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Jade Royale - Royal Jades in France

1. Jade as medicine

With the discovery of the Americas in 1492, numerous new animal, herbal and mineral extracts for medicinal purposes started to flow into the apothecaries of Europe’s Kings. These collection of Nature’s specimens become the foundations of numerous Royal collections, "die Wunder- und Kunstkammern” or cabinets of Wonders and Arts and later-on of the Natural History Museums.


Old print showing the Apothecary Collection of Francesco Calzolari around 1550 and its reproduction in Museum of Natural History in Verona, Italy

In the first and now classic review of these products published in 1574 by the Spanish Doctor Nicol├ís Monardes with the title “Primera y Segunda y Tercera Partes de la Historia Medicinal des las Cosas que se traen de nuestras Indias Occidentales quie firuen en Medicina”, the virtues of the “piedra de jiada” is described. This green piedra de jiada or stone for/of the loins was to be worn as an amulet and supposedly protected the wearer against kidney colic’s. It is to this book that the name of “jade” traces its roots.

One of the most prominent and documented wearer of such a “piedra de jiada” amulet has been the great Danish King, Christian IV (1577–1648). This jade amulet is still preserved in the Danish Royal Collection in the Rosenborg Castle.



Portrait of King Christian IV of Denmark painted in 1612 by Pieter Isaacs, a Dutchmen, Danish Agent and possibly also a Spy of the Swedes, and the Rosenborg Castle in Copenhagen

In France, at the court of Louis XIII (1601-1643) and under his son Louis XIV, the “Roi Soleil” (1638-1715), the systematic collection of gems, minerals, plant specimens, and fossils was organized, by the royal apothecaries, around the collection of medicinal herbs and drugs for the Royal family.


The portrait of Louis XIII, of Guy de la Brosse, his personal physician and curator of the king’s garden and that of Anne d`Autriche, the mother of Louis XIV

In January 1626, Louis XIII set the cornerstone of the French Royal Collection by establishing, by royal decree, the “Jardin du Roy” and with de la Brosse, the driving force behind its creation, becoming its curator in 1635.

In 1653 a royal decree by Anne of Austria, the widow of Louis XIII and mother of Louis XIV, further defined its organisation and in 1671 Louis XIV finalized its administration of what was to become the “Jardin du Roy et de son droguier” and then finally in 1793, the “Museum National d´Histoire Naturelle” in Paris.



Old print showing the Apothecary of the King in 1676 and a modern replica in the Treasure’s Room of the Minerals Gallery of the Muséum National d´Histoire Naturelle in Paris. The replica jar with Lapis Nephriticus is marked with x.

The minerals with supposed medicinal and curative effects were stored, in the “droguier”, together with drugs, herbs and salts in hand-blown glass pots. These “medicines” were destined for the use of the Royal Family and the Hospitals of Paris.


Two original apothecary pots with “Cotton from Louisiana” and “Cassia from Tripoli” of Louis XIV times and the reproduction pots with “Lapis Lazuli” and “Lapis Nephriticus”

A full review of medicinal substances available to apothecaries of Louis XIV has been written by Nicolas Lemery (1645–1715), a physician and experimental chemist. He was also called the magician of the Rue Galande (a small street near the Sorbonne University in Paris) because of the chemical experiments he performed in his laboratory to the delight of noblemen, scientists, commoners, students and ladies of doubtful fame of Paris.



Portrait of Nicholas Lemery and the official approval, dated 15 august 1697, by the Doyen of the Faculty of Medicine in Paris, Mr. Boudin, of his Universal Dictionary of Simple Drugs with the mention that “…..We certify that he has assembled in this book, with more organization and precision than ever before, all what is most strange in medical matter and most useful for curing illnesses and for the relief of sick persons

In this famous treatise “Dictionnaire Universel des Drogues Simples” published in 1698 with 690 pages, he lists, starting with the use of Abelicea, or false sandalwood tree, to Zopissa, a tar compound, all active compounds of the Pharmacopoeia of his times. (The full text is accessible as jpg images on http://www.bium.univ-paris5.fr/images/livres/20212/0001.jpg to /0690.jpg)



Front page of the 3rd edition of Lemery´s dictionary published in Amsterdam in 1716 and an English translation of it dated 1712.

