Celebrating the Four Continents | A Fine French Silver Centerpiece
Established in 1690, the firm of Maison Odiot grew to prominence under the reign of Louis XV through the talents of the silversmith Jean-Baptiste Gaspard Odiot. Maison Odiot became one of France’s mostly highly regarded silver manufacturers, and served as silversmith to several French monarchs as well as Napoleon. Jean-Baptiste Claude Odiot, Gaspard’s grandson, was awarded a gold medal in the third Exposition de l’Industrie in Paris in 1802.
The fine centerpiece being offered at Freeman’s in the Silver & Objets de Vertu auction on December 16th was likely designed by Jean- Baptiste Gustave Odiot, Claude’s grandson, who worked for the firm from 1856 through 1906. It 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, winds, 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.
This exquisite French silver centerpiece is a 19th- century example of an artist’s depiction and interpretation of the four continents. 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, no doubt 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.
This centerpiece sold for $15,000 at the 16 December 2014 auction of Silver & Objets de Vertu.