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Work Lapis lazuli nef (centerpiece)

Department of Decorative Arts: 17th century

Lapis-lazuli nef

© 1993 RMN / Daniel Arnaudet

Decorative Arts
17th century

Author(s):
Barbier Muriel

This monumental lapis lazuli nef entered the collection of Louis XIV in about 1673. The nef itself is an Italian work dating from the 16th century. The mount was made in Paris in about 1670. The latter illustrates the transition between two styles of enameled goldwork: those of the "white and green" and the "white and pink" workshops. Spectacular in its workmanship, this nef has a long history and has been reproduced several times.

A nef in lapis lazuli

The nef is made up of four pieces of lapis lazuli. Lapis lazuli is an azure semiprecious stone. The considerable size of the nef itself required that an extra element be added: a large, triangular piece of lapis lazuli that was attached to the edge, on one of the sides. This nef is very thick: the edge is one centimeter thick in places. The outside of the vessel is decorated with gadroons in "taille d'épargne" (black enamel tracery); at the back, a large acanthus leaf is sculpted in bas-relief. The baluster foot is slightly flattened and may be a reused flask. It was attached to a molded oval knop. The oval base, slightly concave on the underside, is also decorated with cabled gadroons.

An enameled gold mount

Three holes indicate the existence of a mount dating from the same period as the stone. The present mount dates from the 1670s and is a combination of gilded silver and enameled gold. It illustrates the transition between the "white and green" and "white and pink" workshops. The "white and green" style of mount is reflected in the leaves decorated with black seeds and two satyr masks on the baluster, while the white and opaque pink enamel highlights are typical of the "white and pink" mounts. The appliqué enameled gold ornamentation is attached to the mount with folded-down tips. The decoration is made up of highly naturalistic garlands of fruits and flowers, possibly inspired by the goldsmith François Le Febvre's Book of Flowers, published in Paris in about 1635 with engravings by Balthazar Moncornet. At the back is the figure of Neptune, seated on a shell over a satyr's head, who would have held reins in his right hand to steer the boat drawn by the shark at the prow.

A long history

This monumental nef was designed by Jules Jacquemart for Henri Barbet de Jouy. The drawing is kept in the Louvre's Department of Prints and Drawings. The nef is also featured in the center of a painting by Charles Giraud, Interior of the Study of the Count of Nieuwerkerke, General Director of the Imperial Museums, in the Louvre (1859). Part of the mount was depicted in a still life by Blaise-Alexandre Desgoffe, now in the Musée d'Hyères. Finally, Charles Duron made a goldwork copy of the nef in 1868, which is now in a private collection. A blue porcelain and gilded bronze copy of the nef may also be found in Osborne House (Isle of Wight).

Bibliography

Alcouffe Daniel, Les Gemmes de la Couronne, Editions de la Réunion des musées nationaux, 2001, p. 432-433.

Technical description

  • Lapis-lazuli nef

    16th century

    Italy

  • Gilded silver and enamelled gold mount: Paris, c. 1670

    H. 42 cm; W. 33 cm

  • Entered the collection of Louis XIV before 1673; bedchamber of Marie-Antoinette, Versailles

    MR 262

  • Decorative Arts

    Denon wing
    1st floor
    Galerie d'Apollon
    Room 66

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