Of polychrome enameled lava stone. With silver highlights and metal encased edge. One hairline fracture, repaired and stabilized.

This roundel represents an exceptionally rare example of a table-top executed in enameled painting, and fired onto a base of lava stone, a decorative technique championed by the leading Parisian architect of the period, Jacques-Ignace Hittorff (1792-1867) (figure 1).

The stone, a product of numerous prehistoric lava flows, had been quarried near the town of Volvic in Auvergne, central France, for many centuries, and had been employed in various important buildings, most notably the dramatic Gothic cathedral of Clermont-Ferand of 1248. However, the quarries had fallen into disuse until the Comte Gaspard de Chabrol, Prefect of the Seine from 1812-1833, began to promote the revival of this material in 1827. He “engaged several chemists to research processes, which would allow lava stone to be enameled and then painted.”1 Ferdinand Morteleque (1774-1844), who had for many years been conducting experiments in the field of enamel painting, developed a procedure that allowed enamel on lava to be used “as if painting in oil”2 and produced in the same year the first tableau for which he received a silver medal at the Exposition des Produits de L’industrie in Paris. In 1831 Morteleque confided this invention to his son-in-law, Pierre Hachette, who would soon collaborate with Hittorff in founding a new firm, Hachette et Companie, specializing in enameled lava products.

Born in Cologne during the French Annexation of the Rhineland (1801-1814), Hittorff started out as a temporary French citizen. He rose from humble beginnings as the son of a plumber to become one of the foremost architects of Paris, as well as an accomplished archaeologist and architectural historian. He carried out many important royal and private commissions in Paris, where his influence is still much in evidence today, as well as in the South of France. He began his career working as a draftsman in the office of Napoleon’s leading designer, Charles Percier (1764 – 1838), during the last years of the French Empire. He became a favorite pupil of François-Joseph Belanger (1744-1818), collaborating with him in building the first cast iron structure in France, the Halle au Blé or Paris Corn Exchange in 1812, now used as the Paris Bourse de Commerce, and succeeded Bélanger as government architect in 1818. Other locations he worked on in the city included the Place de la Concorde and the Champs Élysées, creating this area largely as we recognize it today. Hittorff also designed and built the magnificent Saint-Vincent-de-Paul church in the 10e arrondissement, which would become the site of some of his most extraordinary experiments with enameled lava stone. From 1819 to 1830, together with Jean-François-Joseph Lecointe (1783-1858), he also directed the royal fêtes and designed the settings and decorations for many important court ceremonies, including the removal of the remains of Louis XVI to Saint-Denis (1815), the baptism of the Duc de Bordeaux (1821), the funeral of Louis XVIII (1824), and the coronation of Charles X at Reims (1825).

Hittorff was a classicist who, like his contemporaries with whom he was in correspondence, including Karl Friedrich Schinkel in Prussia and Ludwig Grüner in England, was passionate about the inclusion of bright color within neoclassical design. He expressed his ideas on the subject in great detail, initially in an article of 1830 in the Annales de l’Institut de Correspondance Archéologique and in his later 1851 publication Restitution du temple d’Empédocle à Sélinonte ou l’Architecture Polychrome chez les Grecs (figure 2). Both works underlined Hittorff’s belief in the need for vibrant color within and on the exteriors of classical buildings. He became fascinated with the potential of enameling on lava stone and its application on a large scale in construction, particularly with a view to the durability of the material and its resistance to extreme cold, heat, and humidity.

In addition to his architectural career, Hittorff worked from 1833-38 as director of Hachette et Cie, located at 32-40 Rue Cocquenard, which took on large institutional projects as well as the production of a small range of objets usuels de la vie privé3 decorated in the new technique including tables, stoves, chimney pieces, plaques, column bases, candelabra and mosaics.4 At the Paris Exhibition of Industrial Arts in 1836 these products won much acclaim, with the company being awarded an honorable mention and silver medal in the jury reports.5 Although very few of these products are extant, an important collection of Hittorff‘s designs for the pieces, including clock faces, figures, altar fronts and elaborate tabletops has been acquired by Cologne University6 (figure 3). Earlier in 1833 Hittorff had overseen the production of a report written by his colleague Claude-François Mirault, that was submitted to the French Free Society of Fine Arts, and which covered the new technique and its application.7 He said he hoped that the new method would “create a new branch of the art of painting and […] enrich France with a new industry.” The report places the method firmly in a historical tradition that begins with the use of enamel by the ancient Egyptians, its development by Lucca della Robbia and Bernard Palissy and the remarkable contemporary products of the Sèvres factory. The report expounds the new material’s ability to be applied to much larger pieces than possible with porcelain, how it can be made to look like colored marble, bronze and mosaics, and its adaptability to the interior and exterior of homes and public buildings. Designs by Hittorff for pieces produced by Hachette survive, some of which resemble aspects of the present piece.

