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Agate ewer

© 2001 RMN / Jean-Gilles Berizzi

Decorative Arts
17th century

Barbier Muriel

This ewer came into the collection of Louis XIV some time between 1681 and 1684. Jean Vangrol, a goldsmith of Flemish origin who lived in Paris, probably made the mounting in about 1640. This piece is typical of Parisian works dating from the 1640s and 1650s in the Crown collection of gems and gemstone vases. The name of the stone carver is not recorded, but Vangrol's mounting in enamelled gold is proof of the remarkable skill of Parisian goldsmiths in the 17th century.

The agate ewer

This egg-shaped ewer consists of six pieces of predominantly yellow agate: the neck, an upside-down bowl, a second bowl with a small molded foot, a sphere used as a baluster, a small ring, and a third small bowl used as the base since 1941 in place of the original foot, which may have been lost in 1830. The two bowls that form the egg-shaped body of the ewer are decorated with carvings by an unknown master who signed the work with the initials WFS. The same artist also carved similar scenes on the rock crystal vase MR 321.

The engraved decoration

The decoration carved in the agate is in two parts, both developing themes, inspired by the sea, that are normally only found on rock crystal pieces. The upper bowl depicts a circular building on a rock, a dolphin, and a sea monster guarding the collar of the Golden Fleece and a large sailing ship. The lower bowl depicts a mermaid preparing to give a palm leaf trophy and a crown to a second mermaid who is blowing a horn, two dolphins - the second with a cherub on its back - and four large palmettes of torn leaves and seeds in the same style as the leaves on the mounting. This shows that the carving on the ewer was carried out at the same time as the mounting was made. The identity of the lapidary, or stone carver, remains a mystery. He signed his work with the initials WFS and may have been Flemish, like the goldsmith Jean Vangrol, or possibly German.

The enamelled gold mounting

The ewer was listed as being part of Jean Vangrol's stock in 1644 in the inventory of his possessions after his death. The mounting is set with rubies. Small, pointed leaves of black enamel stand out against the white enamel background. Atop the handle is a winged female bust made of translucent orange enamel. The original base was set with rubies, although the current foot, added recently, is of gilded silver. This piece is typical of works by imitators or followers of Pierre Delabarre in the 1640s and 1650s. Such works with gold mountings set with mainly white enamel - which can be painted on - are ornamented with peapods and other plant motifs, in a more repetitive style than on Delabarre's own works. The use of rubies is also inspired by Delabarre's art.


Alcouffe D., Les Gemmes de la Couronne, Paris, RMN, 2001, p.396-398.
Bimbenet-Privat M., Les Orfèvres et l'orfèvrerie parisienne de Paris au XVIIe siècle, Paris, Commission historique de la ville de Paris, 2002, t.1 p.526 et t.2 p.454-457.

Technical description

  • Agate ewer

    C. 1640


  • Enamelled gold mount: Jean Vangrol, Paris, c. 1640
    Modern gilded silver base

    H. 34 cm; W. 12.20 cm; Diam. 10.50 cm

  • Entered the collection of Louis XIV between 1681 and 1684; >Marie-Antoinette’s bedchamber at Versailles; transferred to the Palais des Tuileries, then to the Palais de Saint-Cloud in the 19th century

    OA 40

  • Decorative Arts

    Denon wing
    1st floor
    Galerie d'Apollon
    Room 66

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Additional information about the work

Signed in the midsection of the bottle, in the waves to the right of the mermaid musician: "WFS[sculpsit]"; handwritten label on the underside of the base: T6316