Various artists/makers

Not on view

Dining etiquette in eighteenth-century French aristocratic households required the table to be set with an array of serving dishes arranged in a decorative pattern. The diners helped themselves from the dishes and vessels close at hand, and servants reset the table for each course. This style of dining, in which all the components of a course were displayed on the table rather than presented by servants to the diners, was known as the service à la française (service in the French manner), as the custom was codified in France in the seventeenth century. It became the dominant mode of fashionable dining in Europe until the early nineteenth century, when it was supplanted by the service à la Russe (service in the Russian manner), in which the guests no longer served themselves but rather were waited upon by servants.

An important component of the first course of a dinner was commonly a stew or a soup, and the tureens in which they were served were the most prominent feature of the table setting. The imposing scale and elaborate decoration of this porcelain tureen and stand reflect the role it played not only as a vessel to contain an important element of the meal but also in terms of providing a focal point in the decorative placement of dishes on the table. For especially important dinners at court or in aristocratic households in the eighteenth century, drawings were made to demonstrate the proper arrangement of serving dishes on the table for each course; these drawings indicate serving dishes of various shapes were commonly grouped symmetrically around the tureen, which dictated placement and the layout of the table.

The tureens used in court circles during the second half of the eighteenth century would have been made either of silver or of porcelain, and in both media tureens were produced in two basic shapes. A round tureen was known in France as a pot à oille, named after a Spanish stew called olla podrida, while an oval tureen, such as the present example, was termed a terrine. Pots à oille were used for serving rich, meat- based stews or ragouts, whereas terrines were intended to contain soup, though these distinctions probably were not always rigidly observed. In the 1750s and 1760s the dinner services produced at Sèvres commonly included one pot à oille and two terrines, but by the 1770s, a large service frequently contained two round and two oval tureens.[1] The factory’s sales records indicate that pots à oille and terrines, often valued at the same amount, were usually the most expensive components of a dinner service.[2]

While both pots à oille and terrines were customarily produced at Sèvres as parts of dinner services, they were also made as independent objects, clearly intended for use with nonmatching dinner wares. This particular model of terrine was known at the factory as terrine épis de blé, due to a prominent motif of sheaves of wheat in low relief that decorate both the terrine and its stand.[3] Along with its matching pot à oille, it was one of the largest and most richly decorated of the tureens made at Sèvres, and very few of either the round or oval models were produced. The factory archives indicate that all of the pots à oille and terrines of this design were made independent of a dinner service, and it is possible that they were intended to be used with wares made of gilt silver rather than of porcelain. According to the factory sales records, all of the tureens of the épis de blé design made at Sèvres were either presented as gifts to foreign monarchs or were acquired by Louis XVI (1754–1793), king of France. While gilt silver was frequently the preferred medium for royal dinner services, porcelain became increasingly popular during the second half of the eighteenth century, and the two media may have been used together, as the extensive gilding on the Sèvres terrine would have made it visually compatible with gilt-silver tablewares.

The earliest of the tureens of this model are the two pots à oille and two terrines given by Louis XVI in 1777 to his brother-in-law Joseph II (1741–1790), the Holy Roman Emperor. Joseph II had traveled to France that year to visit his sister Marie-Antoinette (1755–1793), and one of the diplomatic gifts he received was an extensive green- ground Sèvres dinner service, as well as a variety of other pieces from the factory, including the four épis de blé tureens, two of each shape. The two pots à oille and two terrines were each valued at 900 livres,[4] making them among the most expensive tureens produced at the factory.

This model of tureen must have found favor with Louis XVI, as four pots à oille épis de blé were purchased by the monarch in 1777.[5] In contrast to the two different shapes of tureen given to Joseph II, the four acquired by Louis XVI were round, as indicated by the use of the term pots à oille. The last appearance of this model of tureen in the factory sales records occurs in connection with a gift made by Louis XVI to Gustav III (1746–1792), king of Sweden, in 1784. As in the case of Joseph II, the Swedish monarch was presented with a large Sèvres dinner service, as well as numerous other pieces of Sèvres porcelain unrelated to the service itself. Among the additional gifts were two oval tureens (“terrines à Epis de Bled” [sic]), also valued at 900 livres each.[6] While the terrines were presented to Gustav III in 1784, it has been suggested by David Peters that they may have been produced around the same time as the tureens cited above,[7] and thus were selected from unsold stock at the Sèvres factory in order to augment the gift to the Swedish king.

