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Work Dish cover

Department of Decorative Arts: 18th century: rococo

"Couvre-plat" (dish cover)

© R.M.N./Chuzeville

Decorative Arts
18th century: rococo

Author(s):
Barbier Muriel

Destroyed by the Lisbon earthquake of 1755, the royal plate of Portugal had to be replaced. King José I of Portugal (1714-1777) turned to the French goldsmith François-Thomas Germain (1726-1791), who produced the most spectacular set in Europe. This commission is the largest that was ever awarded by the Portuguese sovereigns to the goldsmiths of the kings of France. The dish-cover in the Louvre bears witness to the sumptuousness of this service as well as the virtuosity of the goldsmith.

A dish cover with a hunting theme

This monumental work comprises an oval, ten-lobed, fluted base-plate, upon which is set a rocky hillock topped with a stump. Near the stump, which may well evoke the devastation of the earthquake, crouches a hound with the spoils of the hunt: in front of it, three dead birds and, behind it, another bird and a dead rabbit. From the stump hang a net, a hunting horn, a dead hare, and a game basket. Scattered over the hillock are the vegetables used to season the sauce for game: mushrooms, onions, pickles. The handles are formed by the net on one side and a rootstock on the other. The hunting theme is recurrent in the table services of the early eighteenth century, an allusion to aristocratic sport and royal courts, but also an evocation of the fare presented.

The table service of José I of Portugal

On November 1, 1755, an earthquake devastated the city of Lisbon, destroying buildings as well as the royal plate commissioned by João V of Portugal (1689-1750) to Thomas Germain (circa 1673-1748). The son of João V, King José I of Portugal (1714-1777) sought to restore the royal dishware. With this aim he turned to François-Thomas Germain (1726-1791), Thomas's son. Germain had envisaged four services for use "à la française", according to which all the dishes were brought to the table at the same time. To ensure the execution of this huge commission, Germain had more than a hundred craftsmen enrolled in his workshop at the Louvre palace. Having gone bankrupt in 1765, Germain could not complete the commission and never delivered the fourth service. Nevertheless, approximately 1,200 pieces arrived in Lisbon. Portugal today conserves an impressive number of works, and others are in Metropolitan Museum of New York, the Musée des Arts Décoratifs in Paris, and the Louvre. It was of course an ostentatious service, inaugurated at the time of the crowning of the new queen, the daughter of José I, in 1777.

The height of a decorative theme

Recourse to the vocabulary of the chase was not new to goldsmithing: in 1733-34 Thomas Germain decorated the pot lids of the Penthièvre-Orléans service with hunting scenes. This theme was developed further, when, twenty years later, the dish-covers produced by Edme-Pierre Balzac and Antoine-Sebastien Durand for the same service were adorned with sculpted decoration in the round that illustrated animal life in the forest. The idea is again taken up here by François-Thomas Germain in this pyramidal composition of elegant and fanciful lines. The exuberant and gracious forms, like the abundance of decorative detail, are characteristic of the rise of the Rocaille style in goldsmithing, a few years before a return to purer lines, inspired by antiquity, of which Germain would incidentally become one of the instigators.

Bibliography

Jean-Pierre Babelon, Versailles et les tables royales en Europe, Paris, Éditions de la Réunion des musées nationaux, 1993, pp. 303-310

Technical description

  • François-Thomas GERMAIN (1726 - 1791)

    "Couvre-plat" (dish cover)

    1758

  • Silver

    H. 47.50 cm; W. 57.30 cm; D. 53.60 cm

  • Acquired in 1983

    OA 10923

  • Decorative Arts

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Additional information about the work

Hallmarks:Master mark: FTG (François-Thomas Germain) with fleece;Municipal mark: crowned R (Paris 1757-1758); Exportation: cow (1775);Inscription (engraved on the reverse): FAIT PAR F.T. GERMAIN.