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"La Machine d'Argent" or Centerpiece for a Table (surtout de table)
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François-Thomas Germain
French, 1754
Silver
8 1/4 in. x 1 ft. 2 1/2 in. x 9 1/8 in.
2005.43

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This unusual silver sculpture represents two birds, a rabbit, and a variety of vegetables. Lying on its side, the small rabbit is flanked by the game birds: an ortolan and a snipe with a long beak. A cauliflower with raggedly trimmed stalk and leaves rises above the animals. The still life also includes an onion, a turnip, a gherkin, a truffle, and a morel mushroom. Leafy plants peek out at the edges of a rocky ground evoking the earthen floor of a wood or glade.

The term Machine d'Argent (literally, "silver machine") was first assigned to this sculpture by Jean-Baptiste Oudry, who acted as intermediary between François-Thomas Germain and the patron, Christian Ludwig II, Duke of Mecklenburg. In the 1700s, the word machine signified an artistic innovation as well as a mechanical device. Germain was specifically commissioned to create a decorative centerpiece to complement a series of paintings owned by the Duke that depicted exotic animals and scenes of the hunt. The sculpted game birds and rabbit represent trophies of the hunt. Combined with the root vegetables and mushrooms, the animals also alluded to the ingredients of a rich stew.

Using a secret casting technique, Machine d'Argent took seven months to create. Germain cast some of the still life elements from molds of dead animals or vegetables. These individual elements were then assembled together on the base. The rich variety of detail showcased Germain's ability to transform silver into the diverse textures of nature: from the soft fur of the rabbit and downy feathers of the ortolan to the multi-beaded head of cauliflower and the smooth, waxy skin of the onion bulb.


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