In this series, Lagniappe presents a different work each week from the collection of the New Orleans Museum of Art, with commentary from a curator.
A towering cauliflower and a creeping crawfish boldly sit on top a 19th-century soup tureen recently put on view at the New Orleans Museum of Art. Made in Paris by the French silver company Odiot, the crawfish is a hint at the elaborate dining vessel’s strong ties to New Orleans.
The French Baron Joseph-Xavier Célestin Delfau de Pontalba (1791–1878) and his wealthy Spanish wife, Micaela Leonarda Antonia Almonester y Roxas (1795–1874), the Baroness de Pontalba, commissioned this silver piece sometime in the years after their marriage. Both from influential New Orleans families, they married as teenagers at St. Louis Cathedral in 1811, but spent most of their adult lives in France.
This Parisian tureen has four imprints of their combined family coat of arms, with the baron’s French family crest next to that of the baroness's father, who was Spanish — Andres Almonester y Roxas de Estrada (1728–1798). He was a major figure in the 18th-century rule of Louisiana.
The Baroness de Pontalba is best remembered today for the brick row houses flanking Jackson Square — the Pontalba Buildings in the French Quarter. When she returned to her birth city for three years at the start of the French Revolution of 1848, the baroness vigilantly oversaw the construction project in an effort to update New Orleans with the fashionable Parisian architectural style.
Like the silver soup tureen, the Pontalba Buildings are also clearly marked for the family, with iconic iron railings that feature a swirling “AP” for the baroness’s birth name “Almonester” and her married name “Pontalba.”
The soup tureen for the baron and baroness of Pontalba is on view at NOMA in the second-floor Lupin Foundation Decorative Arts Galleries.
— Mel Buchanan, RosaMary Curator of Decorative Arts & Design, NOMA