These extremely rare ormolu-mounted 'beauties' are exemplary of the unique creative involvement of the marchands-merciers in 18th century Paris, an industry discussed in depth by Carolyn Sargentson in Merchants and Luxury Markets: The Marchands Merciers of Eighteenth Century, London, 1996. The combination of French ormolu and Japanese porcelain are a brilliant assemblage of distinct elements which only the marchands could create. They represent the innovation of design and combination of materials which they were uniquely allowed to execute, as the guild regulations prohibited production by the marchands-merciers to only the sale, embellishment or finishing of goods.
According to Carolyn Sargentson, Japanese and Chinese porcelains were distinguished from one another in most inventories of the 1720's and 30's, and the marchand Thomas-Joachim Herbert stocked a particularly large proportion of the more valuable Japanese porcelain. In addition to the relative scarcity of Japanese porcelain, according to Hebert's 1724 inventory, Chinese porcelain was on average less highly valued. Japanese objects were valued at an average of 12 livres each, and Chinese objects at an average of 8 livres each. (C. Sargentson, pp. 70-72).
One of the marchands merciers who particularly promoted the taste for ormolu-mounted porcelains was Lazare Duvaux, whose illustrious clients included Madame de Pompadour, a famously passionate collector of lacquer and porcelain, and Louis-Elizabeth, Madame Infante, the eldest daughter of Louis XV. The latter married Infant Don Philippe of Spain in 1739, becoming Duchesse de Parme in 1748, following which she set about furnishing the ducal palaces of Parma in the latest Parisian fashions. She made extensive purchases from Lazare Duvaux, including superb bronzes d'ameublement. A pair of ormolu-mounted Meissen porcelain figures, with similar trellis arbours surrounding the figures, almost certainly originally supplied to Madame Infante for one of the palaces of Parma, and subsequently removed in 1868, are now in the Pitti Palace, Florence, Parma (illustrated in G. Cirillo and G. Godi, Il Mobile a Parma, 1983, p. 126, fig. 307).
THE PATINO COLLECTION
These superb examples of ormolu-mounted porcelain were illustrated as part of an article in the Connaissance des Arts in 1969 celebrating highlights of French furniture and works of art from the Patiño collection, assuredly one of the most dazzling created in the 20th Century. It was largely the creation of Simon Patiño, who amassed an enormous fortune from tin mining in Bolivia, and his son Antenor (1896-1982). Like his celebrated contemporary Arturo Lopez Willshaw, Antenor was passionate about European, and most particularly French, culture, and generously donated a number of magnificent pieces of French furniture to French museums, notably several superb Louis XV lacquer pieces now at Versailles.
Much of the Patiño collection was also dispersed in a series of auction and private sales, including celebrated masterpieces such as the six-legged bureau plat by Boulle from the Ashburnham collection and the extraordinary set of four ormolu dragon candelabra supplied to Joseph-Antoine Crozat de Tugny.