Jacques Caffieri (1678-1755), French worker in metal, the most famous member of a family several of whom distinguished themselves in plastic art, was the fifth son of Philippe Caffieri (1634-1716), a decorative sculptor, who, after serving Pope Alexander VII., entered the service of Louis XIV. in 1660. An elder son of Philippe, François Charles (1667-1721), was associated with him. As a fondeur ciseleur, however, the renown of the house centred in Jacques, though it is not always easy to distinguish between his own work and that of his son Philippe (1714-1777). A large proportion of his brilliant achievement as a designer and chaser in bronze and other metals was executed for the crown at Versailles, Fontainebleau, Compiègne, Choisy and La Muette, and the crown, ever in his debt, still owed him money at his death. Jacques and his son Philippe undoubtedly worked together in the "Appartement du Dauphin" at Versailles, and although much of their contribution to the palace has disappeared, the decorations of the marble chimney-piece still remain. They belong to the best type of the Louis XV. style - vigorous and graceful in design, they are executed with splendid skill.
It is equally certain that father and son worked together upon the gorgeous bronze case of the famous astronomical clock made by Passement and Danthiau for Louis XV. between 1749 and 1753. The form of the case has been much criticized, and even ridiculed, but the severest critics in that particular have been the readiest to laud the boldness and freedom of the motives, the jewel-like finish of the craftsmanship, the magnificent dexterity of the master-hand. The elder Caffieri was, indeed, the most consummate practitioner of the style rocaille, which he constantly redeemed from its mannered conventionalism by the ease and mastery with which he treated it. From the studio in which he and his son worked side by side came an amazing amount of work, chiefly in the shape of those gilded bronze mounts which in the end became more insistent than the pieces of furniture which they adorned. Little of his achievement was ordinary; an astonishingly large proportion of it is famous. There is in the Wallace collection (Hertford House, London) a commode from the hand of Jacques Caffieri in which the brilliance and spontaneity, the sweeping boldness and elegance of line that mark his style at its best, are seen in a perfection hardly exceeded in any other example.
Also at Hertford House is the exceptionally fine lustre which was a wedding present from Louis XV. to Louise Elizabeth of France. After Jacques' death his son Philippe continued to work for the crown, but had many private clients. He made a great cross and six candlesticks for the high altar of Notre Dame, which disappeared in the revolution, but similar work for Bayeux cathedral still exists. A wonderful enamelled toilet set which he executed for the Princess of Asturias has also disappeared. Philippe's style was gradually modified into that which prevailed in the third quarter of the 18th century, since by 1777, when he died, the taste for the magnificent mounts of his early days had passed away. Like his father, he drew large sums from the crown, usually after giving many years' credit, while many other years were needed by his heirs to get in the balance of the royal indebtedness. Philippe's younger brother, Jean Jacques Caffieri (1725-1792), was a sculptor, but was sufficiently adept in the treatment of metals to design the fine rampe d'escalier which still adorns the Palais Royal.