Philadelphia Museum of Art - Collections Object : Cherubim in Clouds (two)

Cherubim in Clouds (two)

Artist/maker unknown, French

Made in France, Europe

c. 1710-1720

Gilded bronze

Each: 30 7/8 x 16 15/16 inches (78.4 x 43 cm)

Curatorial Department:
European Decorative Arts and Sculpture

* Gallery 288, European Art 1500-1850, second floor

Accession Number:

Credit Line:
125th Anniversary Acquisition. Purchased with the gift (by exchange) of Mr. and Mrs. Orville H. Bullitt and with funds contributed by Maude de Schauensee, 1998

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These gilded bronze reliefs probably belonged to a larger decorative ensemble for a church altar. Most architectural sculpture of this sort was removed from its setting and melted down during the French Revolution. These survived and their style is especially close to the sculpted ornament on the carved and gilded wooden organ case in the royal chapel of the château of Versailles, which was designed by Pierre Lepautre (c. 1660-1744) and revised and completed in 1710 under François-Antoine Vassé (1681-1736). They were most likely created by members of the team of artists and craftsmen who worked for the French crown but accepted commissions from private clients as well.

Additional information:
  • PublicationGifts in Honor of the 125th Anniversary of the Philadelphia Museum of Art

    Among the last great projects of Louis XIV were church decorations, including the chapels of the Hôtel des Invalides in Paris and the château of Versailles. The ensembles produced during this period have long been celebrated as examples of a distinctive phase of the late Baroque in France in which the first stirrings of the Rococo style appear. During the French Revolution, the animosity toward the Catholic Church and the demand for valuable metals guaranteed the destruction of most large-scale ecclesiastical structures like altars and tombs that incorporated gilded metal ornaments. These two precious reliefs, almost certainly created as components in an early eighteenth-century church decoration, have fortunately survived.

    The angels’ animated faces, tousled curls, delicate feathers, and even the form of the clouds are very close in style and quality to the gilded wood organ case designed by Pierre Lepautre and revised and completed under François-Antoine Vassé in 1710 for the chapel of Versailles. Collaboration between artists was standard for such objects. It is probable that for these reliefs an architect or sculptor provided an initial drawing. A sculptor then created a model from that drawing, or several sculptors modeled the elements independently. Afterward, specialists cast and gilded the pieces, although the sculptor might have finished the surface of the bronze himself.

    Thanks to the gifts of Eleanore Elkins Rice, the Museum’s holdings include important gilded eighteenth-century French domestic objects like wall lights, firedogs, and furniture with gilded-bronze mounts, mostly dating after 1750. Our collections contain few such works of art from Louis XIV’s long reign. These two architectural reliefs are charming yet imposing survivors of that era when the artists working for the French crown established the standards of craftsmanship for the rest of the century. Dean Walker, from Philadelphia Museum of Art: Gifts in Honor of the 125th Anniversary (2002), p. 36.

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