Some ewers were intended for hand-washing, in which case they were accompanied by basins; others were independent pieces used for serving drinks. This ewer is a rare example of French seventeenth-century secular silverware, and more especially of tableware; many pieces were melted down for the requirements of war or the whims of fashion, so few of these ewers have survived despite the fact that they were practically mass-produced. This work belongs to the tradition of ewers with straight handles, a form that emerged around 1550; characteristic of the French taste of the period, it remained popular for more than a century. Although the tulip-shaped outline remained the same, the silversmiths varied the decorative elements, especially on the foot (the most highly decorated part), depending on the material and tools and the engraved models available. The body of the ewer was made using the “swaging” technique: the sheet of metal was placed on a rounded anvil and hammered into shape on the convex side. As the piece gradually took shape, the metal was regularly heated to keep it malleable. Traces of hammering remained even after the final polishing. This ewer, stockier in shape than the sixteenth-century models, is simply decorated with a fine gilt band engraved with scrolls and, under the lip, with coats of arms topped by a helmet engraved on the belly. As coats of arms like these – red with four silver chevrons (?) – were very common in France at the time, the family to which they pertained has not been identified. The decoration of the ewer is concentrated on the foot, and is in slight relief rather than engraved: a main frieze of grotesque masks in trefoil cartouches, with a ring of shells and gadroons above it and a second frieze of shells and flowers around the base of the foot. These motifs were drawn from the Renaissance decorative repertoire, particulary from the plates engraved by Jacques Androuet Du Cerceau the elder (c. 1510-c. 1585). This type of ewer, whose form was copied and widely circulated in pewter and faience in Nevers and Rouen, prefigured the helmet ewer that supplanted it in the second half of the seventeenth century.
Gérard Mabille, “Orfèvrerie française des XVIe, XVIIe, XVIIIe siècles”. Catalogue raisonné des collections du Musée des Arts Décoratifs et du Musée Nissim de Camondo, Paris, Union Centrale des Arts Décoratifs-Flammarion, 1984, cat. 216, pp. 144-146, repr. p. 145.
Michèle Bimbenet-Privat, L’Orfèvrerie parisienne de la Renaissance, Trésors dispersés, Paris, Centre Culturel du Panthéon, 1995, repr. p. 147.