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Salt-cellar

© 2007 Musée du Louvre / Martine Beck-Coppola

Decorative Arts
18th century: rococo

Author(s):
Goetzke Mark Alan

This silver saltcellar, decorated with a child, an oyster, and a shell, comes from the famous Penthièvre-Orléans service. Originally commissioned by Louis-Alexandre de Bourbon, Count of Toulouse (1678–1737), the service was added to by different silversmiths on several occasions. The present saltcellar belongs to the second series of objects, crafted by Antoine-Sébastien Durand. It is a work of great refinement, already marked by a certain sobering of the rocaille style.

Saltcellars

Before becoming an integral part of a table's centerpiece, saltcellars underwent a long period of development. They once again became independent objects. Initially open, they were subsequently endowed with one or more covered bowls set upon a base. They were placed on the table from time to time, among the other recipients. In the arts of the table they were always in a category of their own.  The rocaille style endowed them with an appearance more in keeping with their function by decorating them with plant forms or sea creatures.

The Penthièvre-Orléans service

The oldest pieces of the Penthièvre-Orléans service were made by Thomas Germain (1673–1748), author of the saltcellars in the Louvre, between 1727 and 1736, for Louis-Alexandre de Bourbon, Count of Toulouse, third legitimized child of Louis XIV and Madame de Montespan, Grand Amiral de France, and Master of the Royal Hunt. The second round of commissions, shared between the silversmiths Antoine Sébastien Durand and Edme-Pierre Balzac, came from the son of the Count of Toulouse, Louis-Jean-Marie de Bourbon, Duke of Penthièvre (1725–93). It was his daughter, Louise-Marie-Adélaide de Bourbon, who inherited the service after the death of her father. She had married Louis-Joseph-Philippe, Duke of Orléans, and in this way the service was passed on to the House of Orléans. After the Terror, the Duchess of Orléans managed to recover her possessions, and at the time of her death, in 1821, the service fell to her son Louis-Philippe, Duke of Orléans (1773–1850), who decided to add the Orléans coat of arms. After his death, the set was broken up among his descendants.

Great delicacy of execution

The saltcellar is composed of a profiled base with rounded corners, engraved on each side with winding foliage. On the base a chubby infant reclines, playing with a ribbon. To either side of the infant, on the sandy, seaweed-covered shore, are a hinged shell and oyster enclosing the silver gilt salt bowls. The base is completely geometrical and much less sinuous in design than the bases found in the first service to be commissioned. The saltcellar is more characteristic of the late 1750s, when, in other fields of  decorative art, a return to classical forms  was coming about. The handling of the infant and the shells, on the other hand, remains marked by the rocaille style. The chasing is particularly fine on the ribbon, where the effect of textile ribbing is apparent. The motif of the infant recurs throughout Durand's works and in decorative art of the period, both in silverwork and in certain pieces of Sèvres porcelaine. Madame de Pompadour possessed two mustard pots featuring chubby infants (today in the Gulbenkian Collection in Lisbon) that are very similar in style.

Bibliography

Exposition Versailles et les tables royales en Europe, Paris, Editions de la Réunion des musées nationaux, 1993, pp. 275-280

Technical description

  • Antoine-Sébastien DURANT (1712 - 1787)

    Salt-cellar

    1758-59

  • Silver

  • Gift of M. Pierre David-Weill in memory of his parents, 1971 , 1971

    OA 10412

  • Decorative Arts

    Sully wing
    1st floor
    Porcelain room
    Room 605

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