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Department of Decorative Arts: Early Middle Ages
© 1991 RMN / Daniel Arnaudet
Early Middle Ages
This sardonyx vase, all of one piece, entered the collection of Louis XIV (1638-1715), who was a great lover of hardstones, between 1684 and 1701. For a long time it was known as "The Vase of Mithridates." The overall coarseness of the stone carving suggests that it is Byzantine in origin. It is part of a group of ewers of identical provenance that attests to Byzantine hardstone vase production and its appeal to Western sovereigns.
All of one piece
This vase, all of one piece and not fitted with a mount, is made of sardonyx, a brown stone streaked with white veins. The mouth of the ewer juts out and ends in a protuberant spout that is carved out on both sides. The neck is long and slightly truncated. The base, very thick, supports a convex belly. The handle, rounded on the outside, is formed of two bevels on either side, and topped with a projecting oval motif, flattened out and pierced with a hole. This piece was known in the nineteenth century as "The Vase of Mithridates," in reference to the treasure of Mithridates VI (circa 132-63 BC), king of Pontus (a kingdom situated northeast of Asia Minor and founded at the time of the breaking up of the Macedonian Empire).
A Byzantine ewer
The emperors of Byzantium liked to give hardstone vases as gifts. These vases were done in the manner of antiquity, all of one piece, thick, and with an imperfect finish. Indeed, their surface is not smooth and bears the marks of tools, and the defects of the stone are still apparent. Moreover, these vases are generally not decorated. The ewer in the Louvre has all these characteristics. The exterior shows many signs of coarse craftsmanship: the spout is twisted and hanging, the belly is rounder under the handle than under the spout, and the handle is on an oblique line in relation to the axis of the piece. Defects in the stone are visible on the sides of the body and between the handle and the spout. All these elements identify this piece as Byzantine.
A group of similar ewers
This ewer, all of one piece, is similar to the sardonyx ewer of the Treasury of Saint-Denis. It is also very much like another sardonyx vase kept in the Palazzo Pitti in Florence, which is considered to be Sassanid. Two ewers with zoomorphic handles in the Treasury of San Marco in Venice may also be compared with these last two. The hole pierced in the handle of the Louvre ewer suggests that it might have been mounted on a piece of metalwork that has since disappeared. These five ewers form a homogeneous group and are thought to all be works influenced by Sassanid art, whose influence was attested in Byzantium.
BibliographyAlcouffe Daniel, Les Gemmes de la Couronne, Paris, Editions de la Réunion des musées nationaux, p. 77-78.
H. 19 cm
Entered the collection of Louis XIV circa 1685
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