The Service arabesque was the last service commissioned by Louis XVI, and was originally intended for Marie Antoinette. However, it seems that production, which spanned four years between 1783 and 1787, came to a halt and it was never completed, or even delivered. It appears to have remained in storage, as after the revolution an entry in the sales registers on 2nd December 1795 records 'Porcelaines livrées par Ordre du Comité de Salut Public au Ministre du Roy de Prusse..'. The recipient, the Prussian Ambassador Karl-August Freiherr von Hardenberg, played a key role in the settlement of the Franco-Prussian Treaty of April 1795, and the service was apparently delivered to him in Basel.1
Sèvres used the architect and engineer Louis Le Masson to come up with designs for the service, and he looked to Antiquity for inspiration. He based many of the shapes on Antique forms, and for the decoration he studied the recently discovered frescoes at Pompeii and Herculaneum. Le Masson made a series of designs and two artists from Sèvres then produced drawings from these for the painters at Sèvres to use. It was hoped that the 'Roman' style of the service, which also bears many similarities with the 'Grotesques Antiques' designs published in George Richardson's, Livre de Plat-Fonds (London, 1776), would be of seminal importance. Even though the service appears not to have been completed, some of the forms were indeed used again in other services.2
On 7th May 1785 Le Masson is recorded as having been paid a bonus of 1,200 livres for his designs 'qu'il a donné pour le service dans le genre arabesque'.3 The whole project was overseen by D'Angiviller, and painters were paid between 60 and 74 livres per plate. The factory records also show that the majority of entries do not record a gilder, and it is possible that many of the plates were not gilded. It is interesting to note that the painter of this plate, Jean-Jacques Dieu was also a gilder.4
The shape of this decagonal plate, which evokes Roman temple coffering, is truly remarkable. Other published examples, either gilded or ungilded, are octagonal. Another gilded, but octagonal, plate was sold by Sotheby's London on 19th November 1996, lot 75. Another octagonal plate, which is not gilded, is in the Victoria and Albert Museum and is illustrated by Marcel Brunet and Tamara Préaud, Sèvres, Des origines à nos jours (Fribourg, 1978), p. 211, no. 260. Another ungilded and octagonal example, from the Hector Binney Collection, was sold by Sotheby's on 5th December 1989, lot 136.
1. See David Peters, 'Les Services de Porcelaine de Louis XV et Louis XVI', in 'Versailles et les Tables Royales en Europe, 17-19e siècle', Versailles Exhibition Catalogue, 3rd Novemeber 1993 - 27th February 1994, p. 121).
2. See Svend Eriksen and Sir Geoffrey de Bellaigue, Sèvres Porcelain (London, 1987), pp. 124-25.
3. See S. Eriksen and G. de Bellaigue, ibid. p. 125.
4. Jean-Jacques Dieu was active at Sèvres from 1777-91, 1794-98 and 1801-11.