With over 240 works of exceptional beauty and workmanship, the Musée Cognacq-Jay is home to one of the largest collections of boxes and ‘objets de vertu’ in France, featuring vanity cases, tobacco cases and other luxury accessories.
In celebration of the publication of the detailed catalogue, the museum is proud to present an exhibition featuring the 180 finest pieces from the Cognacq-Jay collection.
The origin of the expression ‘objet de vertu’ (literally ‘object of virtue’) is somewhat obscure: it may be a misunderstanding arising in England, with ‘Vertue’ actually the name of a historic craftsman or collector; or else it may date from the period of emigration of French Protestants following the revocation of the Edict of Nantes, with these emigrants earning the moniker ‘les Vertueux’ for their refusal to renounce their faith. Among these Protestant emigrants were numerous artists and artisans, including many goldsmiths.
These objets de vertu are true masterpieces of invention, vision and technical skill. Most are made of gold, studded with precious stones and plated with marble, porcelain or translucent enamel, often adorned with intricate miniatures. The variety of forms on show is also astonishing, with some of the more unusual subjects including a camel, a violin, a masked face and a leg! One of the cases serves as a miniature gemmologist’s toolbox.
These were clearly precious objects, some of which did have genuine functions, but which were generally intended as presents with a clear monetary value. The king and queen dispensed such gifts to members of court. The social dimension of these objects is one of the major themes of the exhibition.
A selection of drawings and engravings, along with several volumes of plates from the celebrated Encyclopédie, illustrate some of the techniques employed in the manufacture of these incredible items, giving visitors a taste of life in a goldsmith’s workshop. A film produced especially for the exhibition takes viewers through the magnifying glass for a close-up look at these sumptuous artistic creations, the last word in eighteenth-century luxury.
Discover the video of the exhibition :
BOÎTES EN OR ET OBJETS DE VERTU AU 18e SIÈCLE par paris_musees