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Work Ewer bearing the monogram of Gilles de Montmorency-Laval

Department of Decorative Arts: Renaissance

Ewer with the cypher of Gilles de Montmorency-Laval

© 1996 Musée du Louvre / Martine Beck-Coppola

Decorative Arts
Renaissance

Author(s):
Brigitte Ducrot

The exact site and name of the workshop where Saint-Porchaire pottery was produced remain a mystery. This large ewer, bearing the monogram of Gilles II de Montmorency-Laval (d. 1559) is one of a small number of similar items known to exist (others are preserved in Cleveland and Edinburgh, among other places). It was a decorative piece, its shape inspired by Mannerist precious metalwork of the reign of Henri II. It was made using several techniques, including molding and stamping.

The mystery of Saint-Porchaire pottery

The Louvre has eleven pieces of Saint-Porchaire pottery (room 21)—one of the largest public collections in the world. Although many studies have been devoted to the subject, Saint-Porchaire pottery remains a mystery. While the composition of the very thin beige clay has been established—it incorporates very white kaolinic clay, used in hard porcelain—the site of production and the potters themselves remain unknown. However, the rarity, value, and originality of these pieces and the illustrious owners (Montmorency-Laval, OA 10588), along with their presence in the post-mortem inventories of the belongings of dignitaries such as Anne de Montmorency, tend to indicate that the objects were commissioned by the court and the retinue of Henri II.

A distinctive style of decoration

This ewer, which is similar to those in Cleveland and Edinburgh, consists of a molded base and a rounded body topped by a narrow neck with a highly decorative handle. As on other pieces of Saint-Porchaire pottery, molded ornaments have been added in relief, including shells, grotesque figures with gaping mouths, heads of cherubs, and rolled scrolls. This distinctive ornamentation is characterized by the repetition of motifs on a ground that alternates between pale and dark. Moldings in relief separate sections which contain intertwining friezes or ribbons, sometimes forming purely geometric patterns, sometimes sinuous lines with Moorish motifs. If you look carefully, you will see the monogram G, skillfully disguised as part of the decoration on the body of the ewer. This is currently thought to be the monogram of Gilles de Montmorency-Laval, lord of Bressuire in Poitou. Saint-Porchaire is in the Bressuire region and would have been part of his domains.

Precious objects

The shape and ornamentation of this piece are a synthesis of the Mannerist style while also using other techniques borrowed from other decorative arts. The shape of the object is inspired by precious metalwork and the snaking handle and shell-shaped lip, among other elements, draw on designs by contemporary Mannerist artists. The repetitive geometric patterns are similar to those used by bookbinders to stamp the covers of their books. This is no coincidence: the reign of Henri II marked the golden age of French bookbinding. The motifs were obtained by adding molded designs in colored clay, embedded in the object beneath a transparent lead glaze. The joins are occasionally slightly imperfect, but this does not detract from the general quality of the finished work. 

Bibliography

Jestaz Bertrand, « Poteries de Saint-Porchaire », in La revue de Louvre et des Musées de France, 1975, n° 5/6, p. 384-396.

Exposition, Cinq années d’enrichissement du patrimoine national, Paris, Grand-Palais, 1980-1981, p. 36-38, n° 27.

Louvre. Guide du visiteur. Les Objets d’art. Moyen-Age et Renaissance, Paris, Editions de la Réunion des Musées nationaux, 1994, p. 123-124.

Durand  Jannic, Le Louvre : les objets d’art, Paris, Éditions Scala ; Editions de la Réunion des Musées nationaux, 1995, p. 67.

Technical description

  • Saint-Porchaire workshop

    Ewer with the cypher of Gilles de Montmorency-Laval

    Before 1559?

    France

  • Kaolinic clay with lead glaze, embossed decoration

    H. 37.20 cm

  • Former Edouard de Rothschild collection ; gift of Madame G. Piatigorsky, née J. de Rothschild, 1974

    OA 10589

  • Decorative Arts

    Richelieu wing
    1st floor
    Gallery of The Hunts of Maximilian
    Room 19

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