This table-top features a faux sardonyx profile of the Louis Philippe, King of the French, the head of the royal French house of Orléans, who reigned from 1830 to 1848 as the figurehead of the constitutional July Monarchy. The projected nature of his reign was reflected in the motto, which surrounds the portrait on the present top, “la charte sera désormais une vérité” (“The constitution will be henceforth a reality”), denoting the king’s promise to honor the constitution of France, in contrast to his Bourbon predecessors. It refers to a declaration made to that effect by the king in July 1830 on being offered the French crown. The profile of the king is by Jean-Jacques Barré (1793-1855), lead designer at the Paris Mint, produced at the beginning of the reign for use on coins and medals (figure 4). Hittorff and Barré are recorded as having worked together on various projects including a number of public fountains in Paris.8 It is also important to point out the close resemblance between the profile portrait of Louis Philippe, particularly the broad pointed lotus border and distinctive color scheme in imitation of sardonyx, and the representations of military leaders from antiquity on Napoleon’s Table of the Grand Commanders, produced by the Sèvres factory and presented by Louis XVIII to George IV, 3 May 1817.9

It seems that Hittorff, during his brief directorship of Hachette et Cie., was indefatigable in his promotion of the new method. It is known that he placed examples of lava creations, particularly in the form of table-tops, with some of the highest-ranking decision makers in France, Prussia, Holland, and Belgium. These table-tops, which were objects of great luxury, were loss-making for the enterprise, but were designed to promote the material particularly for large institutional orders including public buildings as well as house numbers and street signs, a market that would amply compensate the firm for the costly tops.10

The present piece appears most likely to be such a presentational top and it may well have been sent to Louis Philippe by Hittorff to promote the material’s usage in one of the king’s architectural projects, such as his renovation of the Palace of Versailles that was taking place during the 1830s. Another possibility is that Hittorff may have gifted it to the king after 1842 to express his gratitude when Louis-Philippe personally reinstated his French citizenship (which he had lost when the Rhineland reverted to Prussia in 1815). It is interesting to note that the present top appears to be the only known example featuring a portrait, in contrast to the others where the decoration consists of classical ornamentation, architectural vignettes and allegorical scenes and figures.

A further example was sent by Hirtorff to his Prussian correspondent, the architect Karl Friedrich Schinkel, who was at the time Head of the Royal School of Arts and Crafts in Berlin. The 1834 annals of the Société Libre des Beaux Arts announced that “The King of Prussia has received from Hittorff a table with a circumference of around ten feet, decorated with all kinds of subjects, such as figures, flowers, fruit and lush ornament; when it arrived in Berlin it created a huge sensation.”11 The king of Prussia was apparently so taken with this table that he put in motion plans to construct a church in Potsdam decorated with the technique, although the revolutions of 1848 prevented these from becoming a reality.12 A smaller table-top also designed and made by Hittorff and Hachette et Cie is now in the collection of the Chrysler Museum of Art in Norfolk, Virginia (figure 5).

A further gift by Hittorff was presented in 1834 to Alexandre Brongniart, Director of the Sèvres manufactory, of two large enameled lavastone plaques accompanied by a note that read: I have received your letter in which you make me the honor of requesting a sample of the enamel paintings on lava stone, which had been on view at the Exhibition, and which had been produced by the company which I founded and now lead. I am happy to tell you that it is my pleasure to extend you this personal favor and to use my best efforts to contribute to your valuable and interesting collection at the Sèvres manufactory.13

The most notable application of this technique in a large-scale architectural project was on the church of Saint-Vincent-de-Paul, which, as mentioned above, had been designed by Hittorff (figure 6). He was able to entirely cover the main portico with panels of enameled lavastone designed by the artist Pierre-Jules Jolivet (1803 – 1871). The scheme was criticized in the decades that followed, especially by Baron Haussmann, and the decoration was removed.14 However, the plaques were retained in the deposits of the City of Paris and have been recently restored to their original positions to great effect (figure 7).

1. Hittorff, Un Architecte Du XIXème: Musée Carnavalet, 20 Octobre 1986-4 Janvier 1987, (Paris: Le Musée, 1986) 297.
2. Ibid.
3. Ibid., 302.
4. One example of such a chimneypiece is in the Salle à Manger in the Hotel Beauharnais. It was redesigned by Hittorff and set with lava enamels produced by Hachette et Cie. See Ulrich Leben: “Hôtel Beauharnais: Entre l’Empire et Hittorff” in L’Objet d’Art Nov 2007.
5. Rapport du jury central sur les produits de l’industrie française exposés en 1834
6. See Michael Kiene, Die Alben von Jakob Ignaz Hittorff, Köln 1996
7. Claude-François Mirault, Rapport concernant la peinture en émail sur lave de volvic émaillée, fait à la Société libre des beaux-arts, (Paris: Imprimerie de J. Gratiot, 1834).
8. Hughes Marcouryau, Les fontaines de Paris: l’eau pour le plaisir, (Paris 2005), 261.
9. http://www.royalcollection.org.uk/collection/2634/table-of-the-grand-commanders
10. Hittorff, Musée Carnavalet, 302.
11. Uwe Westfehling. Jakob Ignaz Hittorff: Ein Architekt Aus Köln Im Paris Des 19. Jahrhunderts : Wallraf-Richartz-Museum Köln, Graphische Sammlung, 21. Januar Bis 22. März 1987, (Köln: Das Museum, 1987) 320.
12. Ibid., 315.
13. Ibid., 322.
14. Donald D. Schneider, The Works and Doctrine of Jacques Ignace Hittorff, 1792-1867, (New York: Garland Pub, 1977) 352.

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