The present dish is from a service of some 466 pieces made for Maris-Louise of Parma, granddaughter of Louis XV of France. It is the first service made by Sèvres in hard paste porcelain.
Louis XV placed the order for the service in 1774 but died before its completion. It fell to his grandson Louis XVI to actually present the gift to his cousin, with delivery noted in the sales records on 10 March 1775. So taken was she with the service that she requested further pieces, both through her cousin and through the Spanish government. She even endeavored to have suppliments made locally in soft paste at Buen Retiro. The service descended through the family and was dispersed in the 19th century through gifts and subsequently public sales.
In an article written in 1982 for Estampille, 'Sèvres: Le Grand Service des Asturies', December 1982, pp. 22-33, illustrated also on the cover, Dorothée Guillemé-Brulon included the factory records for this royal commission. Of the 466 that comprised the final service, only 40 could be located, most in public collections including those of the Louvre, the Palazzo Real in Madrid, the Museo Archeologico in Madrid, the Museum of Antiquities in Lisbon and the Musée national de céramique at Sèvres. Single pieces have appeared here and there at auction, including in recent memory two shell-shaped dishes and a shaped square dish from the collection of Peter Mac Brown, sold Christie's, New York, 27 October 1988.
The design of the Service des Asturies is similar to several of the same period given as gifts to the mistress, godchildren and grandchildren of the king. The formula of a central monogram with paneled border decoration was adapted to for the Spanish Court - in this case the combined initials of Marie-Louise and her husband Charles, with a border of shaped landscape panels linked with swags to a tower emblematic of Castille. Although made of the new hard paste only recently put into limited production at the factory, traditional shapes were used, typical of other services made in the 1770's.
It is through an analysis of contemporary Sèvres services and the pricing of the its various components that the present serpentine rectangular shallow serving dish can be confirmed as corresponding on the inventory to one of the two plats à raves noted as part of the initial 1775 delivery.
The inventory for a service dated 1773 and offered at Sotheby Parke-Bernet as lot 276 on 12 March 1971, now in the collection of the Museum of Fine Art, in Richmond, Virginia includes dishes of the same sape as the present lot. The inventory for this service includes two bateaux pour citrons (boat-shaped dishes for lemons) at 36 livres each, two plats à raves at 60 livres and assorted compotiers of undetermined shape at 48 livres.
The inventory for the present service of 1775 lists two plateaux pour bigerade (platters for sour oranges) at 90 livres, two plats à raves at 102 livres and 16 assorted serving dishes of undetermined shape at 96 livres each.
As it makes sense that lemons and sour oranges would be used in similar quantity and need a simnilarly shaped serving dish, as the inventory for the 1773 service specifies a boat-shaped dish for this purpose, and as it is readily evident when comparing examples of the different shapes extant from the Service des Asturies that the boat-shaped dish has fewer landscape and turret panels than do other forms, it stands to reason that this shaped shape should correspond to the least expensive on the inventory of the present service. By process of elimination, the present dish bust therefore be that described as a plateau à rave.
Until now, the whereabouts of the dishes of this form in the service has been a mystery. The total of located pieces can now be raised by one.
The previously mentioned article by Dorothée Guillemé-Brulon for Estampille and her entry for the service in the more recent exhibition Versailles et les tables royales en Europe, XVIIeme - XIXeme Siècles, 3 November 1993 - 27 February 1994, cat. nos. 296 and 297 provide a detailed discussion of the service, the history of the commission, information on the painters responsible for the landscapes and the sources for its decoration.
Our thanks to David Peters for his assistance with the researching of this lot. His book on Sèvres services, Sèvres Plates and Services of the 18th Century is die to be published at the end of the year.