In this treatise, on page 295, the nature and use of “Lapis Nephriticus” and on page 274, that of “Jade” is described. This reference to “Jade” constitutes also one of the the oldest spelling of the colloquial description of our preferred mineral.



The references to “Lapis Nephriticus” and “Jade” in the “Dictionnaire Universel des Drogues Simples” or the “Universal dictionary of simple drugs” by Lemery

The translation of the text concerning Lapis Nephriticus is the following:

Lapis Nephriticus , in French, Nephritic stone, is a stone of different sizes, of mediocre hardness, opaque, ordinary of grey, bluish or greenish color sometimes mixed with white, yellow or black (color).It cannot be polished perfectly as it is oily like Talc. The stone is born (found) in New Spain sometimes (mixed) with Jasper, sometimes alone. It is also found in Bohemia and in certain places in Spain, but then it (the stone) is not as much appreciated as when it comes from America. Sometime it is found as big pieces with which vases are build; the small pieces are used to make rings, necklaces and several other jewels.

The stone is valuable for (alleviating) kidney colic’s, to break kidney stones; to eliminate sand (small kidney stones) via urine and for this it is attached to the neck, the thigh or at the arm. Certain (doctors) also prescribe them to be taken orally. The dosage is then from four to fifteen grains (0.21g - 0.79g).

Several years ago one started to use, for the same sickness, a brown stone, polished, glinting and to which the name of Divine Stone has been given because of its qualities.

It (the stone) breaks down the kidney stones and expels them via the urine; one wears them attached to one’s clothing in vicinity of the kidney.

Nephriticus, from Greek nephros – kidney, because this stone is considered proper for several kidney aliments.

The translation of the text concerning Jade is the following:

Jade is a quite hard stone, of green-grey color or approaching that of the olive, but one sees three different greens (in the same sample?) ; the most beautiful comes from the East Indies (Asia). The Turks and the Polish make handles for sword and knives. (jade) is rare and difficult to work because of its great hardness, one is obliged to use diamond powder. The jewellers cut them in small pieces which they polish well so that one can carry them effortless applied to the kidneys. The book with the title “The perfect jeweller” gives to this stone the name of divine stone because of the great virtues attributed to it since it is pretended that when worn in the region of the kidneys, the stone is apt to expel the (kidney) stones or (kidney) sand and eliminate them with urine flow. It is also said that it is a remedy against epilepsy but I do not give a lot of trust to the pretended qualities of such amulet.

From these two references the following statements on early “jade” in Europe can be made:

1) 1697 the term “jade” is already in use and attributed to a “hard” stone of Asian origin and generally of green colour. The term jade was used in the 1681-1684 and in the 1791 Inventory of the Crown Jewels.

This hard Asian “jade” is differentiated from American or European “Lapis Nephriticus” which has a lower hardness and greasy feeling similar to Talc.

2) This "Lapis Nephriticus” was to be found in Bohemia or not far away from Silesia where in 1885 Traube discovered in Jordansmühle for the first time nephrite in-situ. It was used also for jewellery items and vases which implies that nephrite of good lapidary quality and size was available in Europe from a still to be defined source. Several vases and cups in nephrite were produced by the lapidaries of Florence, Milan, Prague and Augsburg in the early 16th century and entered in numerous Royal collections such as also of that of Louis XIV.

3) The definition of “Lapis Nephriticus” was used in an inventory made in 1674 of two items in the Art collection of the Danish Kings. It defined the material of two belt buckles in white jade of evident Chinese origin.

4) H.Fischer publishes in 1875 his monumental compendium on “Nephrit und Jadeit” to fuel the controversy on the origin of the raw material of the European Neolithic jade axes. He duly mentions Lemery’s Lapis Nephriticus but dismisses it as describing serpentine and not nephrite. With this he continues to ignore concrete hints of a European source of nephrite and tries to tilt the answer for the “Nephrite Frage” toward an Asian origin.

