Wednesday, November 28, 2012

Unusual Artifacts: A Pair of Perfume Flasks, c. 1671

Pair of Silver Gilt Flasks
French, 1671
Possibly by Louis Rousseau
The Victoria & Albert Museum

Made in Paris, circa 1671, this pair of silver-gilt, embossed flasks was doubtlessly part of an elaborate toilet service.  Such a suite would have been a very important status symbol in the late Seventeenth Century. These sorts of vanity services were traditionally given as wedding gifts, presented by a wealthy husband to his bride for use in her private boudoir. Toilet services typically included a mirror; boxes for ornaments, jewelry and cosmetics; and perfume bottles.

This pair of flasks—once  used to decoratively hold expensive cologne or perfume--was found when they were dug up in Parliament Hill Fields (between Hampstead and Highgate) in 1892.  The discovery was made by an inquisitive child in search of treasure.  He did fairly well, too.  Or, I should say his father did.  The boy’s pop sold them to the V&A for “a modest sum.”   

Each side of each flask has a slightly recessed panel which is cast and chased in bold relief with a botanical pattern.  They are sealed by a single screw stopper with floral scrolls and surmounted by a trefoil handle.  They are possibly the work of the celebrated Louis Rousseau who was known for his fashionable Seventeenth Century designs.  The bottoms of each are marked “LR” on either side of a baton within a laurel wreath.

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