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  • Place of origin:

    Paris (made)

  • Date:

    1728-1729 (made)

  • Artist/Maker:

    Massé, Jean Baptiste (painter)

  • Materials and Techniques:

    Gold set with tortoiseshell plaque with applied varicoloured gold and glazed miniatures

  • Credit Line:

    The Rosalinde and Arthur Gilbert Collection on loan to the Victoria and Albert Museum, London

  • Museum number:


  • Gallery location:

    Gold, Silver and Mosaics, Room 72, The Rosalinde and Arthur Gilbert Galleries, case 1, shelf DU1

Inside this box can be found miniature portraits of Louis XV of France and his wife Marie Leczinska. The cover is decorated with a dolphin and a ship sailing the flag of France. It has been suggested that the box commemorates the birth of the 'dauphin' Louis in 1729, heir to the throne.

The miniatures of the king and queen may have been painted by Jean-Baptiste Massé. He is recorded as supplying miniatures of the king for boxes intended as diplomatic gifts from 1720-26. However, by 1729-32, when this box was made, only Jean-Baptiste Ducanel, his lesser known contemporary is mentioned.

The gift of a gold box was a means for the monarch to reward an ambassador or courtier. The recipient might then return the box to the goldsmith in exchange for cash. The custom of giving boxes was common in the French, Prussian and Austrian courts at this date.

Sir Arthur Gilbert and his wife Rosalinde formed one of the world’s great decorative art collections, including silver, mosaics, enamelled portrait miniatures and gold boxes. Arthur Gilbert donated his extraordinary collection to Britain in 1996.

Physical description

A rectangular gold and tortoiseshell snuffbox, the cover set with a plaque of tortoiseshell pique in varicoloured gold representing a seascape of a dolphin and a ship at seaflying the flag of France, in the foreground a beach littered with shells and rocks, with ruins, birds,and an island in the distance. The plaque is hinged to reveal a miniature, under glass, of Marie Leczinska,queen of France, wearing a cloak of blue embroidered with gold fleurs-de-lis and lined with ermine overa lace-trimmed dress of red embroidered with gold. In the base is a panel of tortoiseshellpique with a cornucopia of small shells. The box has plain walls, reeded borders, and a doublethumbpiece. The interior of the lid is set with a miniature of Louis XV of France in armour, wearing a whitestock and the sash of the Order of the Holy Ghost.

Place of Origin

Paris (made)


1728-1729 (made)


Massé, Jean Baptiste (painter)

Materials and Techniques

Gold set with tortoiseshell plaque with applied varicoloured gold and glazed miniatures

Marks and inscriptions

Charge mark of the sous-fermier Jacques Cottin, Paris, September 3, 1727-October 1, 1730
Inside the front wall

Warden's mark for Paris, August 12, 1728-August 25, 1729
Inside the front wall

Discharge mark of Jacques Cottin, 1727-1730, Louis Gervais, Paris, October 3, 1730-September 1, 1732, and Hubert Louvet, Paris, September 2-December 21, 1732
On the left side of the bezel


Length: 8.5 cm, Width: 6.5 cm, Height: 2.8 cm

Object history note

Provenance: Traditionally, presented to a diplomat in Paris, thence by descent, c. 1730. Michael Turisk, Paris.

Descriptive line

Snuffbox with seascape of dolphin and ship with two miniatures inside. Gold, tortoiseshell, glazed miniatures. Miniatures: probably Jean-Baptiste Massé, Paris, 1728-29

Bibliographic References (Citation, Note/Abstract, NAL no)

Truman, Charles.The Gilbert collection of gold boxes, Vol. I. Los Angeles (Los Angeles County Museum of Art) 1991, cat. no. 2, pp. 32-35. ISBN.0875871623
Zech, Heike. Gold Boxes. Masterpieces from the Rosalinde and Arthur Gilbert Collection. London: V&A Publishing, 2015, pp. 34-35, no. 2. ISBN 987-1-85177-840-9

Labels and date

1. Snuffbox with dolphin and ship, 1728–29

Museum no. Loan:Gilbert.315-2008 [16/11/2016]
Snuffbox with dolphin and ship

The interior plaque is hinged to show portraits of the
French king Louis XV (reigned 1715–74) and his queen,
Marie Leczinska (1703–68), who was the daughter of
the king of Poland. Her portrait was probably added in
the 19th century or was heavily retouched.

Paris, France
Gold, tortoiseshell piqué and glazed miniatures
Museum no. Loan:Gilbert.315-2008 [2009]

Production Note

Masse is probably the maker of the miniatures only


Gold; Tortoise shell; Paint; Glass


Setting; Glazing (coating)

Subjects depicted

Ship; Dolphin; Seascapes; Order of the Holy Ghost; Ruins


Metalwork; Containers; Personal accessories; Portraits


Metalwork Collection

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