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Work Washbowl bearing the arms of the Duchess of Orléans, legitimate daughter of Louis XIV and Madame de Montespan

Department of Decorative Arts: 17th century

Bassin de toilette, aux armes de la duchesse d'Orléans, fille légitimée de Louis XIV et de Mme de Montespan

© 1988 RMN / Daniel Arnaudet

Decorative Arts
17th century

Author(s):
Barbier Muriel

This washbowl is part of a toilet set created for Françoise-Marie de Blois, Duchess of Chartres and Orléans, the legitimate daughter of Louis XIV and Madame de Montespan. Although the hallmarks are illegible, this piece is similar to the most impressive work done by Paris silversmiths for their royal clients and can fairly be attributed to the king's silversmith Nicolas Besnier.

Use of a washbowl

Usually accompanied by a ewer, the washbowl was not a new item in the eighteenth century; it had been used for performing ablutions since the Middle Ages. The practise of creating groups of articles required for the feminine toilet goes back to the gold set made for Anne of Austria, none of whose forty pieces has come down to us. That set served, however, as a model for the seventeenth and eighteenth centuries. Toilet sets were then much larger, their numerous pieces combining the useful and the luxurious. They also had a social role at a time when etiquette made the toilet a public affair: as can be seen in seventeenth- and eighteenth-century engravings, close friends were sometimes received while one was washing and dressing. These sets were generally offered as wedding gifts.

Client and silversmith

On the bottom of the bowl can be seen the arms of Françoise-Marie de Blois, Duchess of Chartres and Orléans. The bowl was accompanied by other items: two implement containers, two powder boxes, two small cups with handles and lids, a small saucer, a coffre en racine, a spittoon, a cream holder, a dish, and a large cup with lid, all in silver gilt. The Louvre washbowl was part of a set belonging to the duchess and was probably made when the Duke of Chartres, the future Regent, was obliged to marry her. There are similarities to the washbowl made for the Spanish Infanta Maria Anna Victoria and to a dish, also in the Louvre, bearing the Escalopier arms. That these two pieces were made by the same silversmith is indicated by ornamentation similar to that on the Duchess of Chartres's bowl and characteristic of Nicolas Besnier, royal silversmith at the Palais du Louvre. With Delaunay, Ballin, Germain, and Roëttiers, Besnier is considered one of the greatest silversmiths of the first half of the eighteenth century.

An emblematic Régence piece

This oval, boat-shaped bowl is set on an oblong base. The edge is raised at the ends and in the middle of the long sides. The ornamentation illustrates the sheer staying power of the decorative repertoire borrowed from antiquity: ovoli, tracery, frises de poste, and, on the sides, chubby children's heads. These heads form the handles and are to be found on other items of silverware and on the bronze decoration of certain pieces of furniture from the same period. In the middle of one of the long sides is a shell, a motif subjected to every imaginable deformation during the Rocaille period but treated with real restraint here. Engraved with great skill, this bowl is an example of a relatively belated ornamental vocabulary that makes it one of the most accomplished pieces of Régence silverware.

Bibliography

De Turkheim C., "Bassin de toilette en argent doré Paris 1717-1722", in L'Estampille, n 170, juin 1985, fiche 170, pp. 61-62.

Vingt ans d'acquisition du musée du Louvre 1947-1967, 1967-1968, p. 78.

Technical description

  • Attribué à Nicolas BESNIER (1686 - 1754)

    Bassin de toilette, aux armes de la duchesse d'Orléans, fille légitimée de Louis XIV et de Mme de Montespan

    1719 - 1720

  • Argent doré

  • Ancienne collection Puiforcat. Don de la Société des Amis du Louvre, 1948 , 1948

    OA 9455

  • Decorative Arts

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Additional information about the work

A single visible hallmark: Paris charge mark 1717-22; other hallmarks on the underside effaced or illegible