Many of the gold objects adorning sumptuous French interiors—from the Palace of Versailles to grand residences in Paris—are generally not made of gold at all but of gilt bronze. Both functional and highly decorative, gilt-bronze mounts and bronzes d'ameublement, such as light fixtures, fireplace fittings, and clocks, played a very important role in the French interior from the late seventeenth to the early nineteenth century. Always in keeping with the latest stylistic changes, gilt-bronze pieces were often designed by well-known artists and sculptors, such as Juste-Aurèle Meissonnier and Augustin Pajou, and manufactured by highly specialized craftsmen. A rigid guild system maintained the high standards of craftsmanship and regulated the process of gilt bronze manufacture. This exhibition, drawn from the Museum's permanent collection, features some ninety objects and focuses on the use of gilt bronze in interior décor, as well as on the designs and techniques involved in the casting, chasing, and gilding of gilt-bronze objects.
The exhibition includes mounts made for furniture, clocks, vases, and other objects, as well as furniture, and mounted porcelain and hardstone vases. Among the examples of bronzes d'ameublement is a pair of fanciful Rococo candlesticks after a model by Meissonnier (ca. 1693–1750). A spectacular mantle clock designed by Pajou (1730–1809), made of gilt bronze on a marble base and representing the "Triumph of Love over Time," is also on view. Another exceptional object is a splendid tripod microscope of gilt bronze and blue-green shagreen, or sharkskin, made in 1760 by Claude-Siméon Passement (1702–1769), the scientific instrument maker to King Louis XV. Well informed about the scientific developments of his day, the king is likely to have owned a comparable example.
The core of the Museum's holdings of gilt-bronze mounts is the collection formed by the Parisian architect, ceramicist, and collector Georges Hoentschel (1855–1915). In 1906 J. Pierpont Morgan, then president of the Metropolitan Museum, acquired the collection and gave it to the Museum. Long kept in storage, it provides an excellent overview of stylistic developments from the late Baroque to Empire periods. Wonderful examples of bronzes d'ameublement have also entered the Museum's collection from other benefactors, such as Mr. and Mrs. Charles Wrightsman and the Lesley and Emma Sheafer Collection.