Q. I wonder if you can help me evaluate the bronze presentation seen in this dish. The piece, dated 1879, was sculpted by F. Levillain. It was cast in the Barbedienne foundry (in Paris) and is 13½ inches in diameter and 4¼ inches high.
A. This neoclassical tazza is beautifully decorated with a bas-relief image of a Roman harvest scene. Farm workers -- both men and women -- labor in the fields along with representations of oxen, geese, donkeys, trees, vines, pumpkins and other items that pertain to the gathering of nature's bounty.
The original artist for this piece was Ferdinand Levillain (1837-1905). Levillain probably studied with Francois Jouffroy (1806-1882), who taught at the Ecole des Beaux Arts. Levillain started exhibiting at the famous Paris Salon in 1861, but perhaps the highlight of his career was winning a silver medal at the Paris Exposition Universelle in 1889.
The story of Ferdinand Barbedienne is perhaps a bit more important. He and Achille Collas invented a machine that would mechanically reduce the size of statues. This meant that huge statues meant for display in large public spaces could be scaled down and cast in bronze so they could be displayed in the typical European home of the day.
The Collas and Barbedienne foundry was established in Paris in 1835, and it initially made reproductions of ancient Greek and Roman sculptures. Collas and Barbedienne did not cast a piece made by a living artist until 1843, when they cast the work of Francois Rude.
The financial collapse of 1848 almost closed the Barbedienne foundry. But by the time of Collas' death in 1859, the factory at 63 Rue de Laucry employed 300 people. With his death, the firm became known as just Barbedienne.
During the short Franco-Prussian War (1870-1871), bronze for statue making was in short supply, so the company turned to manufacturing cannons for the French government. In 1876, the company purchased 125 casting models from the estate of the late Antoine Louis Barye, the famous French animalier sculptor, and produced many castings of Barye's images of dogs and other animals.
Barbedienne died in 1891, but the foundry continued under the direction of Barbedienne's nephew, Gustave Leblanc, who maintained the factory's tradition of excellence. The company did not cease operations until 1952.
The tazza in today's question is certainly not a one of a kind. We found at least four examples that have sold at auction in the United States over the past few years. However, all the examples were a tad smaller; two measured 10 inches in diameter, one was 10 3/8 inches and the last was 10½ inches.
Your report that the piece is 13½ inches in diameter, which is significantly larger than any we have found. The last one of these sold was in Florida in April 2012. It was reportedly 10½ inches in diameter and sold for $200, which suggests a $300 to $400 retail price (or perhaps a bit more depending on the retailer).
Looking at the others that have sold, it is our opinion that this one would fetch only a little more -- maybe $250 or so -- with a retail value of around $500.
• Contact Helaine Fendelman and Joe Rosson at Treasures in Your Attic, P.O. Box 18350, Knoxville, TN 37928.