5) A first doubting about the effects of “jade” to prevent pain from kidney stones is reported by Lemery.



Objects of the Ethnographic Collection of the National Museum of Denmark and referred in the 1674 inventory as “a greyish spotted Lapis Nephriticus” and “A buckle of Lapis Nephriticus”. Both objects are of evident Chinese origin


2. Jade for Beautiful Objects

The “Droguier du Roy” became, under the impulses of Louis XIV, more and more also the repository of outlandish and beautiful objects received as gifts from French Noblemen, Foreign Ambassadors and Kings. It served also for the education of the children of the Royal Household. In this function of a “Collection” it also preceded the Cabinet d`Histoire Naturelle and then the Musée d`Histoire Naturelle and the Louvre.



Painting of 63 years old Louis XIV by Rigaud and Louis XIV receiving the members of Royal Academy of Science, which had the mission to “approach things which persons ever had seen and thoughts which persons ever had” ( Musée national du château de Versailles )

The following items in jade have been in possession of the French Kings and are now either in the Le Louvre, the Musée d`Histoire Naturelle or in the Musée Guimet.

2.1 Jade mug of Timurid origin (Musée d`Histoire Naturelle)


Description from the Royal inventory (1681-1684) of item Nr.195: ... A vase in brown green jade, in the form of a mug with handles in the shape of dragons, all (carved) in one piece, with mouldings around the bottom and the lip, this vase has a height of 4 thumbs and ½ (13.4cm) and a diameter of the body of about 5 (14.1cm)

This mug has been acquired around 1679 for Louis XIV by Antoine de Galland, a French Orientalist, in the Middle East where he has been assistant to the French Ambassador in Constantinople and later charged by Colbert with scientific research in the Levant with the title of King’s Antiquary. Galland is better known as the first translator (1704) of the “Tales of 1001 (Arabian) Nights” from Arabic into French.



Portrait of Antoine de Galland (1646-1715) and pictures of the cup of Ulugh Begh, grandson of Timur the Great, in green jade and another dragon handle cup in brownish jade also of Timurid origin in the British Museum

The mug has been attributed, in a recent publication (1993) by R.Pinder-Wilson, as being one of the only seven jades known to come from the collection of Timur the Great and his successors in Samarqand.

2.2 Jade cup of Timurid origin with floral decoration (Le Louvre)


Jade cup with engraved decoration. 14.5cm diameter - 6.5cm height probably from Iran or Central Asia. Present in the Royal inventory (1684-1701) with Nr. 199

The concave, gently flaring form of this delicate cup is a shape familiar from Chinese porcelain, here given a new lease of life thanks to its transposition into dark, non-reflective jade, with chasing and engraved decoration. The fan-shaped leaf motifs are inspired by Timurid manuscript illuminations.

The present goblet entered the French royal collection between 1684 and 1701, in the reign of Louis XIV. Unlike other royal items in semi-precious stone, it does not seem to have been mounted on gold. The poetic inscriptions visible in the cartouches beneath the lip are described in Louis XIV's inventory as "de l'escriture chinoise" ("Chinese writing"); in fact, the verses are written in Persian script. The upper register features two intertwining, curving stems decorated with pointed enamelled leaves, lotus flowers, and curious, imaginary leaf-flower hybrids that seem to open like fans, with irregular three-pronged lines radiating from their broad, perforated centres. This motif appears briefly in Timurid manuscript illuminations from 1430 to the end of the fifteenth century. (Official Louvre item description)

2.3 Stemmed cup in jade with siren (Musée d`Histoire Naturelle)



Stemmed cup in jade with siren in coral. Size 298 (H) x 209 x 146mm Foot 144x110mm. Settings in gilded silver adorned with cameos in coral and turquoise, peridots, emeralds, amethysts and citrines. Cup purchased by Louis XIV, together with the Eagle Cup, also in jade, in 1685 in Augsburg/Germany probably from Johan Daniel Mayer and present the Royal inventory (1684-1701) with Nr. 249/89

