The table travel set of King Carol I

Modern History
Late 18th century - beginning of 19th century
1797 - 1809
gilded silver, mahogany, metal, glass, iron.
molding, gilding, polishing, grinding, stamping.
Height = 42 cm; Diameter = 47 cm.

    The table travel set of King Carol I (by Martin Guillaum Biennais, 1764 – 1819)

    This set is mounted on a circular wooden structure, veneered, with two profiled gold-plated silver handles, which rotates on a platform set on four reduced legs, in a lion paw array. On this platform are placed the six vessels, namely the lidded bowl with a knob in the shape of a child-Dionysus, over the larger bowl, in the middle, surrounded by the four torus-shaped vessels with eagle-shaped knobs. The lids of all vessels are slightly curved and chiseled each with a frieze made up of winged Cupids and swans on a dull-spun background, and on the lid of the bowl a crowned S is etched. The eagles as well as the Dionysus child knobs are set on skeleton rosettes. Under each vessel, in the cavities wrought in the wooden platform, there is a cast iron plate which follows the shape of the opening, with a butterfly-shaped hole where one introduces the key with which they were raised and heated. Thus, the food would remain hot. From approximately one third of the platform’s diameter, from the edge in, an elevated construction emerges, made up of two herm-colonettes with winged Egyptian heads supporting three discs – the lower one for plates, and the upper one with eight circular openings for the glasses resting on the middle disc. At the base of the two colonettes there are two respective seashells with lids, presumably for spices, and to each side of the two colonettes, a slanted slit, carved in the pedestal, where cutlery was placed. This entire construction was covered with a cylindrical lid, with a curved upper part, which has not survived. At the moment, not all the pieces which came with the set from the cinema studio seem to belong to it – the five glass-corked flasks and the four glasses of two sizes did not fit into the interior space of the judiciously elaborate construction of the stand.

    On the inner surface of the lids, there is engraved the inscription “Biennais orfèvre de S M L’Émpreur et Roi, à Paris”, then the mark of the silversmith, the well-known “purple monkey” with the letter B inscribed in a rhombus, the mark of French silversmiths after the 1879 revolution and that of Paris between 1797 and 1809, namely the cock with its head turned backwards and the number 1, a guarantee mark of 950%o silver, a man’s head from the front inscribed in an oval and a mark that is worthless guarantee-wise – a woman’s head, frontal, a mark used after 50 years more after 1794. On the cutlery, next to the official markings already mentioned, the smith’s rhombic mark, with a peacock, and the initials PBL which refer to Pierre Benoit Lorillon, one of Biennais’s numerous collaborators.

    1 – 4. Four vessels in the shape of a torus sector with slightly curved lids having narrow rims and eagle-shaped knobs set on skeleton rosettes; on the frame of the lid there is a feuille d’eau border followed, on the lid, by a chiseled frieze on a dull-spun background with Cupids united by garlands with fruit and flowers. On the four outer garlands there are two peacocks and two squirrels, on the lateral ones a sunflower, and on the inner ones a swan with spread wings. At the corners of the lid a chandelier is carved. On the lid there is etched a crowned S. Size: Height = 6,5cm; Length maximum = 28,8 cm; Length minimum = 13,5 cm.

    5. Central bowl - hemispherical, set on a slightly oblate base, with a narrow-framed lid with carved eggs and a knob set on a skeleton rosette depicting Dionysus as a child sitting on with a cluster of grapes in his raised hand. The curved portion of the lid was chiseled with open-armed children each with a cup in their hands and a swan rising from the conucopia circumscribing an oval medalion with peacocks, everything on a dull-spun background. On the lid there is carved a crowned S. Size: Height (without the knob) = 10.5 cm; D base = 9,5 cm; D rim = 17,7 cm.

