“Breast bowl” presumed to have been molded from the breast of Pauline Borghèse

Jean-Baptiste-Claude Odiot (1763-1850)
Paris, c. 1810
Gilt bronze and silver-gilt
Bequest of Jean-Jacques Reubell, 1934
Inv. 29983.A
© MAD / photo: Jean Tholance

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The “breast bowl,” suggesting the fertility and generosity of Mother Earth, dates back to ancient Greece. The best known neoclassical example is the painted porcelain breast bowl made by the Sèvres factory for Marie-Antoinette’s use at the Château de Rambouillet. The version produced by Jean-Baptiste-Claude Odiot is said to have been modeled on the breast of Napoleon’s sister, Pauline Borghèse, known for her frivolity. The butterfly posed lightly on the rim of the bowl is a sensitive allusion to Psyche, symbol since antiquity of the female soul .