The description of this stemmed cup is also found in the inventory of the Jewels of the Crown, established 1791 after the fall of Louis XVI, and goes as follows: “…..Cup in a greenish grey jade representing a shell with nine gadroons (semi-circles), adorned with a chubby face in bluish enamel (actually aragonite) and topped by a siren in coral. The foot of the vase is made in a baluster of jade bound by two rings in gilded silver enriched (decorated) like the foot with topaz, peridot, turquoise and amethyst. The small medallions in coral are set with emeralds. This vase with a length of eight pouces, a width of five and a height of 8 is estimated at 2800 livres. The cup is cracked, the arms of the siren are broken; and eighteen garnets on the stem and ten stones on the foot are missing”.

2.4 Stemmed cup in jade with eagle (Le Louvre)



Stemmed cup in jade with eagle. Size 380(H) x 185mm. Settings in gilded silver adorned with cameos in coral, amethysts, turquoises, peridots, and citrines. Cup purchased by Louis XIV, together with siren cup, also in jade, in 1685 in Augsburg/Germany, made possibly by Johann Daniel Mayer and present in inventory of the Jewels of the Crown (1791) with Nr. 93

The picture to the right is of a similar stemmed cup in the Landesmuseum Stuttgart Germany in white jade (!?) made by Girolamo Miseroni, the famous lapidary master in Milan/Italy around 1590-1600 and in documented possession of the Leopold Eberhard, Duke or Württemberg in 1699

A number of lapidaries are known to have been active in Augsburg in the second third of the seventeenth century, including Johann Daniel Mayer, who in about 1662-63 delivered several vases to Duke Eberhard III of Württemberg (1614-1674), today kept in the Landesmuseum in Stuttgart. The vessels executed by Mayer are mainly in jasper and composed of three parts: a shell-shaped bowl decorated with foliage sculpted in relief, a baluster foot, and a shell-shaped base. The mounts, made in the same period as the vessels themselves, were executed by various goldsmiths. The Louvre stemmed cup has the characteristics of Mayer's work and may therefore be formally attributed to him.

The bowl was carved from the block and gadrooned. The gadroons are separated by sharp ridges and carved with large leaf motifs. On the tip, a puttied sphere and an eagle in a lighter jade have been added, but were not included in the original design. The double-scroll pedestal stands on a circular base.

The mount is made up of three elements in vermeil covered in precious stones: two rings and the rim of the base. The upper ring is studded with six turquoises alternating with six roses formed by a central amethyst surrounded by four citrines and two peridots. The slightly narrower lower ring is decorated in the same manner. The polychrome base is embellished with three types of ornamentation: four large coral cameos depicting Roman emperors surrounded by eight amethysts or citrines; four octagonal peridots flanked with six amethysts and two citrines; and eight large octagonal amethysts ringed with four turquoises and six citrines. This sumptuous mount is similar to that of a rock-crystal ewer in the Grünes Gewölbe in Dresden. The mounted bowl constitutes an example of the highly refined work in gold and silver of 17th-century Europe. (Official Louvre item description)

2.5 Stemmed cup in jade with golden foot (Musée d`Histoire Naturelle)



Stemmed cup with foot in gold and enamel decorated with rubies and diamonds.152x86mm, 95mm height. Foot 82x70mm. Of apparent French manufacture. Present in the Royal Inventory (1684-1701) with Nr. 299 and in the 1791 inventory with Nr.98 and estimated at 3000 livres (salary of one artisan was 3 livres per day)

The cup is described in the 1791 inventory as follows:”….A vase in oriental jade (!), oval with four gadroons in the inside and below, sculpted with fourteen concave gadroons, decorated with a ring of gold enamelled on its edges with white and green, embellished in its center with small rubies and diamonds, carried on a balustrade foot of same quality, connected with to rings of gold also embellished with small rubies and diamonds; this vase has a height of 3 pouces and 8 lignes, length of the oval is 5 pouces and half and 3 pouces width” (1 pouce equals 27mm)

2.6 Stemmed cup in jade in the shape of a shell (Le Louvre)



Stemmed cup with decorations in gilded silver and enamelled gold and of probable manufacture in Augsburg/Germany. Height 25cm – length 29cm. Purchased by Louis IX in 1687 from the merchant Danet

No description by Le Louvre of this item is available.

