A pair of mirrored, gilt-bronze chênets (also known as andirons and fire-dogs). Each with a lion rearing on hind legs, the raised forepaws resting on a shield with an engraved alliance crest. The lions stand on high sarcophagus-shaped plinths centred by a richly engraved cartouche-shaped cabochon and raised by sweeping acanthus scrolls.
The decorative scheme of this pair of chênets is typical of the transitional decorative style of the Régence period (1715-1723). On the one hand, the fire-dogs feature the sarcophagus-shaped bases that already appeared in the Louis XIV period; on the other hand, the sweeping foliate S-scrolls and shell ornament form an evident prelude to the style that would further develop during the reign of Louis XV. The flamboyant exuberance of the approaching Louis XV period is already detectable, but is still tempered by the symmetrical and orderly nature of the Louis XIV style.
This pair of chênets concurs with a group of fire-dogs with featuring lions or horses on similar bases. Although the ornaments of these pairs differ slightly, they must originate from the same workshop.
The renowned bronzier and sculptor Jacques Caffiéri (1678-1755) may have been responsible for the conception of the design of the andirons. The model with lions is mentioned in his inventory, dated 1 December, 1750. The model featuring horses is also listed in his wife's inventory of 3 December, 1770.
As a sculptor and fondeur-ciseleur, Jacques Caffiéri created many original designs which were then cast in bronze. The Caffiéri family was of Italian origin and formed a large dynasty of sculptors and bronzers in the service of the French Crown. Jacques Caffiéri’s father, Philippe (1634-1716), emigrated from Naples to Paris to become Sculpteur du Roi at the request of Cardinal Mazarin. Jacques was Philippe’s tenth child. He was elected to the Académie de Saint-Luc as a sculptor and became maître fondeur-ciseleur shortly before 1715. He was appointed fondeur-ciseleur des Bâtiments du Roi and in this role produced works for the palaces of Fontainebleau, Versailles, Choisy, and Marly, among others.
A similar pair with patinated horses and the coat of arms of Bavaria on the shield is listed in 1769 in Nymphenburg Castle’s the inventory, which mentions that the pair of chênets has long been a part of the collection. The fire-dogs are depicted in Vergoldete Bronzen (Ottomeyer & Pröschel, p. 720). Another similar pair is illustrated in Catalogue Didier Aaron no. IX under number 29. And, a pair with patinated horses that was formerly in the collection of James de Rothschild is kept at Waddesdon Manor in England. Also at Waddesdon Manor is a very similar pair of andirons with lions; these bear the coat of arms of the De Bruyères de Chalabre family. Another pair with lions is registered to be in private ownership at Lochinch Castle in Scotland. Finally, there is a pair of similar chênets that once adorned the imperial apartments in Nymphenburg and which were mentioned in the castle's inventory lists as early as 1719.
The coats of arms, featured beneath the lions’ forepaws as well as on the bases of the chênets, display a later alliance crest engraving. The male coat arms belongs to Des Courtils family (des Courtils de Merlemont; “d’azur au lion d’argent, portant au col un écusson de sable au lion d’or, armé et lampassé de gueules; ledit écusson attaché par un ruban de gueules”). The female crest is that of the Lemoyne de Bellisle family (“d’azur à trois besants d’or; à la bordure componée d’argent et de gueules”).
Based on the arms of alliance on the chênets we can deduce that they belonged to Louis-René, Count of Courtils (1747-1819), Lord of Balleu, Grémévilliers, Le Plix, Héronval, Villetartre (i.e. Lavilletertre), Bouconvillers etc., “grand bailli d'épée et seneschal” of the province of Beaujolois, colonel of infantry and knight of the Order of Saint Louis. He was married to Geneviève-Joséphine-Émilie Lemoyne de Bellisle (1750-1828), Lady of Villetertre, Vernonet, Bellisle, Hennezis, etc.
The Des Courtils family originally came from Liège and had prospered in the Beauvoisis since the fifteenth century. The said Louis-René des Courtils’ title was elevated to the rank of count (comte) by King Louis XVI in 1775 and was also appointed bailiff (“by the sword”) of the Beaujolais. In 1822, his widow had an obelisk funerary monument erected in the Église de la Nativité de Notre Dame in Lavilletertre (Hauts-de-France, département de l’Oise), bearing his silhouetted portrait in marble and their coats of arms. The similarity between this alliance coat of arms and the engraved alliance coat of arms (almost identical cartouche, identical 'love knot') can be of no coincidence. The same applies to arms of alliance of an ex libris belonging to ‘Mme La Comtesse des Courtils’.
Private collection, Belgium
Bruno & Laure Desmarest et al., Didier Aaron; Catalogue, nr. IX, 2006, nr. 29 Geoffrey de Bellaigue, The James A. de Rothschild collection at Waddesdon Manos; Furniture, Clocks and Gilt Bronzes, volume II, Fribourg, 1974, p. 722-723 Hans Ottomeyer & Peter Pröschel, Vergoldete Bronzen, Band 1, München, 1986, p. 72-73
Paul Roger, Noblesse et chevalerie du comté de Flandre, d’Artois et de Picardie, Amiens,
1843, p. 240-241
Rietstap, Armorial Général, 1875, p. 276