It is possible that the Museum’s terrine may have been one of the two sent to Sweden in 1784. Two terrines and one pot à oille from the gift to Joseph II survive at the imperial palace in Vienna, known as the Hofburg; the second pot à oille was damaged in the nineteenth century.[8] Unless a mistake was made in recording the purchase by Louis XVI in 1777, the Museum’s terrine cannot be identified as having been owned by the French monarch, as all of his were of the round model. Neither of the two terrines given to Gustav III is known to have survived in Sweden. A terrine now in the Designmuseum Danmark, Copenhagen,[9] may be one of these, but this cannot be proven, and its replaced lid and stand complicate the understanding of its history. A terrine of this model with similar decoration but without its stand was offered at auction in 1981 in Copenhagen;[10] it, too, may have been one of those owned by the Swedish king. However, two other very similar terrines were sold in 1911[11] and 1971,[12] respectively, and each of these also could have a royal Swedish provenance.

It appears that there are more terrines of this model, all of which have similar decoration consisting of trophies of agricultural implements and lush clusters of flowers, than are recorded in the sales records,[13] so a more complete history of the Museum’s tureen may never be known. The group of both round and oval tureens are among the most impressive tablewares produced at Sèvres, not only in terms of scale but also in regard to the quality of their painted decoration and their extensive use of gilding, all of which made them appropriate for use on a royal table.

Munger, Jeffrey. European Porcelain in the Metropolitan Museum of Art. NY: The Metropolitan Museum of Art, 2018.
1 Savill 1988, vol. 2, p. 738.
2 See, for example, Peters 2005, vol. 2, p. 283, for a list of the components and their prices in a service supplied to Louis XV (see entry 58 in this volume). Punch bowls with accompanying mortiers (mortars) could also be as expensive as tureens with stands. The punch bowl and mortar in the service cited above were valued together at 1,000 livres, exceeding the 800 livres assigned to each of the two oval tureens and stands.
3 The design for this model is attributed to Jean- Claude Thomas Duplessis (French, 1730–1783); see Brunet and Préaud 1978, p. 196, under fig. 217. See also Whitehead 1999, pp. 2, 5–6.
4 Archives, Cité de la Céramique, Sèvres, Vy 6, fol. 207v. See Peters 2005, vol. 3, pp. 561–63, for a full account of the history of this service.
5 Archives, Cité de la Céramique, Sèvres, Vy 7, fol. 19v. As the four pots à oglio, épis de blè, each valued at 900 livres, are not listed with other tablewares, it appears that they were sold as independent works.
6 Peters 2005, vol. 3, pp. 707–12.
7 David Peters to Jeffrey H. Munger, letter of April 17, 2003, curatorial files, Department of European Sculpture and Decorative Arts, The Metropolitan Museum of Art, New York.
8 Ilsebill Barta in Marie-Antoinette 2008, p. 332.
9 Designmuseum Danmark, Copenhagen (162).
10 Arne Bruun Rasmussen 1981, no. 269 (without stand).I thank David Peters for bringing this reference to my attention.
11 Hôtel Drouot, Paris, sale cat., June 8, 1911, no. 2 (without stand).
12 Parke- Bernet Galleries, New York, sale cat. (sale held on the premises of Magnolia Hill, San Antonio, Texas), April 28–29, 1971, no. 162 (with matching stand). I thank David Peters for also bringing this reference to my attention.
13 The tureens offered in the 1911 and 1981 sales and the tureen with stand offered in a 1971 sale were illustrated in their accompanying catalogues in black and white, with only one view shown. Based on these photographs, it appears that they are three different tureens, but not having seen any of them, nor the one now in Copenhagen, the author cannot state this with certainty.

Stand, Sèvres Manufactory (French, 1740–present), Hard-paste porcelain decorated in polychrome enamels, gold, French, Sèvres

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Left: 04.6.4; Right: 04.6.3a, b