A rare Louis XV piqué d’or tortoiseshell boîte à mouches
A rare Louis XV piqué d’or tortoiseshell boîte à mouches
Gold-mounted, Paris, 1722-1726
Object N° 1875

Box with black tortoiseshell plaques gold-mounted, in the shape of a shell with contoured and molded edges in the Rococo style, opening on a hinge by a chiseled push-piece, the sides chiseled with foliage on a sandblasted ground. The cover decorated only with dots in yellow gold depicting a still life of exotic fruits animated by a dragonfly, the reverse also decorated with gold dots of a simple exotic fruit surrounded by two flying insects. The interior is inlaid with a mercury mirror on the back of the cover, we accept to think of it as a boîte à mouches (fly box).

Good condition, slight scratches of use on the scale.

Paris, 1722-1726.

Clearance mark for small works (843 thousandths).

Incomplete charge or letter-date hallmarks.

Incomplete silversmith's mark (we seem to see an F, perhaps for Louis Fasquel?).

Engraved inventory number: JA 4562 sttt.

L. 6.2 x D. 4.5 x H. 1.4 cm. Gross weight: 58.7 g.


Private collection, France.

Related works

- A cane handle with gold-piqué tortoiseshell lorgnette with identical insects, Paris, 1720-1730, is in the Hermitage museum, inv. Э-3528 (ill. 1).

- A gold-piqué tortoiseshell message case with identical insects, Paris, 1720-1730, is in the Hermitage Museum, inv. Э-2696 (ill. 2).

- A rectangular fly box in gold-piqué tortoiseshell with a richer decoration but adorned with identical insects in particular on the reverse surrounding the central scene to be compared to ours, Paris, around 1720, is in the Hermitage museum, inv. Э-4194 (ill. 3).

- A gold-piqué tortoiseshell snuffbox adorned on the back of a mill to compare with our still life, Paris, circa 1720, is in the Hermitage Museum, inv. Э-4781 (ill. 4).

- A royal present snuffbox in gold-piqué tortoiseshell decorated with a vellum and on the reverse of a turtle to compare with our still life, gold-mounted by Daniel Govaers (Gouers), Paris, 1725-1726, is in the Musée du Louvre, inv. OA-10.670 (ill. 5). In 1981, it was the oldest gold box belonging to the Louvre.

- A gold snuffbox of the same shape as ours with a similar decoration on tortoiseshell but with coulé d'or, by Louis Fasquel, Paris, 1723-1724, is reproduced in the recent work of Alexis Kugel (private collection, see the Kugel's book, p. 16, ill. 2).


- Serge Grandjean, Catalog of snuff boxes, boxes and cases from the 18th and 19th centuries of the Louvre Museum, Paris, 1981, n° 121 and p. 391 and following.

- Alexis Kugel, Complètement piqué. Le fol art de l'écaille à la cour de Naples, ed. Monelle Hayot, 2018.


During the first third of the eighteenth century, a process of inlaying gold or silver on scale was perfected almost simultaneously in several Western European countries (France, Italy, Germany, England, Holland), without being able to yet determine the center of origin, for lack of archival documents. It reminds the mode used on certain furniture from the end of the reign of Louis XIV, particularly those of André-Charles Boulle. Its use gave rise to often refined creations; the inspiration was provided by collections of ornamentalists, those of the French Jean Bérain, Pierre Bourdon (1703), G. Roberday (1710), Jean Bourguet (1723) or even of the German Paul Decker (around 1710), etc.

The technique used here is one of the variants of the piqué, which consists simply in poking holes in the tortoiseshell, following a pattern, and in placing vertically in these holes gold or silver threads which are then cut at the end, hence the term piqué-point or clouté d'or.

Only four names of tortoiseshell specialists have been found in Italy but none in France until now, apart from the hallmarks of Parisian master silversmiths who created the frames, such as Gouers or Rémy de Cuizy. The oldest known objects seem to be Parisian and date from 1717-1722 (after Alexis Kugel), although the Hermitage retains a gold-studded snuffbox dated 1684-1689 (of barrel-shape, inv. Э-1401, ill. 5).

Be that as it may, this is one of the oldest examples of this piqué technique in Paris at the very beginning of the Louis XV period. Although the letter-date punch is unfortunately erased, the Holy Spirit's discharge mark (1722-1726) leaves no doubt that the frame is contemporary with the making of the panels, unlike known objects later, around 1760 and even 1780, reusing tortoiseshell plates from the years 1720-1730. Although the decoration by an anonymous person is here less rich than the Neapolitan piqué masterpieces of the years 1725-1755, it is nonetheless the most elegant by the contrast of yellow gold on the black ground, and of the most perfect in its proportions, the still life including itself wonderfully in the rockery form of this box with flies.