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An extraordinarily fine museum-quality French silver tastevin from the reign of Louis XV. The vessel’s sides are decorated with ornate applied and engraved strapwork alternating with fleurs-de-lys, the symbol of France’s ruling Bourbon dynasty. Rather than the traditional convex base, this tastevin is centered with a rare silver jeton issued by Louis XV to celebrate the birth of his first grandson, Louis-Joseph-Xavier, in 1751. Ornate line engraving and evenly-spaced repousse dimples surround the medal. The whole is raised on a ropetwist foot. The handle, in the form of a pair of intertwined dolphins, the symbol of the “dauphin” or heir to the French throne, is without parallel in any tastevin we’ve seen. The dolphin motif is a reference to the subject matter of the medallion inset into the bottom of the tastevin. The outer edge is engraved “De Melinville 1757”.
As noted previously, the medal inset into the bottom of the tastevin celebrates the birth of Louis XV’s first grandson. He would have inherited the throne ahead of his younger brother, Louis XVI, had he not died at the age of nine after a fall from his hobby horse. The jeton’s obverse, displayed on the interior of the tastevin, depicts Louis XV crowned with a laurel wreath and surrounded by the identifying words “LUD. XV REX CHRISTIANISS” (“The most Christian Louis XV”). The medal is is signed “B. DUVIVIER F.” for Pierre-Simon-Benjamin Duvivier (1730-1819) who later served as Medal Engraver to the King beginning in 1764 and then as France’s 13th “graveur général des monnaies” from 1774 until after the fall of the monarchy in 1791. The medal’s reverse depicts the goddess of childbirth, Lucina, introducing the infant (titled duc de Bourgogne)to the French nation personified as a kneeling maiden. The upper edge reads “PROLE ET PARTU FELIX” (“Announcing the happy birth” and a lower panel explains the reason for the issuance of the jeton, “DUX BURGUNDIAE DELPHINI FIL. LUD. XV NEPOS. NATUS XIII SEPTEMBRIS MDCCLI” (“Duke of Burgundy, son of the Dauphin, son of Louis XV, was born 13 September 1751”).
Silver dating to the pre-revolutionary “ancien regime” is extremely rare. France’s finances were weak and even the king himself was forced to melt nearly all his silver tableware to pay his debts. Michel Delapierre is among the most reknowned silversmiths of the era, noted for his well-balanced designs and expert craftsmanship. Though he registered his own maker’s mark after completing his apprenticeship in 1737, he preferred to use his father’s mark, even though he had died in 1734. This tastevin bears that mark, a crowned fleur-de-lys, two grains (dots), the initials MDLP and a stone (a clever play on on words since “Pierre” means “stone”).
Delapierre’s work is exceedingly rare, and is represented in major institutional collections by two pairs of candlesticks in the Wentworth Collection at New York’s Metropolitan Museum of Art, a single covered dish at Le Musee du Louvre, and a candlestick and a vinegar bottle in France’s Musee des Arts Decoratifs.
Generally, fine tastevins were engraved at one edge with their original owner’s name. In this case, the tastevin is engraved with the shortened name of the owner “De Melinville”. His full name and title was Armand Francois de la Pierre, Ecuyer, Marquis de Melinville, Seigneur de Talhouet et autres lieux, chevalier de l’ordre militaire de Saint-Louis. It is unlikely but not impossible that the same family name of the silversmith and the Marquis de Melinville is more than a coincidence. The Marquis de Melinville served as a “lieutenant des marechaux de France” and in that role was charged with resolving disputes between men of noble birth for the purpose of avoiding unnecessary duels. In that role, he was assigned to the town of Hennebon, in his native Brittany.
The tastevin bears the master’s mark for Michel Delapierre; the charge mark for Paris (1756-1762); the Paris discharge mark; and the commune mark (“jurande”) for 1757-58.
Origin: France, 1757. Condition: excellent, sharp detail , normal wear the foot, but virtually no wear elsewhere. Size: bowl, 3-1/2” diameter, 1-1/4” high; overall, 3-1/2” x 4-5/8”. Weight: 207.2 grams. Provenance: Robert Lloyd; A Private Collection; S J. Shrubsole.