to be “to Madame’s taste” and was used to make the sets of firedogs. The other pair is at the Detroit Institute of Art.

    The low-relief featuring a child leading a goat to sacrifice — directly inspired by the Bacchanal of Children with a Goat sculpted in Rome in 1626 by François Duquesnoy — evokes a ritual purification, which, together with smoldering vases and tripods, and Jupiter thunderbolts, was the favored motif for firedogs in the second half of the eighteenth century. It refers to the first element, fire, and is well suited to the purpose of these gilt-bronze objects and their position next to the flames.

    The theme is completed by a branch of myrtle at the circular bases of the tripods. This motif is associated with the goddess Venus, love, and eternal youth, appropriate for the house of the king’s mistress. It can also be found on the surviving knob (also in this exhibition) and originally on several other decorative elements at Louveciennes.

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