    6. Bowl – beneath the central bowl, another plain bowl has been preserved which is integrated into the structure of the frame, being hemispheric with a slightly oblate base. On its exterior wall a crowned S is etched. Size: Height = 3,8 cm; D base = 12cm; D rim = 18 cm

    7. Large spoon – an oval scoop and a straight handle finished with a plate with a peacock etched on the side facing up and a crowned S etched on the opposite. The three items of kitchenware which were preserved display, aside from Biennais’s mark, the initials P.B.L. which stand for Lorillon, one of Biennais’s collaborators. Size: Length = 19,5 cm

    8. Large spoon – identical to the above.

    9. Fork with four prongs. Etchings same as the spoons. Size: Length = 19 cm.

    10. Six plates – circular, plain, with carved feuille d’eau garland on the border, interrupted by a crowned S. Size: Diameter = 22 cm

    11- 14. Four large glasses - slightly conical, with a bell-shaped rim and diamond cut on almost the entire surface where a crowned S is inscribed. Size: Height = 8cm; Rim Diameter = 7,4 cm; Base Diameter = 5,5 cm

    15 – 18. Small glasses – slightly conical, with a bell-shaped rim and diamond cut onalmost the entire surface where a crowned S is inscribed. Size: Height = 4 cm; Rim Diameter = 5,2 cm; Base Diameter = 2,8 cm

    19. Key

    20 -25. Five glass flasks 26 – 30. Cast iron plates.


    In a letter addressed to his hister, Mary of Flanders, in December 1901, King Carol I wrote that he had sent “the beautiful set which comes from Napoleon, that mother left to me” to an exhibition organized in Berlin, after it had been cleaned and partially restored. The same set did not resurface until 1939, in the silverware inventories of the Royal House, on the back of page 81, between positions 286 and 294, where it is refered to as “Napoleon Set – gold-plated hard silver” made up of: “lidded vessels for food, on the lids an eagle and the figure S – 4, round vessel with bowl and lid, on the lid an eagle and the figure S - 4, round vessel with bowl and lid, the knob of the lid [decorated with] miniature children – 1, plates – 6, spoons – 6, forks – 6, knives – 4, key for lifting heating devices which are found under food vessels – 1, bottles – 2, glasses – 2”. It was kept in the Royal House’s patrimony until 1948 when it was turned over to the Buftea cinema studio whence, in 1970, it went into the possession of the National History Museum, but with a slightly different formula.

    This is a traveling table set of which rather many copies have been worked over the course of the XVIII-th century, and whose pieces were stored as economically as possible from a spatial point of view and were fit inside boxes, so that they may be easily transported. The setting of the items in boxes was made by craftsmen called “tablettieres”, Biennais’s initial profession, which made its efficient and ingenious mark on the production of these traveling sets with multiple compartments wherein one could fit perfectly demountable candelabra, pliable hot plates, teapots, coffee pots, and hot chocolate pots with removable handles, coffee boxes and various teas, boxes with double bottoms and secret compartments. The set was inherited by King Carol of Romania from his grandmother, Stephanie de Beauharnais, through his mother, Josephine de Baden. She had been the niece of Napoleon’s first wife, of whom he had a remarkable fondness. And thus, her name explains the crowned S monogram on the lid of the bowl in the centre of the set. Its creator, Martin Guillaume Biennais (1764 – 1819) was, alongside Henrie Auguste and Odiot, one of the three illustrious silversmiths of the Directorate and First Empire, of Napoleon and his family, of Tsar Alexander, of the Grand Duke Mikhail Pavlovich and of many other prominent personalities of his time. From the numerous sets akin to the one kept by the National Museum, only six others have been preserved across the world, but this particular set most resembles, construction-wise, the one Napoleon gave to his sister Paulina Borghese, differing only in ornamental detail. However, while Paulina Borgheze’s set is sober, bearing only the emperor’s number, the one in our collection lacks almost none of the decorative motifs of the age applied to silverware, furniture, mural panels, and textiles. In the case of this set, silversmith Biennais was overwhelmed by architect Percier, who drew him many of the pieces fashioned in his workshops. Percier was the creator of the decorative system of the Empire style, but he exerted his influence especially upon silversmiths and among these, Biennais rendered his drawings with high fidelity and meticulousness. The Stephanie de Beauharnais may be regarded as a synthesis of the Empire style whose spirit and form it exhausts in order to represent its baroque times. In what concerns the dating of its execution, it is between 1804 when Napoleon became emperor and 1806 when Stephanie de Beauharnais married the Prince of Baden. It may have been a wedding gift from the emperor and handed down in the family, eventually to become one of the very prized possessions of the National History Museum.