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Portrait of Louis XIV

© 2005 Musée du Louvre / Peter Harholdt

Decorative Arts
17th century

Author(s):
Barbier Muriel

This oval medallion depicting a bust of Louis XIV in profile is made of cast glass, a process first developed to produce mirrors. This very rare piece is the work of Bernard Perrot (1638-1709), master of the Orléans glassworks under Louis XIV. A masterpiece of French glassmaking, it celebrates, at the height of his glory, a ruler who did much to encourage the progress of the arts and crafts within his kingdom.

An Italian glassmaker in Orléans

Bernard Perrot, originally called Bernardo Perroto, was a member of one of the many families of Italian glassmakers from the region north of Genoa who, in the last quarter of the sixteenth century, had established themselves in France and introduced luxury glassware into the country. After training in his father's workshop in Italy, Perrot went to work with his uncle, Jean Castellan, in Nevers. In 1662, he set up a glassworks in Orléans, whose location on the Loire attracted a number of Italian glassmakers. Perrot's workshop, which continued to make glass in the "façon de Venise", was granted a monopoly in the Loire region for thirty years, a privilege extended to cover the whole of France in 1672.

Cast glass: a new method of production

Perrot's great invention, which won him his monopoly, was the casting of glass on an iron plate to produce flat, rectangular pieces. This was a radically modern process which made traditional glass-blowing obsolete and greatly facilitated the production of mirrors. It also underlay the success of the great Saint-Gobain glass company (established in the town of that name in 1695), whose directors took over Perrot's invention when he lost his monopoly.

A portrait in glass

The cast-glass process also made it possible to produce portraits somewhat in the manner of antique cameos. A thick layer of molten glass was poured over a modeled relief, probably of plaster. After cooling, the surface of the resulting depression in the glass was covered with a thick coat of a preparation imitating bronze. The work was viewed from the flat side, giving the impression of solid relief. The portrait of Louis XIV was made using this process. It is oval in form and shows the king in profile, in the manner of a medal. A number of portraits of this kind are known: one is in the Musée Historique de l'Orléanais (Orléans); another is the property of the Saint-Gobain company; and a third turned up at an auction in 1976.

Bibliography

Nouvelles Acquisitions du département des Objets d'art (1990-1994), Paris, Editions de la Réunion des musées nationaux, 1995, pp. 110-111.

Technical description

  • Bernard PERROT (1638 - 1709)

    Portrait of Louis XIV

    C. 1680

    Orléans

  • Poured glass

    H. 37 cm; W. 30.50 cm; D. 1.50 cm

  • Gift of Honda-France Society, 1993

    OA 11378

  • Decorative Arts

    Richelieu wing
    1st floor
    Sauvageot
    Room 18
    Display case 3

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