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Rock-crystal ewer

© 2001 RMN / Jean-Gilles Berizzi

Decorative Arts

Barbier Muriel

This monolithic rock-crystal ewer from the collection of Cardinal Richelieu (1585-1642) entered the collection of Louis XIV (1638-1715) between 1681 and 1684. The stone was cut in the late Middle Ages and engraved with decorative scenes in the 16th century in Milan. The mount, also made in Milan, is very discreet. This ewer is, with the vase MR 280, among the largest known medieval monolithic vases.

A monolithic ewer

This ewer was made out of a single piece of rock crystal in the 14th or 15th centuries. It would originally have been plain or faceted, like the faceted ewer in the Victoria and Albert Museum in London. It has an identical neck, quite short and accentuated with a thick molding, and the same curved handle with projections ending in a long palmette. It was cut in very pure crystal that is smooth on the inside. The lid, however, dates from the 16th century. Like the covered vase MR 280, the ewer was engraved with foliage motifs.

Engraved decoration

The decoration is divided into three registers. The neck features male terms, each clasping two branches with seeds and pea pods. These motifs are separated by three palmettes. The bead around the neck is engraved with oval motifs alternating with two round motifs. The belly is deeply engraved with eight hanging garlands and three festoons tied with double ribbons. The naturalistic decoration features pomegranates, pears, oranges, apples, bunches of grapes, melons, lemons, gherkins, onions, and ears of grain. The base of the belly is cut with seventeen gadroons. The handle was carved from the block and is sculpted with a palmette from which emerges a hanging garland matching that of the belly. It ends in a satyr mask.

The mount

This rock-crystal piece was embellished with an enameled gold mount, comprising simply the ring at the base, the ring around the knob on the lid, and the ring around the rim. These elements feature motifs in black enamel (gadroons, fluting, foliage), but below the circle of the lid, the motifs are in reverse gold on a translucent green enamel ground. The enamelwork, like the engraving, is Milanese. Vases decorated with foliage and garlands began to be produced in Milan in the mid-16th century.


Alcouffe Daniel, Les Gemmes de la Couronne, Editions de la Réunion de musées nationaux, 2001, p. 232-233.

Technical description

  • Rock-crystal ewer

    14th-15th century; Milan, mid-16th century

  • Enamelled gold mount (Milan, mid-16th century)

    H. 37 cm; W. 20 cm

  • Former Cardinal de Richelieu collection; entered the collection of Louis XIV between 1681 and 1684

    MR 281

  • Decorative Arts

    Denon wing
    1st floor
    Galerie d'Apollon
    Room 705

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Additional information about the work

Number engraved inside lid and under base: 169 (1791 inventory number)