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Work "Medallion" or "Festooned Greek" Vase

Department of Decorative Arts: 18th century: neoclassicism

"Medallion" or "Festooned Greek" Vase

© 2007 Musée du Louvre / Martine Beck-Coppola

Decorative Arts
18th century: neoclassicism

Author(s):
Muriel Barbier

This ornamental vase was made in Sèvres circa 1765, a time of formal renewal. The Sèvres artists introduced the neoclassical style into their creations through their choice of form and ornament, inspired by Greco-Roman antiquity. Among these innovations was the "medallion vase" of which the specimen in the Louvre is exemplary, decorated with medallions after the antique, with motifs designed by the painters Jean-Baptist-Etienne Genest (died 1789) and Pierre-Nicolas Berthevin (died 1777).

An innovative shape

After 1762, new shapes appeared at the Sèvres manufactory. Their perfect balance broke with the fanciful Rocaille style. This revolution may be explained by the activity of Etienne-Maurice Falconet: originally in charge of sculpture models at the manufactory beginning in 1747, he then turned to designing models. His influence remained very strong. The new vases were inspired by the decorative vocabulary of architecture and sculpture. The "medallion vase" stands on bracketed feet adorned with piasters. The base, which has since disappeared, was undoubtedly oval, made of bronze or porcelain. The body is marked by a wide projecting stringcourse, along which runs a double Greek key pattern. The neck is fluted and topped by a gadrooned lid that terminates in a pine cone. There are an anonymous grawing and a plaster model for this shape at the Manufactory of Sèvres.

Neoclassical decoration

Piasters, fluting, gadroons, and Greek borders are ornaments deriving from the architecture of antiquity, and give the vase a neoclassical aspect that breaks away from the earlier Rocaille style. The vase is decorated with medallions laid out symmetrically around the neck and joined together by garlands of gilt laurel. These medallions bear classical-style human profiles in gray on a brown ground, which gives them the appearance of ancient cameos. This trompe-l'oeil process had been used since 1768-1769 at Sèvres by Jean-Baptist-Etienne Genest (died 1789), specifically on the "Carracci vases" conserved at Waddesdon Manor. Pierre-Nicolas Bertin (died 1777) employed a similar process; the medallions on the vase in the Louvre may thus be attributed to him. Identical medallions adorn the "turtledove vase" of 1768-70 (OA 10591) and the "solar vases" of 1772 conserved in the Wallace Collection, attesting the vogue for and the persistence of this process.

A repeated model

Nine Sèvres vases with medallions are currently known; they all bear the blue ground known as "bleu nouveau" (a color used since 1763) except one, which has a sky blue ground. They were also made in two sizes. In addition to the Louvre vases, the Musée de Saumur, the Hermitage in Saint Petersburg and the collection of The Antique Company in London also have one specimen each. Five "medallion vases" are held in private collections. All of them feature extensive gilding, which underscores and gives relief to the very sober monumental structure of the vase and its garlands. The importance given to the gilding is attested by the presence of the gilder's mark of Boulanger père.

Bibliography

Catalogue d'exposition : "Un Défi au goût", Paris, Éditions de la Réunion des musées nationaux, 1997, p. 92

Catalogue d'exposition : "Nouvelles Acquisitions du département des Objets d'art 1980-1984", Paris, Éditions de la Réunion des musées nationaux, 1985, pp. 139-142

S. Grandjean, "Un nouveau vase néoclassique de Sèvres au Louvre", in Revue du Louvre et des musées de France, Juin 1984, n 3, pp. 193-195

Technical description

  • Sèvres Manufactory

    "Medallion" or "Festooned Greek" Vase

    Circa 1765

    Sèvres, France

  • Soft-paste porcelain

    H. 30 cm; W. 24 cm

  • Gift of the Baron and Baroness Elie de Rothschild, 1982

    OA 10908

  • Decorative Arts

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Additional information about the work

Marks painted in blue: two intertwined Ls; B (sign of the gilder, Boulanger père).