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Assiette octagone

  • Object:

    Plate

  • Place of origin:

    France (made)

  • Date:

    1786 (made)

  • Artist/Maker:

    Le Masson, Louis, born 1743 - died 1829 (designer)
    Sèvres porcelain factory (manufacturer)

  • Materials and Techniques:

    soft paste porcelain, painted in enamels

  • Museum number:

    4530-1858

  • Gallery location:

    Europe 1600-1815, Room 1, case CA17

This rare Sèvres porcelain plate is from the ‘service arabesques’ commissioned by the French king, Louis XVI in 1783. The service was incomplete ten years later when the king was executed during the French Revolution. Two years later the Revolutionary government gave the service to the Minister of the King of Prussia, Karl-August, Freiherr von Hardenberg, who successfully negotiated peace between France and Prussia in 1795.

The service was designed by the architect Louis Le Masson who was steeped in the neo-classical tradition. He had travelled to Italy funded by a bursary from the crown and on his return in 1781 was appointed tutor in military and civil architecture to the young sons of the comte d'Artois (the future Charles X), the duc d'Angoulême (aged 6) and the duc de Berry (aged 3). His architectural projects are perhaps less well-known today than his work on this remarkable service for which he invented entirely new shapes and style of decoration. Le Masson based his shapes on Antique marbles and other ornament he had seen in Italy. For the decoration he relied exclusively on the work of the Renaissance artists working under the supervision of Raphael in the Vatican loggia in Rome. This had been inspired by and copied from Nero's Golden House and other sites being excavated at the time whose decoration was characterised by scrolling arabesque and grottesque motifs. Knowledge of the Vatican decoration had suddenly become available to connoisseurs in the 1770s due to the publication of a set of large-scale engravings by a group of engravers led by Giovanni Volpato. The King bought twelve copies of the publication, six of which were hand-coloured.

In the Sèvres archives today watercolour drawings survive for some shapes and decoration in the service. According to the records, in September 1783 Le Masson asked the Sèvres gilder Etienne-Charles Le Guay to travel to Versailles to copy some pages from the book of the loggia engravings. The gilder Le Guay was soon joined by his son, Etienne-Charles, a painter who proved much better at copying the designs. The Leguays used the watercolours to design the decoration of the service, supervised by Le Masson. Today the surviving pieces of the service are scattered all over the world in museum and private collections.

Information taken from an article by John Whitehead, The Sèvres 'arabesque' service and the Vatican Loggia engravings, The French Porcelain Society Journal, Volume III, 2007.

Physical description

Plate of octagonal form made from soft paste porcelain, decorated in enamels on a white ground. The central maroon roundel shows an athletic male figure, possibly Apollo, in grisaille, within a green band. This is borded by a velarium motif, or typical Pompeiian folding curtain, in pink and yellow. Towards the rim of the plate is a trailing border of berries within maroon lines. The decoration on the rim is framed by blue borders, and shows a repeating polychrome frieze of acanthus scrolls, and two facing putti flanking a bird with outstretched wings, between ears of wheat and stylised urns. The plate has a hole in the footrim, and is marked on the reverse with the date letter for 1786.

Place of Origin

France (made)

Date

1786 (made)

Artist/maker

Le Masson, Louis, born 1743 - died 1829 (designer)
Sèvres porcelain factory (manufacturer)

Materials and Techniques

soft paste porcelain, painted in enamels

Marks and inscriptions

Interlaced 'L's enclosing date letter 'ii'
Maker's mark, in blue enamel with date letter 'ii'

'18' (incised mark)

Dimensions

Diameter: 24.2 cm

Descriptive line

Octagonal plate made from soft-paste porcelain, painted in enamels with a border of arabesques and a central medallion, from the 'Arabesque service', Sèvres porcelain factory, France, 1786.

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

David Peters, Sèvres Plates and Services of the 18th Century, (Little Berkhamsted, privately published, 2005), vol. V, p. 1095.
Svend Eriksen and Geoffrey de Bellaigue, Sèvres Porcelain, Vincennes and Sèvres 1740-1800, (London: Faber and Faber, 1987), colour plate M.
Marcel Brunet and Tamara Préaud, Sèvres: Des origines à nos jours (Fribourg: Office du Livre, 1978), p. 211, plate 260.
John Whitehead, 'The Sèvres "arabesque" service and the Vatican loggia engravings', The French Porcelain Society Journal (2007), Vol. III, pp.151-65.
Christopher Maxwell, French Porcelain of the eighteenth century, V & A Publishing, 2009, catalogue no. 57, p. 65 and a large illustration, p. 54

Materials

Soft paste porcelain

Techniques

Painted; Glazed

Subjects depicted

Birds; Berries; Medallions; Urns; Ears of wheat; Acanthus; Putti; Velarium; Mythology; Roundels; Arabesques

Categories

Ceramics; Porcelain; Tableware & cutlery

Collection

Ceramics Collection

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