2.7 Covered bowl in jade (Le Louvre)



Covered bowl in jade (nephrite) with gilded silver, enamelled gold, thirty-eight rubies, seventeen pearls produced by Lapidaries in Milan/Italy H. 22.2 cm; L. 28 cm; L. (with handles) 32.8 cm; Th. 0.4 cm . From the ancient collection of Charles d´Albert, Duke de Luynes and Falconer of Louis XIII . Entered into the collection of Louis XIV between 1681 and 1684

Milan was a major centre for the production of semiprecious stoneware throughout the 16th century. The Crown collection of precious and semiprecious stoneware included many Milanese objects, such as this trefoil jade covered bowl. It entered the collection of Louis XIV between 1681 and 1684. The stone is cut with ornamental motifs characteristic of the late 16th century, such as grotesque masks, and is set off by a gilded silver mount studded with precious stones

Certain late 16th-century mounts feature elements in enamelled gold that are similar to earlier creations. This type of mount disappeared in the early 17th century. Other mounts, however, were made up of elements of gilded silver, sometimes including enamelled gold. These featured a somewhat repetitive decoration of appliquéd enamelled gold. On some vessels, the enamelled gold appliqués were studded with precious stones and pearls, as in this trefoil jade covered bowl.

The wide, bulbous, trefoil form of this bowl is often found in the majolica of Urbino. Grotesque masks are sculpted on the front and back of the vessel. These anthropomorphic masks were still highly mannerist in style. The figures have flat, fleshy noses and lips, and hair represented by foliage. Two tenons on the sides served to attach the two handles. The lid, also trefoil in shape, is sculpted in bas-relief with ribbed scrolls and acanthus leaves. There is a tenon for the knob. The foot is flat and circular.

The vermeil mount comprises the rim of the lid, the base, and the central knob. These elements are embellished with appliquéd enamelled gold in the shape of a white palmetto surrounded by foliage in white, red, and translucent green enamel. The knob of the lid is in the shape of a small openwork vermeil vase decorated with four grotesque figures in light blue enamel, white enamel scrolls, and twelve rubies. Similar small vases can be seen on a portable altar by Ottavio Miseroni in Vienna. The scroll handles are decorated with winged female busts emerging from tapered pillars ending in dragon heads edged with dark blue enamel and gold. (Official Louvre item description)

2.8 Covered bowl in jade (Le Louvre)



Covered bowl in jade (nephrite) with gilded silver, enamelled gold, twenty rubies, seventeen pearls produced by Lapidaries in Milan/Italy H. 19.5 cm; L. 34.5 cm; Th. 0.4 cm . From the royal collection of Louis XIV

The bowl with a lid takes the form of a nave, or boat-shaped centrepiece. It features two sculpted masks. At the front, a grotesque mask forms the spout. At the back, a lion mask appears to bite the lid. Two tenons on the long sides served to attach the handles. The lid, sculpted with a wide, covering acanthus leaf, has a central knob

The gilded silver mount comprises the outer edge of the lid, the central knob on the stem, and the base. It is very similar to that of the previous bowl. Around the edge of the lid, eight rubies are arranged on translucent enamel quatrefoils alternating with white enamel petals and foliage in opaque white, black, green, and translucent red enamel. On the knob, four rubies and four pearls stand out on a translucent green quatrefoil. We know that the handles took the form of dragons, probably resembling those of the chromo-jadeite bowl kept in Vienna. Enamelled gold ornamentation and grotesque animal motifs were enduring characteristics of mannerism. (Official Louvre item description)

2.9 Small Chinese cup in white jade (Museum Guimet Paris)

Cup in white jade with handles in the form of dragons - 10.5cm length. In earlier times the cup has been in the collection of Cardinal Mazarin (1602-1661), regent and tutor of future Louis XIV. From the royal collection of Louis XIV.

