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Work Two saltcellars

Department of Decorative Arts: 18th century: rococo

Two salt-cellars

© 1990 RMN / Daniel Arnaudet

Decorative Arts
18th century: rococo

Barbier Muriel

The two saltcellars in the Louvre were part of the famous Penthièvre-Orléans service. The set, originally commissioned by Louis-Alexandre de Bourbon, Count of Toulouse (1678--1737), was augmented several times by various goldsmiths. The saltcellars, composed of a crab, a turtle and a scallop, are the work of Thomas Germain and belong to the first group of pieces ordered. Masterpieces of the rocaille, they demonstrate the inventiveness of Thomas Germain.


Before becoming an integral part of a centerpiece, saltcellars underwent a long series of transformations during which they were made again into independent objects. Uncovered at first, they were later equipped with one or more covered salts mounted on a base. On the table, they were placed intermittently between the other recipients, and always remained in a category of their own among tableware. In the Rocaille era, they were given an appearance designating their function, which was evoked by the choice of ornaments inspired by vegetation or by sea animals.

The Penthièvre-Orléans service

The oldest pieces of the service were produced by Thomas Germain (1673-1748), the author of the Louvre saltcellars, between 1727 and 1736. They were made for Louis-Alexandre de Bourbon, Count of Toulouse, third legitimated child of Louis XIV and Madame de Montespan, Great Admiral of France and Master of the Hunt. The son of the Count of Toulouse, Louis-Jean-Marie de Bourbon, Duke of Penthièvre (1725-1793) commissioned a second group of pieces for the set. This order was divided between two goldsmiths, Antoine-Sébastien Durand and Edme-Pierre Balzac. The Duke's daughter, Louise-Marie-Adélaïde de Bourbon inherited the service after her father died. She married Louis-Joseph-Philippe, Duke of Orléans, and the silver pieces were then passed on to the House of Orléans. After the Terror, the Duchess of Orléans managed to retrieve her possessions, and upon her death, the silver was bequeathed to her son Louis-Philippe, Duke of Orléans (1773-1850), who had the family arms engraved on the service. Following the duke's decease, the set was broken up and sold off by his descendants.

A very naturalistic style

Each saltcellar rests on a pedestal in the shape of a raised terrace edged with molding that curls at the end into scrolls forming the feet. The terrace is set on a small fluted platter evoking a shell. Three sea animals are fitted on this pedestal: in the center, a turtle, on the right, a crab and on the left, a scallop, all laid on a bed of grass and seaweed. The top part of each animal is hinged and lifts to reveal the detachable gilt silver compartment, which used to contain the salt. The shells of the turtle and of the crab, as well as of the scallop are worked over finely and precisely with chasing to bring out their texture. The extremely naturalistic rendition of sea flora and fauna demonstrates both the sharpness of Germain's eye and the perfection attained by the goldsmith in the mastering of his art.


Exposition Versailles et les tables royales en Europe, Versailles, 1993, pp. 275-280.

Technical description

  • Thomas GERMAIN (1673 - 1748)

    Two salt-cellars


  • Silver

  • Gift of David David-Weill, 1946 , 1946

    OA 9433, OA 9434

  • Decorative Arts

    Sully wing
    1st floor
    Porcelain room
    Room 37

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