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Work Dish

Department of Decorative Arts: 17th century

Bowl with dolphins

© 2007 Musée du Louvre / Martine Beck-Coppola

Decorative Arts
17th century

Author(s):
Barbier Muriel

This gondola-shaped amber bowl decorated with dragons and grotesque figures entered the collection of Louis XIV in about 1671. The style of its very high relief sculpted decoration reflects its North German origins. It was probably made in the former Königsberg, the major Germanic center of production of this type of object in the 17th century.

A dish made of amber

Yellow amber is a hard, transparent, fossilized resin of plant origin. The Louvre dish is made of orange-red amber, the base of orange amber, and the foot of mottled amber. Amber is generally used for small objects or parts of objects. The large size of this bowl is thus exceptional. The North German region produced a large number of amber objects owing, among other things, to its proximity to the Baltic Sea, where this material is mined. The bowl rests on a separate base made of ivory. The association of ivory and amber was common in the modern period.

Dragons and grotesque figures

The dish is fashioned in the shape of a boat. Oval and irregular in shape, a groove running around the inner edge may point to the presence of a lid, now missing. Two intertwined grotesque dragon bodies are sculpted on the inside of the dish. The outside of the dish on the belly also features two sculpted grotesque dragon bodies, whose heads were perhaps depicted on the lid. The bowl narrows in the center of the two sides at the point where a grotesque figure is sculpted on the inside and outside of the dish. The foot is made up of two embracing dragons: one is in a lying position, with a webbed foot and a tail; the other is a winged creature with two feet terminating in fins. The base with its gadrooned edge decorated with four animal muzzles may not have been made for this bowl.

A Germanic work

It is possible to attribute this bowl to Germanic workmanship. Its auricular style and low-relief treatment point to its Germanic, or more precisely, North German origins. In the 17th century, the major town for the production of this type of object was Königsberg. Louis XIV possessed a second amber dish, which entered his collection between 1680 and 1684. This vessel was also boat-shaped, but decorated with bacchanals. Louis XIV presented this dish to the King of Siam.

Bibliography

Alcouffe Daniel, Les Gemmes de la Couronne, Editions de la Réunion des musées nationaux, 2001, p. 365-366.

Technical description

  • Bowl with dolphins

    Mid-17th century?

    Königsberg

  • Amber, gilded ivory

    H. 34.50 cm; W. 17 cm; W. 14 cm

  • collection of Louis XIV (c.1671)

    MR 261

  • Decorative Arts

    Richelieu wing
    1st floor
    Adolphe de Rothschild
    Room 25
    Display case 4

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