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Department of Decorative Arts: Middle Ages
© 1993 RMN
A rock crystal ewer, almost certainly this one, is listed in the inventory of gold and silver ware owned by Marie de Luxembourg, Duchess of Vendôme (died 1546). The ewer passed to her grandson, Antoine de Bourbon, then to Henri IV and finally Louis XIV. It is thus the only gemstone vase that Louis XIV is known to have inherited from his family. The crystal was carved in Paris in the 14th or 15th century and decorated with a mounting that was modified in the 16th and 17th centuries.
The rock crystal
The crystal has been well carved, giving a pleasing curve to the object. The same goes for the three rounded moldings. The ewer is shaped like a large kettle. Goldsmiths often made such objects in pewter or copper, but of course the intention here is purely decorative. The top of the neck is underlined by a molding, with another at the base of the neck and a third at the base of the belly. The handle is rectangular and the thick lid, all one piece, is convex. Three other similarly shaped ewers carved from one piece of stone are known: one, also in rock crystal, in Vienna, another larger model in blood jasper in the Gulbenkian Museum in Lisbon, and a third with flat sides and a rounded handle, also in Vienna. The similar design and quality of the workmanship indicate that the ewer in the Louvre is almost certainly related to the other three. All were doubtless produced in a Parisian workshop at the height of its creativity.
The earliest parts of the mounting
The mounting dates from two different periods. The earliest part of the original mounting, probably dating from the 14th or 15th century, is the cutout strip round the belly of the ewer. The strip is decorated with fleur de lys motifs, ornamented with a band that only the Bourbons were entitled to use, and two sorts of quatrefoils used to show off the stones and pearls to their best advantage. The edge of the lid and the neck are set with simple claws, which may also be part of the original decoration. The pearls are riveted and the garnets are set in foiled bezels with claws.
16th-century modifications of the mounting
The base is very different from the other parts already described. It is made of repoussé gilded silver in three concentric rings. On the first ring, three palmette motifs alternate with three fleurons. On the middle ring, three scrolled cartouches with the same face in the center alternate with three crossed laurel branch motifs. The third ring has an interlacing trim. The thumb rest and its hinge date from the early 17th century, as indicated by the motif of multifoil leaves. If this ewer is indeed the one that once belonged to Marie de Luxembourg, it is likely that the mounting was modernized some time during the 16th century, perhaps even re-using the metal, gemstones, and pearls from the original mounting.
BibliographyAlcouffe D., Les Gemmes de la Couronne, Paris, RMN, 2001, p.134-135.
Rock crystal: 14th or 15th century(?) ; mounting: 14th or 15th century, 16th century, and 17th century
Rock crystal, gilded silver, garnets (one replaced by red glass), pearls
H. 29 cm; L. 15 cm
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