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Work Tobacco Box

Department of Decorative Arts: 18th century: rococo


© 2007 RMN / Jean-Gilles Berizzi

Decorative Arts
18th century: rococo

Barbier Muriel

In solid gold, adorned with emeralds and diamonds, this is one of few surviving examples of a type of tobacco box presented as diplomatic gifts. Inside its lid is a miniature portrait of Louis XV, who presented it to Louis Le Fort (1668-1743), Syndic of Geneva. In addition to its prestigious provenance, this object is notable for its early rocaille decoration and form, based on sea-shells.

Form and ornamentation under Louis XV

The central panel of this shell-shaped tobacco box is adorned with a relief representing the sun, whose gilded rays are alternately embellished with fifty-six diamonds and twenty-six emeralds. Around this panel are further sun-beams, mingled with clouds against a sanded, matt background, giving rise to an attractive play of glittering and muted light. The box is chased with a frieze of vine branches, flowers and ribbons, also on a sanded ground. The front features a cartouche enclosing a shell, set with a large diamond. The sumptuous materials, florid curved forms and naturalistic motifs surrounding the Royal sun anticipate the emerging rocaille style. Govaers was one of the most respected Parisian goldsmiths in the first half of the eighteenth century. The box is remarkable for its highly refined chasing and skillfully-mounted stones.

A portrait of Louis XV

Inside the lid, under a crystal plaque, is a bust of the youthful Louis XV, wearing armor and an ermine cloak adorned with fleurs-de-lis. This portrait of the adolescent monarch may be attributed to Jean-Baptiste Massé (1687-1767), miniaturist to the king and supplier of royal gifts. The artist has produced a work of exceptional quality here, inverting an engraving by Nicolas IV de Larmessin (1684-1755) after a portrait by Jean-Baptiste van Loo (1684-1745). The portrait was reproduced on a number of tobacco boxes, another of which is also in the Louvre and shows the young king accompanied by Marie Leczinska.

A diplomatic gift

The border of the box bears the inscription "Donné par le Roi Louis XV au Syndic Louis Le Fort 1727." The latter probably received this tobacco box as a gift during his visit to Paris in 1727 to discuss relations between France and Geneva, with the minister of foreign affairs. The box is one of the rare diplomatic gifts of its kind to have survived. Govaers enjoyed the patronage of the young Louis XV and the royal court very early in his career. Between 1725 and 1736, he supplied the royal gift department with several tobacco boxes, which the King subsequently presented to visiting diplomats.


Granjean Serge, Catalogue des tabatières, boîtes et étuis des XVIIIe et XIXe siècles du musée du Louvre, Paris, Éditions de la Réunion des musées nationaux, 1981, pp. 111-112.

Technical description

  • Daniel GOVAERS (master in Paris in 1717)




  • Gold, diamonds, emeralds

    H 2.80 cm; L. 8.20 cm; W. 6.20 cm

  • Gift of J.-Paul Getty, 1962 , 1962

    OA 10196

  • Decorative Arts

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Additional information about the work

see Level 3