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Secrets of the Wallace: Sèvres Inkstand designed by Jean-Claude Chambellan Duplessis (1758)

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Published on Dec 27, 2013

This intricate Sèvres ecritoire à globes (inkstand) was designed by Jean-Claude Chambellan Duplessis. It was made in 1758 and possibly painted by Charles-Nicolas Dodin. It is made with soft paste porcelain, giving it very bright and fine colours. Helen Jacobsen, Curator of French 18th-Century Decorative Arts, is interviewed by Leah and Nicole about the inkstand, revealing a deeper insight into what it was, how it would have been used, and how it was made. This inkstand can be found in the Back State Room at the Wallace Collection.

I'm Nicole and I'm Leah and today we're looking at the Sèvres Inkstand, designed by Jean-Claude Chambellan Duplessis. The globe of the world would have contained ink and the globe of the star signs would have contained sand, which would have been used to blot any excess ink and stop it from smudging. The crown in the middle contains a bell, which would have been used to call the servants, and the plate around it would have been used to rest the quills when not writing.

I'm going to be talking to Helen Jacobson and asking her a few questions about the inkstand.

How long would something like this have taken to make?

It would have taken a very long time. There are numerous different stages in the production. First of all you have to get the clay together, the paste, and fire that in one go and that might take several days. Next you have to add the ground colour, the deep colours, and that takes another session in the kiln and several days. Following the application of other colours it again needs to go back into the kiln, not to mention the gilding, so it could take several weeks to make something like this.

How many copies of this do you know of?

We only really know of two, which have been exhibited over the past 50 years.

Why did they use star signs?

Well they wanted to show the difference between the terrestrial and the celestial globe, with all the star signs in the sky. In the eighteenth-century there was a growing interest in science and astrology, and this knowledge was something to be show off!

How do we know that MA wasn't Marie-Antoinette?

Well the one obvious reason is that the initials MA are opposite another diamond lozenge, and this shape was the sign for the King of France's daughter. Marie-Antoinette was Granddaughter-in-law, so she would not had that particular shape on a work of art. Also stylistically, this piece is from the Rococo period and Marie-Antoinette did not arrive in France until 1770 when these types of designs were out of fashion.

Even without the gold and detail, was it only the upper-class who had an inkstand?

Yes, something like this was incredibly expensive, so only for the very rich. Also in eighteenth-century France literacy levels were very low, so, as many homes would not have needed an inkstand and certainly not a bell to summon the servants!

Thank you for watching. You can have a look at the inkstand in the Back State Room of the Wallace Collection. Remember to check out the rest of the series!


Part of the 'Secrets of the Wallace' podcast series.

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