Louis Charonnat received the maîtrise on 14th March 1748, sponsored by Louis-Guillaume Lécuyer, and registered his mark of crowned fleur-de-lys, two grains, and L C with a wheat ear between. In 1748 the Liste des Orfèvres lists him at Pont Saint-Michel, in the parish of Saint-André. In 1766, he was at Place du Vieux Louvre, and in 1768 he had moved again to Pont au Change. On 4th September 1780, the guild states that he had retired to the provinces. Gold boxes by Charonnat are rare. One of his boxes, now in a private collection, with elaborate goldwork and grisaille enamelled scenes is illustrated in A. K. Snowman Eighteenth Century Gold Boxes Of Europe, London, 1966, p. 205, illus. no's 408-410. Another Charonnat box previously in the Wrightsman Collection and with a similar style of decoration can be found in The Metropolitan Museum.
Charles-Jacques de Mailly, to whom the enamel decoration on the box is attributed, exhibited at the Salon in Paris in 1771, but by 1775 was working in Russia when he painted a portrait of the pretender to the Russian throne Emel'yan Ivanovich Pugachev. In common with many goldsmiths and enamellers from France, Germany, Switzerland, Italy and England de Mailly seems to have been attracted to the wealth of the Russian court at St Petersburg. He evidently returned to Paris, since he exhibited at the Salon of 1793. Boxes with enamel attributed to de Mailly are very rare but he is known both for his grisaille allegorical scenes which are surrounded with colourful flower garlands of roses and peonies, and for his fruit and flower painting. Henri Clouzot in Dictionnaire des miniaturistes sur mail, Paris, 1924, p. 134, mentions a gold bonbonnière decorated on the lid with a basket of flowers on a table by Mailly's hand, from the Debruge-Duménil sale in 1850.
A box in the Louvre by the goldsmith Louis-Phillipe Demay and dated Paris, 1766/1767 with very similar enamelling and signed D. Mailly f., is illustrated in A. K. Snowman, op. cit., ill. no. 345. Snowman illustrates another box 'The enamel painting almost certainly from the hand of Charles-Jacques de Mailly', op. cit., ill. no. 402. This example has enamel flowerheads on the cover that are very similar to those on the borders of the current box. Two further examples of boxes with this style of enamelling attributed to de Mailly have been sold in these rooms. The first from the Collection of Baron Schröder, Christie's, London, 5 July 1910, lot 68 and the second, Christie's, London, 6-7 April 1938, lot 71. For other boxes attributed to de Mailly, see Important Gold Boxes and Renaissance Jewellery, Christie's, Geneva, 12 November 1985, lot 67, and exhibition catalogue, The Gilbert Collection of Gold Boxes, The Los Angeles County Museum of Art, Los Angeles, 1991, p. 377 and title page, illustrated. For another box, with St Petersburg hallmarks for the 1770s and signed De Mailly invt. et pinxt, which had been given to Leon Alexandrovich Narischkine by Catherine the Great on February 20 1796, see Exhibition catalogue: Catalogue des Tabatières et Etuis des XVIIIe et XIXe Siècles du Musée du Louvre, Musée du Louvre, Paris, France, 1981, No. 530, p. 337, illustrated.
The enamel on the cover of the current box depicts Venus preventing her son Aeneas from killing Helen of Troy, after a painting by the Italian artist Luca Ferrari (1605-1654). During the Fall of Troy, Aeneas saw Helen in Priam's Palace and the desire to kill Helen and avenge Troy was strong as he recalled all the harm its inhabitants had suffered because of her selfishness. Even though he realized killing a woman would not bring any glory, his anger was so strong he went so far as to lift his arm to kill her. This is when his mother Venus intervened and rebuked him. Venus tells him to hold neither Helen nor Paris responsible for Troy's downfall: he must realize that the harsh will of the gods caused Troy's destruction, the war belongs with the gods, not Helen.