Royal Collection Trust/© Her Majesty Queen Elizabeth II 2014
Table of the Great Commanders
Centre table with circular Sèvres porcelain top with chased gilt bronze mounts, stem-fasces; painted in imitation of classical cameos. In the centre is the head of Alexander the Great, surrounded by an outer circle of heads of twelve commanders from Antiquity, above scenes of notable events to each.
Known as the Table des Grands Capitaines, the table was commissioned by Napoleon in 1806 and was originally intended to form part of a set of four grand presentation tables designed to immortalise his reign. Made almost entirely of hard-paste Sèvres porcelain, it took six years to complete and combines some of the finest and most technically challenging work achieved by the factory in the early nineteenth century.
An internal wooden structure supports the revolving top. The delicately painted porcelain sections were decorated by the Sèvres artists Louis-Bertin Parant (active 1806-41) and Antoine Béranger (active 1808-48), and the finely chased gilt bronze mounts were supplied by Pierre-Philippe Thomire. The total cost amounted to 29,025 francs.
The most striking and original feature of the table is the elaborately decorated top, painted in imitation of sardonyx, with heads and scenes resembling cameos. In the centre, the profile head of Alexander the Great is surrounded by 12 smaller heads of other commanders and philosophers from antiquity and scenes recalling notable events of their lives. Starting from the top right of the table, the depicted figures are: Pericles, Scipio Africanus, Pompey, Augustus, Septimus Severus, Constantine, Trajan, Caesar, Mithridates, Hannibal, Themistocles and Militiades.
The table was the most prestigious and conspicuous present given to George IV by a grateful Louis XVIII, two years after the defeat of Napoleon. So highly did George IV regard this gift, and such was its status in his eyes, that it became part of the ceremonial backdrop for all his state portraits.
According to Pyne, writing in 1819, it was placed in the bow of the Rose Satin Drawing Room, Principal Floor, Carlton House. It was later recorded in the Bow Room, Basement Floor of Carlton House.
Signed and dated in white on black in the centre of the plaque under the head of Alexander the Great: L.B. Parant 1812 (Louis-Bertin Parant, figure painter).
Text adapted from French Porcelain for English Palaces, Sèvres from the Royal Collection, London, 2009
Pierre-Philippe Thomire (1751-1843) (bronze maker)
Antoine Béranger (active 1785-1867, 1808-48) (ceramic artist)
Louis Petion (porcelain manufacturer)