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Post Lot Text
A SILVER-GILT- AND RUBY-MOUNTED ROCK CRYSTAL VASE
MILANESE, LATE 16TH OR EARLY 17TH CENTURY
The quadrilobe mouth supporting two scrolling handles each surmounted by a dragon head, the bulbous body with two fluted spouts and carved overall with scrolls, on a circular stem and spreading circular foot, the silver-gilt mount to the foot engraved to the underside '188' and 'VI', 'VII', 'VIII'; minor cracks, the mounts altered
Found almost exclusively in royal courts, the vase offered here appears to be one of only seven of this type in existence today. These vases are made up of seven parts: the mouth, body, base, two spouts and two handles. The level and density of the decoration on the body was dependent on the quality of the crystal; from the end of the 16th century, this type of vase evolved, with the decoration taking on a more vegetative form. The handles are shaped like a dragon or winged female term figure wearing a tiara and an elaborate belt (Alcouffe, op. cit., p. 288).
Our vase is characteristic of the vases made at the end of the 16th century or beginning of the 17th century in the workshops of Milan. It is remarkable for the quality of its symmetrical vegetative decoration featuring large seed palms. In terms of shape, decoration and size, this exquisitely engraved vase is comparable to a flower vase found at the Musée du Louvre, Paris (Alcouffe, op. cit., no. 141). Another similar example that uses the same vegetative decoration is a vase with handles in the Staatliche Kunstsammlungen, Dresden (illustrated in Princely Splendor, loc. cit.). Although the mounts have apparently been altered, the number 188 on the underside of the present vase clearly corresponds to the description of number 188 in the 1791 French royal inventory: 'a rock crystal vase in the form of an urn, having a large opening and two spouts; with two handles with sphinxes' heads; the vase engraved with foliage; the half baluster foot mounted in silver-gilt enriched with enamelled gold; all the elements of the vase are made separately. The height of this vase is five 'pouces' four 'lignes' (14.4 cm); and the diameter is three 'pouces' nine 'lignes' (10.1 cm), valued at 1000 livres'.
The French monarchy's fascination with secular and religious objects made of semi-precious stones goes back to Charles V (1338-1380) who started to collect them for his own personal pleasure. Unfortunately, this collection was dispersed during the 15th century. But while Charles V was one of the first French kings to take an interest in this type of object, it was François I who created the first collection of jewels. He was the first French monarch to develop the concept of Collection, which he deemed un divertissement noble et privé. His collection of jewels was passed down from king to king without apparently being expanded. It was not until nearly two centuries later with the accession of Louis XIV to the throne that the royal collection of rock crystals reached its full splendour and was opened to the wider public.
Through the pomp and magnificence of his collections, the Sun King wanted to assert his power in the eyes of the world - and the eyes of the other European monarchies. By opening his collections to the public, the reign of Louis XIV marked a major turning point in the history of collections of objets d'art. At Versailles, instead of displaying the royal collections in the secluded quarters of the palace, the King gave them pride of place in the splendid surroundings of his Petit Appartement and le Cabinet des Médailles, areas more or less accessible to the public until the Revolution (Castelluccio, op. cit., p. 225).
Louis XIV's personal taste and passion for semi-precious stones can be traced back to the interest that his mother, Anne of Austria, and Cardinal Mazarin had in coloured stone and rock crystal objects. Throughout his reign, Louis XIV developed diverse royal collections but focused particularly on semi-precious stone or 'bijoux' objects, in the tradition of the great Roman emperors he sought to emulate. He knew that these objects would help to convey the splendour of their owner: 'la magnificence des Princes consiste rassembler ce qu'il y a de plus rare et plus beau dans tous les genres.' (the magnificence of Princes consists of bringing together all that is the most rare and most beautiful in all categories; Mercure de France, December, 1750, I, p. 146).
At the beginning of Louis XIV's reign, the royal collection of semi-precious stones consisted of a dozen coloured stone vases and one hundred and forty-seven rock crystal vases. In the first inventory of 1673, the royal collection included two key sections: one for rock crystals with 301 items and the other covering including 173 items in agate (Castelluccio, op. cit., p. 45). However, Louis XIV wanted to create collections to rival or surpass those of foreign princes and forty years later, on 14 November 1713, Guiffrey records a surprising development, with the two sections soaring to 446 rock crystals and 377 agates. There are records that in 1663 the king purchased sixty-five objects pour mettre dans son chasteau de Versailles (Alcouffe, op. cit., p. 11). It should be noted that the price of rock crystals at the time ranged from 300 to 600 livres, with some items costing as much as 2000 livres.
From 1665, the royal collection started to diversify with pieces of different origins: the legacy of the king's uncle Gaston d'Orleans, an inheritance from Cardinal Mazarin, diplomatic presents and gifts, occasional purchases from contacts in Augsburg and Milan, or directly from Parisian merchants (Castelluccio, op. cit., pp. 52-58). The son of Louis XIV, the grand Dauphin, started his own collection around 1681, when he was 20 years of age. He was passionate about semi-precious stones and porcelain and, unlike his father, preferred coloured stone and crystal vases. Purchasing most of his pieces from Parisian merchants or at fairs, he showcased his finds in display cabinets as was fashionable at the time.
In the early 18th century, interest in these objects began to wane as they fell out of fashion. From 1738, Louis XV placed his semi-precious stone objects in the Garde-Meuble de Paris, in the l'Hôtel du Petit-Bourbon. Although several inventories were drawn up over the years, it was only in 1791 that a significant number of pieces were officially listed. It was at this time that, after months of work, all the objects belonging to the royal family were finally listed and numbered, with numbers engraved on mounts, in the 1791 inventory (Alcouffe, op. cit., p. 19). It was in this inventory that the present lot appeared under the number '188' before being granted to Jacques de Chapeaurouge in the same year.