This extremely important piece, a circular cup mounted on a small, low base, is a testimony to Ming sculpture. The translucent white, veined jade gives sensuality to the decoration composed of two facing zhi dragons which form the handles. The dragons' snouts and paws grip the rim while the bodies arch outwards and the tails coil back onto the sides of the cup. Delicate carvings and engraved coils suggest the fur on the back and paws and indicate a certain pursuit of realism. The perfectly symmetrical, flowing and curving movement of the two dragon-handles creates a vibrant effect.

This type of archaic piece was intended for scholars' chambers. Indeed, since the Song dynasty (960-1279), the preference of the elite for antique objects entailed the revival of jades along with an antique-style decorative repertoire such as the zhi dragon featured on Han dynasty (206 BCE - 220 CE) jades and this trend was to continue under the Ming. Clients, however, preferred novel flowing forms that highlighted the luminous veins running through the gemstones.

The Dehua potters, who first produced the celebrated Blanc de Chine so much sought after by Westerners in the 17th and 18thcenturies, emulated the mannerist treatment of this cup. It bears witness to the European adoption of jade as a prestigious material since, having originally belonged to Cardinal Mazarin (1602-1661), it then appeared in Louis XIV's collections. (Official description of the cup by the Museum Guimet)

2.10 Small Chinese incense burning cup in white jade (Musée d`Histoire Naturelle)



Cup with handle in white Jade in the shape of a flower. Overall length 145mm - 107mm diameter – 62mm height. Diameter of the foot 41 mm. From the royal collection of Louis XIV.

Picture of the commemorative plate send by Louis XIV to King Phra Narai of Thailand/Siam depicting the reception of the Siamese Ambassadors (with pointed hats) at his court. Plate now in the ruins of the palace Wat Phra Narai Ratchanivet built in Lop Buri in 1666

This cup is probably one of the “10 vases in stone” send by the King of Siam (Thailand) Phra Narai with his ambassador to Louis XIV in 1686 in order to get political and military assistance against the Dutch and English expanding in south-east Asia.

The cup is in grey-white translucent jade with a calyx in the shape of five petals with a pistil in the centre also terminating in five lobes. The handle is in the shape of a curved stem starting from the foot and terminating on the rim of the calyx. The handle is decorated by a shape consisting of with five crenulated leaves. The base is quite thin and hollow and shows also of a floral design with five petals. The inside of the base shows the cut stem of the flower. The design is of Ming style and has been deposited in the Museum in 1825.


3. Summary

This short review shows that in the 16th century the lapidaries of Milano, Augsburg and Prague had an access to green jade (nephrite) of adequate quality to carve rather large artistic bowls and stemmed cups for European Kings.

One of such stemmed cups has been made by Girolamo Miseroni in Italy in a milky white jade!

The source of the prehistoric jade (nephrite and jadeite) found in Europe was around 1840 the subject of contention among mineralogists and archaeologists. In Germany this question was denominated the Nephritfrage, and the most notable contribution to the discussion was the great scientific and scholarly work issued by Heinrich Fischer. ("Nephrit und Jadeit," Stuttgart, 1880.) His conclusion was that as there was no evidence of the existence of these minerals outside of a few localities in Asia, the European supply must have been brought from Asia. According to this theory the prehistoric jade objects found in Europe must have had an Asian source, and would constitute a proof of the existence of traffic with remote points in Asia at a date long previous to that commonly accepted.

This has then been disproved by the discovery of nephrite first in Silesia and the in many places of Europe.

The source of the lapidary nephrite jade of above objects is however unknown and a thorough mineralogical investigation of these items would be extremely valuable to pin down the real source of this material.

H.Giess March 2006

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