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Work Pair of ewers

Department of Decorative Arts: 17th century

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Ewer

© 1985 RMN / Pierre et Maurice Chuzeville

Decorative Arts
17th century

Author(s):
Brigitte Ducrot, Édith Paillat

Each of these Nevers faience ewers is ornately painted, decorated with grotesque figures in relief, and adorned with a dragon-shaped handle. The bacchanalian scenes on the body are strongly Italianate, but were inspired by the work of French artists such as Dorigny and Chapron. The overall shape is that of a bronze vase made by goldsmith Claude Ballin the Elder for the gardens of Versailles. This pair of ewers evokes the magnificent goldwork pieces of the reign of Louis XIV, now sadly lost.

A shape inspired by the goldsmith's art

Ewers were customarily used at home for washing hands. This monumental pair of ewers is powerfully shaped, indicating that such objects could reach very large sizes. The richly painted decoration is matched by the exuberance of the motifs in relief-the handle in the shape of a dragon crushing a serpent's tail beneath its feet, grotesque figures on the body, and the leaves forming the lip. These motifs are inspired by the goldsmith's art, which enjoyed a golden age during the reign of Louis XIV. The ewers are directly inspired by the bronze vase made by Claude Ballin the Elder (1615-1678) for the gardens of Versailles sometime between 1666 and 1673, and engraved by Jean Lepautre (1618-1682). The exceptional size and magnificence of these ewers are not only a worthy homage to their model, but also proof of the technical mastery displayed by one of the great pottery centers.

The arrival of faience in France

Luigi Gonzaga (1539-1595) became Duke of Nevers in 1565 on his marriage to Henriette de Clèves, the heiress to the dukedom. He was well known as a patron of the arts and brought a group of Italian enamellers and potters to settle in Nevers. This was the first step in the creation of a major center of pottery manufacture, which was renowned until the 18th century. The potteries of Nevers played a key role in the unprecedented development of faience, or high-fired tin-glazed earthenware, in the country. The Italian style dominated the early production of Nevers pottery and remained influential into the following century. However, the town was something of a crossroads and gradually absorbed other influences. The influence of Far Eastern pottery, for example, led to the incorporation of mythical creatures into designs from the late 17th century. This tendency can be seen in the handles of the pair of ewers.

French-style istoriato ware

The high-fired, brightly colored decoration covers the whole surface of the ewers and hides the white earthenware. The waves at the base from which cherubs are shown emerging are copied from late-16th-century pottery from Urbino, Italy. The waves give way to four mythological scenes in large cartouches on the bellies of the ewers. These scenes are in the tradition of istoriato ware-pieces of Italian majolica illustrated with narrative scenes. However, some attempt has been made to adapt both the source and the style of the scenes to French taste. The bacchanalian episodes are drawn from French engravers including Michel Dorigny (OA 5013A) and Nicolas Chapron (OA 5013B). The Nevers painters have depicted the scenes with a freer hand, creating a synthesis that is less detailed and less academic in style.

Bibliography

Ballot Marie-Juliette, Musée du Louvre. La Céramique française. Nevers, Rouen et les fabriques du XVIIe et du XVIIIe siècle, Paris, Éditions Albert Morancé, 1924, p. 8, pl. 2.

Ennes Pierre, Musée du Louvre. Département des objets d'art, La Céramique du XVIIe au milieu du XIXe siècle, Paris, Éditions des musées nationaux, 1992 (Petit Guide 116), p. 3.

Durand Jannic, Le Louvre : les objets d'art, Paris, Éditions Scala ; Editions de la Réunion des Musées nationaux, 1995, p. 82.

Technical description

  • Ewer

  • High-fired faience with polychrome decoration

  • Albert Gérard bequest, 1900

    OA 5013 A

  • Decorative Arts

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