FIGURAL MARBLE MANTELPIECE
Continental Europe, 2nd Quarter 19th Century
The oblong mantel piece with molded base above a pair of carved classical dancing maidens flanking the firebox with a frieze centering a bas-relief image of a kneeling Ganymede feeding an eagle flanked by scrolls and anthemion.
H: 50” W: 77” D: 15” Firebox enclosure: H: 37” x 47”
The White House
This figural marble mantelpiece relates very closely to three examples in The White House; in the Yellow Oval Room, the China Room (formerly known as the Presidential Collection Room) and the Vermeil Room respectively. Indeed, the dancing figures are virtually identical in all four mantels but the overall configuration of the surrounds in the Yellow and Vermeil Rooms most closely resemble the design of the present mantel.
Published sources offer contradictory information on the origins of the White House examples. One source refers to them as French, another Italian, the latter being more likely in our opinion. William Seale, White House historian, notes in his study The President’s House, (Washington, DC., 1986), p. 143/148/150, that James Hoban ordered 21 statuary marble mantles from Italy for the reconstruction of The White House in 1816 and that they were installed in June, 1819.
The dancing maidens are drawn from designs by Antonio Canova (1757-1822) and relate directly to 1793 models drawn for the Casa Canova in Possagno, the celebrated Danzatrice or dancer figures. Other related drawings and monochromes of dancing maidens by Canova are at Bossano. The dancing figures were realized in marble in 1805, the first (on the proper right of the mantle), for Empress Josephine; the one on the proper left, for Signor Domenico Manzoni of Forli. The engravings of the figures, above, were published in 1876 in The Works of Antonio Canova (Boston: James R. Osgood & Co., 1876).
The bas-relief of Ganymede and the eagle centered on the frieze depicts a popular story of Greek and Roman mythology. Characterized in both Homer’s Iliad and Ovid’s Metamorphoses, Ganymede was the son of Tros, a legendary king of Troy. A beautiful shepherd, he attracted the attention of Zeus, who fell in love with him. In the guise of an eagle, Zeus carried Ganymede off to Olympus, where the youth became the cupbearer to the Gods.
This interpretation of the moment before the abduction is based on Danish sculptor Bertel Thorvaldsen’s (1770-1844) Ganymede and the Eagle c.1817-1829. Apparently inspired by a third century Roman antiquity in the sculptor’s collection, this version was commissioned in 1817 by the Earl of Gower and is now in the collection of the Minneapolis Institute of Arts. A slightly earlier version by Thorvaldsen c.1815 is in the Ricau Collection at the Chrysler Museum of Art, Norfolk, Virginia.
Canova and Thorvaldsen were the most celebrated sculptors of the Neo-Classical period in Europe and influenced many other European and American sculptors and inspired classical work throughout the 19th century.
This mantle could be beautifully paired with a set of brass andirons and fire tools from our collection.
1 Clement E. Conger, “Decorative Arts at the White House,” American Antiques from the Israel Sack Collection, vol. VI, pl. V & VII (Highland House Publishers, 1979) and Wendy Cortesi, The White House, An Historic Guide (The White House Historical Association, 1991).
 Elena Bassi, La Gipsotica di Possagno (Venice, 1957).
 Elena Bassi, Il museo Civico di Bassano, I Disegni di Antonio Canova (Venice, 1959).
 H. Nichols B. Clark, A Marble Quarry, The James H. Ricau Collection of Sculpture at the Chrysler Museum of Art (Hudson Hills Press, New York, 1997) pp. 43-5.