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Rock crystal ewer

© 2000 RMN / Jean-Gilles Berizzi

Decorative Arts

Barbier Muriel

Sixteenth-century French artists were experts in making hardstone vases by re-using old stone pieces, but they also produced new pieces such as this large rock crystal and gilded silver ewer. This work was listed in 1689 as part of the collection of the Dauphin Louis de France (1661-1711), who inherited his love of these vases from his father, Louis XIV (1638-1715).

The rock crystal body

The ewer consists of a circular body and lid, both in rock crystal. The lid, edged by a pair of rounded moldings, is carved with ten gadroons. The body is ornamented with twelve identical twisted, protruding gadroons edged by a flat surface and separated by a pointed arrowhead in relief. The body is also topped by a ring engraved with dentils - a type of pattern commonly found in 16th-century Parisian goldwork, other examples being the thurible and incense holder in the Treasure of the Order of the Holy Ghost, also in the Louvre. The Museo degli Argenti has a very similar round vase, made in the same workshop, whose upper section is unpolished since it was meant to be covered similarly by a mounting.

The mounting

The mounting is quite significant, as it transforms the body of the dish into a ewer. It is a cylinder of gilded and enamelled repoussé silver. The scene depicts a sky in blue enamel above green and ochre enamel waves, with three children riding on the backs of dolphins, one playing a triangle, another a lyre, and a third cymbals. At the top of the cylinder, the horizon is lined with reeds and seven water birds. The cylinder is rimmed with a ring decorated with blue enamel dentils matching those on the crystal body. The lip is in the shape of a dolphin borne by a satyr, while the handle is decorated with a wreath of laurel and piasters set in blue enamel scrolls. The base is ringed with gadroons edged with blue enamel. The lid is topped with a spray of flowers and fruits and ringed with quatrefoils separated by a ribbon. All of the decoration is typical of 16th-century ornamentation.

Parisian crystal engravers of the 16th century

Sixteenth-century Parisian crystal engravers were famed for their expertise. The workshop where this ewer was produced specialized in vases decorated with twisted gadroons, which were then made into ewers by adding a gold or silver neck and a lip and handle decorated with figures. Three similar small ewers from the Dauphin's collection can be seen in the Prado in Madrid.


Alcouffe D., Les Gemmes de la Couronne, Paris, RMN, 2001, p.155-157.

Technical description

  • Rock crystal ewer

    Mid-16th century


  • Gilded silver and enamelled mount

    H. 24.50 cm; W. 15.50 cm

  • Former collection of the Dauphin, son of Louis XIV; transferred to the Palais de Compiègne, then to the Palais de Saint-Cloud in the 19th century

    OA 36

  • Decorative Arts

    Denon wing
    1st floor
    Galerie d'Apollon
    Room 66

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Additional information about the work

Number engraved on the underside of the base: 170 (assigned in the 1791 inventory); handwritten number, erased: 2402