This beautiful pair of Napoleon III style lamps was made around 1870. The central part, made of onyx , is shaped like an antique amphora. It is adorned with a very colorful frieze of cloisonné enamels and two handles topped with gilt-bronze busts of female sphinxes (see our article about sphinx ). The foot, also made of gilt bronze, is sculpted with spirals. It is placed on a rather simple, round base made of gilt bronze, onyx , and cloisonné enamels.
This piece epitomizes the Antique artistic current of the 19th century and the Second Empire. Napoleon's 1798 campaign to Egypt initiated “ Egyptomania ” and, more generally, Orientalism. Ancient Greek and Egyptian shapes, colors, designs, and iconography became very popular in the Western world. “Neoclassicism” was popular in painting since Jacques-Louis David, as well as in architecture, and in decorative arts. This pair of lamps features decorative female sphinxes, who resemble the typical Greek sphinx. They have wings and are wearing a helmet and armor. The lamps' shape is like that of an Egyptian or Greek amphora. Moreover, onyx is a stone that was often used in Ancient times for cameos and as an ornament for decorative objects.
This object is quite characteristic of the Napoleon III style in particular by the cloisonné enamels decor that bring a rich polychrome, technique rediscovered in France circa 1860 and extensively used in decorative arts, especially by the genius that was Ferdinand Barbedienne , bronze manufacturer. The combination of onyx and bronze was brilliantly used first by the Compagnie des Marbres et Onyx d'Algérie by Eugene Cornu.