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Baby's cradle

Baby's cradle

  • Place of origin:

    France (probably, made)
    Germany (probably, decorated)

  • Date:

    ca. 1810 (made)

  • Artist/Maker:

    Unknown

  • Materials and Techniques:

    Mahogany and ormolu

  • Credit Line:

    Presented by Clare Stuart Wortley, in memory of Lady Stuart of Wortley

  • Museum number:

    W.5-1936

  • Gallery location:

    In Storage

The movement produced by a swinging cradle or rocking cradle is soothing to a baby, and both designs have been widely used in many cultures for at least five centuries. But until the 19th century, very few cradles had any kind of restraining mechanism that would stop the cradle tilting too far and depositing the child on the floor. Babies were so seldom left unsupervised that, as in this example, a safety device was not thought necessary.

‘Bateau’, or boat-shaped, cradles of this type are characteristically French, but the decoration is not: they were usually of plain mahogany. What seems most likely is that the cradle was made in France, certainly to a French design, and the ormolu decoration - gilt brass or bronze metalwork, from the French or moulu, ground gold - was applied in Germany.

The body of the cradle is ovoid, and it swings from a matching stand. At the head of the stand is a detachable mahogany pole carved into a swan’s head at the top. The neoclassical ormolu decorative motifs on the body of the cradle include two lyres flanked by opposing swans, four medallions, and imaginary creatures that appear to be swans crossed with serpents. The stand is decorated with oak leaves, masks and stylized floral motifs.

Physical description

Boat-shaped cradle of mahogany with applied ormolu decoration. The body of the cradle is ovoid, with curving slatted ribs; it swings from a matching stand with a pair of trestle legs which are linked by two longitudinal stretchers and are mounted on brass casters. At the head of the stand is a detachable mahogany pole carved into a swan's head at the top, with a horizontal transverse bar in the beak to support drapes; at the foot of the stand was originally a small nightlight holder made of ormolu. The body and stand of the cradle are decorated with neoclassical decorative motifs in ormolu: on the body two lyres flanked by opposing swans; four medallions, each with a head and botanical scrollwork; and imaginary creatures which appear to be swans crossed with serpents. The stand is decorated with oak leaves, masks and stylized floral motifs.

Place of Origin

France (probably, made)
Germany (probably, decorated)

Date

ca. 1810 (made)

Artist/maker

Unknown

Materials and Techniques

Mahogany and ormolu

Dimensions

Height: 177.2 cm, Width: 55.9 cm, Length: 123.8 cm

Object history note

From the donor Clare Stuart Wortley's letter of 02/03/1936: "...We are certain my mother bought it in London between 1897 and 1907; we believe, with less certainty, that it was bought from or through Maple & Co's secondhand department. Our old housekeeper says she is sure my mother always said she had papers to prove that the King of Rome* slept in the cradle, & the servants always called it the King of Rome's cradle (without, I suspect, being very clear as to who that dignitary was!). I always was told so too..." she goes on to say that if she does find any relevant information among her mother's quantity of papers she will let the museum know.
* The title from birth of Napoleon François Joseph Charles (1811-1832) only legitimate son of the Emperor Napoleon I of France. A sumptuous cradle, now in Vienna, was designed for him by Pierre Paul Prud'hon (1758-1823) and made by Pierre-Philippe Thomire (1751-1843) and Jean Baptiste Claude Odiot (1763-1850).

Descriptive line

Baby's cradle of mahogany with ormolu decoration made in France and decorated in Germany about 1810

Production Note

'Bateau' cradles of this type are characteristically French, but the ormolu decoration is not: they are usually of plain mahogany. This cradle was originally catalogued as French, but Peter Thornton, when head of Furniture & Woodwork Department, subsequently suggested that it was probably German: what seems most likely is that the cradle was made in France, certainly to a French design, and the ormolu decoration applied in Germany.

Materials

Mahogany; Ormolu

Subjects depicted

Oak leaves; Swans

Categories

Children & Childhood; Furniture

Collection

Museum of Childhood

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