France, between 1764 and 1777
Attributed to Thomas Compigné
Tortoiseshell, pewter and gold
This small painting of stamped pewter, embellished in gold, on a tortoiseshell background represents the place Louis XV, now called place de la Concorde, in Paris. At the centre of this location, of octagonal shape, we distinguish an equestrian statue of the King Louis XV. Four large ditches protected by balustrades and each with two guardhouses delimiting a vast space. The peaks of the trees on each side permits the evocation of the presence of the jardin des Tuileries on the right side and of the jardins des Champ-Élysées on the left side. In the sight of the equestrian statue and the extension of the rue Royale, we distinguish the front of the église de la Madeleine, constituted of a portal with triangular pediment surmounted by a dome on a large drum topped by a spire. It is different from the one known today, since it corresponds to a project of 1764 realised by Pierre Contant d’Ivry (1698-1777), which never succeeded due to his death in 1777. On each side of the rue Royale, two large buildings flanked by corner pavilions create a perfect symmetrical order of colonnades and bases to split. In the foreground, the scene is animated of characters wandering on the place as well as a carriage circulating on the quai de la Seine.
The place Louis XV, actual place de la Concorde
The place Louis XV, now known under the name of place de la Concorde is a result of one of the largest urbanism operations realised in Paris at the middle of the 18th century. It was conceived to acquire a Louis XV statue started by Edmé Bouchardon (1698-1762) and achieved by Jean-Baptiste Pigalle (1714-1785), which was offered by the municipality of Paris to the King, due to his recovery in 1748. Located between the jardin des Tuileries and the avenue des Champs-Élysées, the location, which was yet, at the time, only a large area serving for cattle pasture, was transformed into an octagonal place between 1755 et 1775.
Following a competition launched in 1753, the architect Ange-Jacques Gabriel (1698-1783), designated as a laureate, was charged to construct an open place on the South side, to the Seine, at the West side to the avenue des Champs-Élysées, at the East side to the jardin des Tuileries, only closing the building on the North side with two twin buildings. Still visible today, these buildings had on their left side, several private mansions echoing to the right, to the building of the Garde-Meuble de la Couronne. It. Became, at the Revolution, the headquarters of the Ministère de la Marine, taking then the name of Hôtel de la Marine. The front of the église de la Madeleine visible on this medallion was never built and makes possible to date more precisely this object. First conceived as a small chapel, la Madeleine became in the 17th century the parish church of the Faubourg Saint-Honoré neighbourhood, benefiting of reconstructions. However, its scope became inefficient in the 18th century due to the growth of West neighbourhood of Paris and it was decided the building of a new church, more adapted to the sheltering of a population more and more numerous and prestigious. The plans were commissioned in 1757 to Pierre Contant d’Ivry, architect of the Duke of Orléans who proposed a church of Latin cross shape surmounted by a small dome, project approved in 1764. The foundations were dug, and the bases started to rise when Pierre Contant d’Ivry died in 1777. He was then replaced by Pierre Boullée, who imagined a new project. After many uncertainties, the église de la Madeleine, which we know of today, was achieved in 1842 following an even different project.
These elements enable us to date precisely the medallion because the front of the église de la Madeleine corresponds to the project of Pierre Contant d’Ivry, which was running between 1764 and 1777. If the ditches and the equestrian statue of Louis XV, replaced by a guillotine at the Revolution and then by an obelisk, are not visible to this day, the small medallion gives a delicate picture of this place. It probably responds to the fascination exerted at the time for this spot, which was the field of one of the most remarkable project of urbanism in the 18th century, but even more the symbolism of the link between the King and Paris. Indeed, it was on this place that was celebrated the marriage of the future Louis XVI and Marie-Antoinette, on the 30th of May 1770 (thus at a date close to the one when this medallion was created), before the guillotine was installed under which the latter perished.
Paintings in Compigné
Of great preciousity and variety of materials, the paintings in Compigné were made according to a mysterious process starting from a sheet of tortoiseshell or cardboard to which a pewter or gold leaf was applied. The surface could then be decorated with gold, silver, gouache and coloured varnishes. These “miniatures”, known today under the name of Compigné, had a great success in the 1760s.The small format, characteristic of this production, required to work in extreme precision, probably with the help of a magnifying glass, to develop the perfection of these technical details and colours.
Arrived from Italy, probably around 1750, Thomas Compigni took the name Compigné when he settled under the sign of Roi David, rue Greneta, in Paris. As an ivory turner, he specialised in the manufacture and sale of boxes, knitting sets, draughts and chess sets, snuffboxes and other cane handles of blond tortoiseshell inlaid with gold. Renowned for the quality of his objects, he passed on to posterity through the production of precious paintings whose technique remains mysterious today. In 1773, he presented two views of the Château de Saint-Hubert to the King and obtained the title of “tabletier privilégié du Roi” under Louis XV and Louis XVI. His themes of predilection are most often view of towns, monuments and castles from the perspective of parks or landscapes animated by small characters.
Jean-Marie Bruson, Françoise Reynaud, Philippe Sorel, Rosine Trogan et Jean-Pierre Willesme, De la place Louis XV à la place de la Concorde, catalogue d’exposition, Paris, Musée Carnavalet, 1982.
Anita Semail, « ces délicats chefs-d’œuvre de la tabletterie au XVIIIe siècle : Les Compigné et leurs créateurs », Plaisir de France n° 427, mars 1975.
Ouvrage collectif, Compigné, peintre et tabletier du Roy, catalogue d’exposition, Grasse, Villa-Musée Jean-Honoré Fragonard, Juin-Juillet 1991.
 It was, under the Old regime, the administration responsible for the management of furniture and works of art intended for the decoration of royal residences.
 The Ministry of Navy was a section of the French government detached from the Ministry of War that was in charge of the administration of the navy, the colonies and seaborne trade like the French East India Company.
 his title means that Compigné was an officer of the house of the King. As a ivory turner, he carried out his duties all year round, producing furniture for the Crown.