"La Machine d'Argent" or Centerpiece for a Table (surtout de table)

Object Details


"La Machine d'Argent" or Centerpiece for a Table (surtout de table)


François-Thomas Germain (French, 1726 - 1791)




Paris, France (Place created)






21 x 36.8 x 23.2 cm (8 1/4 x 14 1/2 x 9 1/8 in.)

See more

See less

This unusual silver sculpture represents two birds, a rabbit, and a variety of vegetables. Lying on its side, the small rabbit is flanked by the game birds: an ortolan and a snipe with a long beak. A cauliflower with raggedly trimmed stalk and leaves rises above the animals. The still life also includes an onion, a turnip, a gherkin, a truffle, and a morel mushroom. Leafy plants peek out at the edges of a rocky ground evoking the earthen floor of a wood or glade.

The term Machine d'Argent (literally, "silver machine") was first assigned to this sculpture by Jean-Baptiste Oudry, who acted as intermediary between François-Thomas Germain and the patron, Christian Ludwig II, Duke of Mecklenburg. In the 1700s, the word machine signified an artistic innovation as well as a mechanical device. Germain was specifically commissioned to create a decorative centerpiece to complement a series of paintings owned by the Duke that depicted exotic animals and scenes of the hunt. The sculpted game birds and rabbit represent trophies of the hunt. Combined with the root vegetables and mushrooms, the animals also alluded to the ingredients of a rich stew.

Using a secret casting technique, Machine d'Argent took seven months to create. Germain cast some of the still life elements from molds of dead animals or vegetables. These individual elements were then assembled together on the base. The rich variety of detail showcased Germain's ability to transform silver into the diverse textures of nature: from the soft fur of the rabbit and downy feathers of the ortolan to the multi-beaded head of cauliflower and the smooth, waxy skin of the onion bulb.

Casting Nature: François-Thomas Germain's Machine d'Argent (July 11, 2006 to March 25, 2007)
  • The J. Paul Getty Museum at the Getty Center, (Los Angeles), July 11, 2006 to March 25, 2007
Oudry's Painted Menagerie (May 1 to February 24, 2008)
  • The J. Paul Getty Museum at the Getty Center, (Los Angeles), May 1 to September 2, 2007
  • Museum of Fine Arts, Houston, October 7, 2007 to February 24, 2008
Oudrey (April 12 to August 31, 2008)
  • Staatliches Museum Schwerin Kunstsammlungen, Schlösser und Gärten, (Schwerin), April 14 to August 31, 2008
Paris: Life & Luxury (April 26, 2011 to January 2, 2012) (37)
  • The J. Paul Getty Museum at the Getty Center, (Los Angeles), April 26 to August 7, 2011
  • Museum of Fine Arts, Houston, September 18, 2011 to January 2, 2012
Related Media
  • /
    Audio: Machine d'Argent - English (Highlights)
  • /
    Audio: Machine d'Argent - Spanish (Highlights)
  • /
    Audio: Machine d'Argent - French (Highlights)
  • /
    Audio: Machine d'Argent - German (Highlights)
  • /
    Audio: Machine d'Argent - Italian (Highlights)
  • /
    Audio: Machine d'Argent - Japanese (Highlights)
  • /
    Audio: Machine d'Argent - Korean (Highlights)
  • /
    Audio: Machine d'Argent - Mandarin (Highlights)
  • /
    Audio: Machine d'Argent - Portuguese (Highlights)