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Work Pair of sugar casters

Department of Decorative Arts: 18th century: neoclassicism

Two sugar sprinklers

© 1994 RMN / Daniel Arnaudet

Decorative Arts
18th century: neoclassicism

Author(s):
Muriel Barbier

These two sugar casters are modeled to represent a slave couple from the Americas: a man and a woman carrying sugar cane sheaves on their back. Because there is no mark on the casters, it is difficult to ascertain who their author is or who commissioned them. They fit however the description of the sugar casters owned by Louis-Henri, Duke of Bourbon (1692-1740). They therefore date probably from the period 1730-40 and bear testimony to the great creativity of rocaille goldsmiths.

Sugar casters

Under the Ancien Régime, sugar was one of the ingredients always present on the table. The sugar caster already appeared in the 1600's. Around 1700 it took on a baluster shape with a pierced dome and became part of the centerpiece. This form went out of use before the middle of the 18th century. The two sugar casters in the Louvre are modeled like statuettes sculpted in the round and represent slaves from the Americas carrying sheaves of sugar canes. Theses objects, whose iconography designates their function, are not unique: Madame de Pompadour owned two casters in the shape of figures carrying sugar canes, another pair, dating from 1738-9, is in the J. Paul Getty Museum in Malibu, and two more are listed in the inventory of the Duke of Penthièvre for the Château d'Anet.

Very likely identification

It is extremely rare for the works of goldsmiths not to have a mark. On the base of the two casters, there are, however, traces of the erased coat of arms of the Duke of Bourbon. We find confirmation of this provenance in the inventory list drawn up after the Duke's death, which contains the description of the two objects. It is therefore possible to date the production of the casters, historically, as prior to 1740 - the year of the Duke of Bourbon's death - and, stylistically, as later than 1730. A close study of the fine workmanship indicates that their author most probably was one of the Parisian goldsmiths working for the Crown who were installed in the Louvre. Of these, Claude II Ballin produced several pieces sharing certain traits with the Louvre pair. For instance, three centerpieces now in the Ermitage Museum in Saint-Petersburg show the same careful attention to detail and assign the same importance to the representation of the human figure.

Objects that demonstrate the fantasy of the rocaille style

The two figures from the Americas stand on a small, finely delineated pedestal, which represents in a realistic manner a plot of ground with a tree stump and some already cut sugar cane stalks. In addition to his sheaf of sugar canes, the man carries a bow and quiver slung over his shoulder. As for the woman, she carries a small bag. All the elements are very finely outlined with chasing, manifesting the attachment to detail typical of rocaille silver. The theme itself, imbued with the colonizer's vision of the world, reveals the period's taste for exotic characters and objects. These two sugar casters announce other works such as the twelve salts created by François-Thomas Germain (1760) for the service of Joseph I of Portugal, now in the Ajuda Palace and at the Museum of Ancient Art in Lisbon, which represent tiny figures of people from the Americas. Or the gold sugar casters of Louis XV by Jacques Roettiers, dating from 1764, and adorned with bas-reliefs depicting the gathering of the sugar canes.

Bibliography

Dernières acquisitions du département des objets d'art (1990-1994), Paris, RMN, 1995, pp. 163-165.

Technical description

  • Two sugar sprinklers

    C. 1730-40

    Paris

  • Cast and chased silver

    H. 28.50 cm; W. 11 cm

  • Gift of the Société des Amis du Louvre, 1995

    OA 11749, OA 11750

  • Decorative Arts

    Sully wing
    1st floor
    Display case 8

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Additional information about the work

Inscriptions: on the inside of each base: XVErased coat of arms, engraved on the reverse side of each caster's base (arms of the Grand Condé?).