Department of Decorative Arts: 17th century
© 1993 RMN / Daniel Arnaudet
Like his parents, Louis XIV (1638-1715) had a passion for hardstones. His collection was sizable. Many of the gems he collected were ancient pieces that were later mounted to enhance their value. This sardonyx ewer dates from between the first century BC and first century AD, and was purchased by Louis XIV circa 1685.
An ancient piece
This ewer is carved out of brown and bluish gray sardonyx. It has a regular contour, a flat mouth and base, and a handle adorned with a plant motif. The handle is elongated in height and topped with a kind of thumbrest shaped like a small leaf above three rounded moldings. It joins the mouth in an openwork triangular shape. This manner of attaching the handle appeared during the Hellenistic period and was later used in Rome. It may also be found on other types of vessels and in other materials. The elaborate handle is evidence linking the Louvre ewer to a group of agate and sardonyx vases whose handles join the body in more than one point, such as the chalice of the Treasury of San Marco in Venice, the large agate cup of the Schatzkammer in Vienna, the vase of the Palazzo Pitti in Florence, or the ewer in the royal collections at Rosenborg.
The egg pattern
The ewer is also decorated with a pattern of hollowed-out egg shapes. Three large concave ovals, bordered with molding, jut out inside the vase's body, and appear as hollows on the outer surface. They are aligned asymmetrically with the spout and handle. The sardonyx vases of antiquity are very often adorned with hollowed-out motifs. These were mainly used to hide the defects of the stone used, but also served as decoration. Indeed, they can also be found on Roman glass and metalwork.
The ewer's base having been broken, the mount was designed to hold it up. This information is provided by a drawing kept in the Cabinet des Estampes of the Bibliothèque Nationale de France. The work of Dalencé, the drawing was sent to Louis XIV from Germany. It is this sketch that convinced him to purchase the ewer. The mount was originally decorated with black enamel foliage, which could still be seen in 1867 but is now gone. At one point, there was a plan to have the mount restored by P.N. Ménière, who suggested adding a gold foot to complement the beauty of the ewer, but this project was not carried out.
BibliographyAlcouffe, D., Les Gemmes de la Couronne, Paris, Éditions de la Réunion des musées nationaux, 2001, pp. 47-49.
1st century BC-1st century AD
Gilded silver mount (Augsbourg, 17th century)
H. 20.30 cm; W. 10.50 cm; Diam. 8.50 cm; D. 3 cm
Purchased by Louis XIV at Augsburg, 1685
The Louvre is open every day (except Tuesday) from 9 a.m. to 6 p.m.