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Covered agate bowl

© 1997 RMN / Daniel Arnaudet

Decorative Arts

Barbier Muriel

This bowl, which entered the collection of Louis XIV (1638-1715), is made up of two agate bowls set off by an enameled gold mount. The stone was cut in the late 14th century or early 15th century, and the mount added in 1571. The bowl illustrates the burgeoning taste for hard-stone objects in the 15th century.

The stones

The bowl itself and the lid are in fact reused small bowls without feet. The collection of Lorenzo de' Medici (the Magnificent) included a large number of these round, shallow bowls in hard stone. The bowl itself is made of agate, with molding in relief, and the lid is of brown agate. These two elements were later embellished with a decor in relief when the mount was added. This sculpted ornamentation consists in projecting, flat-edged gadroons alternating with discontinuous friezes of piastres. Around the lid run two rows of eleven oval cameos of the twelve Caesars, but there was not enough room to feature them all. Two other cameos adorn the handle: these depict Augustus and Caligula but are not part of the same series.

The mount

The mount is in cutout enameled gold. The circular base is supported by three winged dolphins topped by a royal crown composed of four arches and six fleurs-de-lis. These decorative elements may suggest the vessel is of royal provenance. The three dolphins on the base, connected by a laurel wreath, appear to be swallowing a snail. The ornamentation between the dolphins is characteristic of the 16th century: cutout animal hides and an egg-and-godron design. These motifs are repeated above the sard knop and at the handle. The edge of the lid is decorated with a continuous, highly naturalistic frieze of hawthorn leaves and blossom, reminiscent of the gold- and silverwork of the late Middle Ages. This frieze may therefore be part of an earlier mount.

Gothic vessels

In the late 13th century, two centers of production came to the fore and remained preeminent until the end of the Middle Ages: Paris and Venice. The hard-stone vases and bowls of the 14th and 15th centuries were thick and modeled on the lines of contempory gold- and silverwork. From the mid-15th century on, craftsmen began to design hard-stone objects made up of several pieces of the same stone or of different stones assembled with a gold- and silverwork mount. There are mentions of hard-stone vessels in the inventories of Charles V and his brothers, the dukes of Berry and Anjou. This taste for objects made of precious and semiprecious stone endured until the 16th century and through the 17th century. New mounts were made for older vessels, as in the case of this bowl.


Alcouffe Daniel, Les Gemmes de la Couronne, Editions de la Réunion des musées nationaux, 2001, p. 139-141.

Technical description

  • Covered agate bowl

    14th-15th century; touched up in the 16th century

  • Mount: enamelled gold, with agate cameos; Paris, c. 1570

    H. 28.30 cm; Diam. 16.90 cm

  • Entered the collection of Louis XIV between 1681 and 1684; transferred to the Palais de Saint-Cloud in the 19th century

    MR 253

  • Decorative Arts

    Denon wing
    1st floor
    Galerie d'Apollon
    Room 705

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Additional information about the work

Number engraved under the base: 324 (1791 inventory number)