Go to content Go to navigation Go to search Change language

Home>Collection & Louvre Palace>Curatorial Departments>Sardonyx vase

Work Sardonyx vase

Department of Decorative Arts: Renaissance

Sard vase

© 1991 RMN / Daniel Arnaudet

Decorative Arts

Barbier Muriel

This 10th- or 11th-century Byzantine sardonyx vase, one of the finest pieces in the collection of Cardinal Mazarin (1602-1661), passed into the collection of Louis XIV (1638-1715) in 1685. The richly enamelled mounting was added in the late 16th century in Paris. The decor of the vase and the mounting are reminiscent of the work of Richard Toutain the younger.

A Byzantine vase

The vase itself, made of sardonyx, is bucket-shaped. It was made in a Byzantine workshop in the 10th or 11th centuries. Its large size invites comparison with the large chalices in the Treasure of Saint Mark in Venice. The walls are very thick and the base is concave. There are a few imperfections in how the stone has been worked. The lower part is circular and slightly uneven. The body of the vase gradually flattens out so that the upper rim is almost oval in shape. This shape is similar to that of a chalice in the Treasure of Saint Mark, although that model is smaller and has a gilded and enamelled silver mounting.

The engraved decoration

The engraved decoration was added to the finished vase much later. The engraver seems to have recognized the faults in the stone and tried to disguise them. The surface is engraved with two rows of intertwining, hollowed-out, elongated oval motifs, separated by regularly spaced arrows. The same style of decor is found on other ancient pieces, doubtless added at the same workshop during the sixteenth century. Other examples include the onyx ewer in the Kunsthistorisches Museum in Vienna, the double dish made of agate in the Louvre (MR 253), and a sardonyx dish, once part of the Dauphin's collection, now in the Prado in Madrid.

Enamel and precious stones

The mounting consists of three very different elements. The upper edge is decorated with Moorish motifs - white intertwining fleurons and golden volutes on a black ground. This edge was set with nine single stones alternating with nine small roses formed of a central stone ringed by smaller stones, all since lost. The openwork mounting underneath the vase is decorated with four gold tritons alternating with four female faces, also in gold, separated by groups of brightly colored fruit. The baluster is decorated with arabesques on a dull gold ground. It is very different in style and may have been designed for a different object altogether. This mounting is very similar to one made in 1570 by Richard Toutain the younger for the onyx ewer now in Vienna. The mounting for the vase in the Louvre was probably made by the same man at around the same time.


Alcouffe D., Les Gemmes de la Couronne, Paris, Editions de la Réunion des musées nationaux, 2001, p.80-83.

Technical description

  • Sard vase

    10th-11th century
    16th century (foot)

    Byzantine art

  • Enamelled gold mount: attributed to Richard Toutain le jeune (Paris, c. 1570)

    H. 24.60 cm; Diam. 16.50 cm

  • Former Cardinal Mazarin collection; transferred to the Palais de Saint-Cloud in the 19th century

    OA 8

  • Decorative Arts

    Denon wing
    1st floor
    Galerie d'Apollon
    Room 705

Practical information

The Louvre is now open. All visitors are required to wear a mask in the museum. Please find all of the information you need to know before visiting the museum this summer on this page.

Opening hours :
The Louvre is open every day (except Tuesday) from 9 a.m. to 6 p.m.

Closed on :
January 1, May 1, December 25
We strongly advise booking your time slot in advance online

Buy your ticket

Additional information about the work

Handwritten label attached to underside of the base: 341 (crossed out), SC 2209 (crossed out), S.C. 998 (crossed out), 767