Auction 113 Antiques & Works of Art, Silver & Jewellery


An important VERSEUSE François-Thomas Germain (1726-1791)


50.000 - 70.000

Session 1

15 March 2022


French silver, 18th century (1755-56)
Pear shaper body of spiralled gadroons that extend to the spout
Base and cover edges of joint acanthus leaves clusters
Volute thumb piece
The lid with sliding mechanism for inserting whisk
Carved rosewood handle
Paris assay-marks for 1750-1756 stamped FTG for François-Thomas Germain. Two Paris warrantee marks letter K for (1750-1751) and letter P for (1755-56)
(spout cover missing)

Height: 26 cm
1180 g



Catalogue Essay

Coffee or chocolate pot, defined by a circular base and bulging twisted spiralled body, accentuated by shallow, smooth fluting that extends to the short and broad spout. Counter-curved profile wooden handle and circular section cover, featuring a sliding element for opening and closing a small orifice for fitting a whisk to homogenize its contents.

Information about the history of this piece is scarce, similarly to what often happens with mobile heritage destined for secular use within domestic contexts, whose existence is not always considered in the extant documentation. Nonetheless, it is known that this coffee or chocolate pot, still owned by her descendants, belonged to the 5th Countess of Ficalho, Maria Josefa de Mello (1863-1941), daughter of the 4th Counts, Francisco Manuel de Mello Breyner (1837-1903) and Josefa Brito do Rio (1840-1892), and that it had entered the family collections some generations earlier. Made at the famous silversmith François-Thomas Germain’s workshops, in Paris, it might in fact have been acquired by the well-travelled and wealthy merchant Anselmo da Cruz Sobral (1728-1802), an ancestor of Maria Luísa Braamcamp Sobral de Almeida Castelo-Branco de Narbonne-Lara (1812-1890) who married the 2nd Marquess of Ficalho, António José de Mello Breyner Teles da Silva (1806-1893). Maria Luísa was the daughter of the 1st Counts of Sobral, and, through her mother, a descendant of the Duke of Narbonne-Lara (1755-1813), Minister of War to Louis XVI and aid-de-camp to Emperor Napoleon, a fact that establishes an unequivocal connection to France. We should not, however, neglect the suggestion (PENALVA & MAGALHÃES 2021, p. 131) that it may have entered the family via the 1st Marquess of Ponte de Lima, Tomás Xavier de Lima Teles da Silva (1727-1800), figure of the highest rank that, during the Marquess of Pombal consulate would know identical tragic fate as the Dukes of Aveiro who, before their imprisonment and the confiscation of their property, held in their collection important gold and silverware made by the Germain workshops, such as the extraordinary centrepiece that belongs to the Museu Nacional de Arte Antiga collection in Lisbon (inv. 1827 Our.).

Detailed analysis and observation of the coffee / chocolate pot allows us to gather information that is essential for its understanding. For one, the interpretation of the marks, for which was invaluable the cooperation of Michèle Bimbenet-Privat, allows for accurate dating of the piece and attribution of unequivocal authorship. As such, it is possible to assert that it is an object produced within the context of the French gold and silversmith François-Thomas Germain’s (1726-1791) workshop, son of the master gold and silversmith Thomas Germain (1673-1748). Thomas Germain had fulfilled numerous orders from Portuguese customers during the reign of King João V, either from the sovereign himself or from private patrons, such as the writing set gifted by the king to Cardinal Nuno da Cunha de Ataíde (1664-1750), or the porringer (écuelle) commissioned by Cardinal João da Mota e Silva (1685-1747), both now at the Musée du Louvre (inv. OA 9941 and inv. AO 6118) (VALE, 2016b and VALE 2018, pp. 72-73 e 119-122). His son, François-Thomas, who had studied at the Académie Royale de Peinture in order to get a good education in the art of drawing, competence seen as fundamental for the fulfilment of a gold and silversmith career, will inherit Thomas Germain official role as goldsmith and sculptor to the King of France (1748). Maintaining his father’s renowned workshop at the Galleries du Louvre, François-Thomas will carry on supplying the main European courts, from Saint Petersburg to Lisbon (D’OREY 1991, GODINHO 2002), with the most remarkable objects, often resorting to Thomas models. In 1765 however, the business goes into bankruptcy proceedings that determine its closure and the abandonment of the Louvre workshop (BAPST 1887, BIMBENET-PRIVAT 2002 and above all PERRIN 1993). The dating of the object, for which assessment concurred decisively the above-mentioned marks, reveals a curious situation, albeit not necessarily uncommon: the piece encompasses components from two distinctive moments in time. The cover, whose marks date to 1750-51, is articulated to a body made some years later, in 1755-56, but still by the same master FrançoisThomas Germain. Would the presence of the cover reflect an intervention in a coffee /chocolate pot whose body, for some unknown reason, needed replacing? Or did this cover, from 1750-51, correspond to a component that was already available at the Germain workshop when, five years later, it received an order for a coffee /chocolate pot? Unfortunately, we might never know the answer. The presence of the two discharge marks, 1750-51 in the cover and 1755-56 in the body, reveals however that the piece was destined for exporting rather than for the French market.
One other question, which is also likely to remain unanswered, refers to the clarification of typology and inherent functionality of the piece. Is it a coffee pot or a chocolate pot? Nor the morphology nor the ornamental options, in terms of their characteristics, contribute to the answering of this question. The body, cover and handle shapes are identifiable in both extant coffee and chocolate pots. Although it can be argued that for the latter there is a preference for straight handles placed perpendicularly to the body, such option – as is the case with the notable coffee pot from the same maker kept at the Metropolitan Museum of New York (inv. 33.165.1) is not sine qua non condition. On the other hand, the orifice seen in the cover, destined for fitting a whisk to homogenize the liquid in the vessel’s interior, occurs in both coffee and chocolate pots. We cannot even count on the artist’s cooperation in terms of his ornamental grammar choices, as the motifs seen near the spout cannot be unequivocally identified as cocoa beans or as coffee grains. We would however accept this latter possibility, based on comparisons with other extant examples (see the above mentioned on this subject by PENALVA & MAGALHÃES 2021, p. 131). The French language addresses the question in a simpler and pragmatic manner by resorting to the term verseuse, generic yet encompassing, that refers to a spouted vase destined to serve and contain liquids. For convenience we have adopted it for referring the piece. While, for the moment, we must accept the dual probability in terms of the object’s functionality, as a coffee or as a chocolate pot, it is also important to leave open the option that it was intended for serving both drinks.

Coffee pots and chocolate pots are typologies frequently present in the scope of 18th century secular silverware production, stylistically fitting within the Baroque and the Rococo periods. Some of the most interesting examples, from the standpoint of the creative expression of their maker’s, are identifiable from within the Italian and French contexts. The piece herewith analysed belongs to that universe, destined to the table service and very particularly to the consumption of the so-called exotic drinks – tea, coffee, and chocolate, which grew increasingly familiar to the European taste, becoming both highly appreciated and widely disseminated. As such, teapots, coffee pots and chocolate pots, in multiple morphological variations and expressing various decorative solutions, proliferated on the European tables of the 1700s. It is also most relevant to focus our attention on both the morphological and decorative solutions that the object reveals. The presence of a uniform base, as opposed to the three feet recognizable in other examples of identical typology produced by the same master – see, in addition the above-mentioned work at the Metropolitan Museum in New York, the chocolate pots and coffee pots from the Portuguese Crown Table Set kept at the Museu Nacional de Arte Antiga (inv. 1872 Our., 1864 Our., 1865 Our. and 1866 Our.) and at the Palácio Nacional da Ajuda (inv. PNA 10586), both in Lisbon -, is frequent in earlier and contemporary French pieces, as well as in Roman and Genoese silverware, particularly versatile and creative in terms of secular objects, and even in Augsburg productions (see for example the coffee pot by Georg Klobe, dated 1753-55, that has recently surfaced in the market). (Casa d’Aste Arcadia, Roma, Leilão Argenti antichi e da collezione, 28 de Setembro de 2020, Lote 163) In Portugal, and still within the universe of imported objects evidencing identical solution, it is possible to refer the coffee pot dated 1736-1740, by the Roman silversmith Antonio Arrighi (1687-1776), that was, in all probability, owned by the Ambassador of Portugal in Rome, and from 1740 Bishop of Oporto, Fr. José Maria da Fonseca Évora (1690-1752) (MONTAGU 2009, pp. 116-117 and VALE 2016a, pp. 194-195). In terms of its dynamism, determined by the soft spiralled fluting evident in the bulging body, it must be noted that such resource has its earliest expression in the exceptional covered jug dated 1738-39, by the French master silversmith Louis Regnard (active 1733-1759), belonging to the Museu Calouste Gulbenkian in Lisbon (inv. 1125). The success of this decorative solution is measurable by the large number of pieces that adopted it. Thus, specifically in the Genoese context, a production centre in which French influence is highly significant, it is possible to identify, from the 1740s onwards, and through three successive decades, numerous coffee pots in which the solution of a bulging body animated by twisted fluting is replicated (BOGGERO & SIMONETTI 2011 pp. 145-156). In Portugal, as an example of that production, it is possible to refer the Genoese coffee pot from ca.1760, which, originating from the Bulgari collections, is now kept at the Museu do Caramulo (inv. FAL 112). Nonetheless it is in the French production, and namely in that by FrançoisThomas Germain, that we can find the strongest analogies for the coffee or chocolate pot herewith described, being sufficient the comparisons with the above-mentioned coffee and chocolate pots from the Portuguese Crown serving set. What assumes more relevance in this context is, after all, the masterly quality of the work, in terms of conception and technical execution, all the more praiseworthy, when it relates not to an exceptional object, but to one certainly destined to current use in a 1700s domestic environment, albeit not abdicating from the elegance and refinement that confer remarkable identity to the Germain production.

Teresa Leonor M. Vale

Closed Auction