Reference #: EF1220
Ebony, oak, purplewood, walnut, holly, satinwood, boxwood, cherry; bone ; gilt bronze; pewter
Height: 73 inches (186 cm.)
Width: 48 inches (122.5 cm.)
Depth: 25 inches (62.5 cm.)
Private collection, Paris
Musée des Arts Décoratifs 1960, no. 58.
Janneau 1970, pls. 30-31.
Kjellberg 1991, fig. 73.
Ramond, pp. 56, 74 , 81, 94.
The cabinet with balustrade cresting, ornamented above with five flaming urns, surmounts a cornice and frieze veneered with trailing leaves and floral motifs on an ebony ground. The cabinet doors, enframed by pewter fillets, and the cabinet sides are ornamented with bouquets of jasmine flowers in urns which rest upon entablatures. Birds, insects and butterflies are depicted among the surrounding foliage with scrolled acanthus leaves at top and supported by talons. The cabinet interior, lined with “soie galonée” garniture, is fitted with two drawers at bottom and a central shelf. Below, the frieze contains two drawers and is embellished by gilt bronze escutcheons and further marquetry ornamentation. The giltwood stand, comprised of six cherubic caryatids terminating in rectangular tapered and foliate-decorated shafts, rests on paw feet linked by a double X-form stretcher surmounted by flaming urns.
The furniture created in France during the reign of Louis XIV, of a grandeur and monumentality in keeping with the majesty of the age, is often considered the epitome of the baroque style. The baroque movement was in fact truly international, not only due to the increase of imports and exports throughout Europe, but because the improvement of communications increased mobility. From the middle of the seventeenth century, sculptors, plasterers and furniture makers began to move to the political and cultural centers of Europe in search of patronage. The ébénistes who settled in Paris during the reign of Louis XIV were primarily makers of cabinets which were then at the height of fashion and provided an exceptional opportunity for the display of virtuosity on the part of craftsmen as witnessed in the examples by Domenico Cucci at the Gobelins and by André-Charles Boulle at the Louvre. Ébénistes therefore worked at developing this furniture type, first in ebony, then with inlays of different woods, and even shell, copper or pewter, heightened with bronze, silver, marble or precious stones. Out of a total of more than five hundred pieces included in the inventory of crown furniture made in 1700, seventy-six were cabinets.
In virtue of his desire to acquire the most novel and fashionable furniture types, Louis XIV granted his protection to the cabinet makers capable of producing these revolutionary designs and housed them at the Gobelins: a royal workshop founded in 1622 in the former hotel of the brothers Gobelins. Renamed the
Manufacture Royale des Meubles de la Couronne in 1667, the artists of the Gobelins produced sumptuous sets of furniture and other decorative objects required for the series of spectacular residences which were being prepared for the new King at the Tuileries, St. Germain and Versailles.
The splendor of Louis XIV design championed by Jean-Baptiste Colbert, minister of the arts, and Nicolas Fouquet, the minister of finance, who first introduced a centralized system for the development of the decorative arts, ushered in the reappearance of the concept of universal designer. The seeds of this idea, as with so many other components of the style, are to be found in early seventeenth century Rome with the total unity of Bernini’s and Borromini’s church interiors.1
The extension of this practice to secular interiors quickly followed and spread north. As might be expected, this concept received its strongest expression at Versailles where Charles Le Brun, the King’s chief painter and the director of the Manufacture Royale des Meubles, and Jean Bérain, the King’s chief of design controlled the appearance of every room. Engraved designs were published from the late seventeenth century onwards, spreading the latest fashions adopted at Versailles to the provinces and even abroad. Those of Jean LePautre, the leading exponent of Le Brun and the innovator of the French baroque ensemble, were the first to appear.
In the hands of Bérain’s most famous pupil, Daniel Marot, this treatment of whole rooms as a single harmonious design spread to Holland and England. His engraved designs cover every aspect of the decorative arts and his series of room interiors show the care with which even the smallest piece of furniture had been designed and placed to achieve an effect of unity.
Harmony within the room was achieved by the use of matching veneer designs on cabinets, tables, bureaux and by matching textiles, not only of curtains, tablecloths and wall hangings, but also of furniture upholstery. The present ensemble of cabinet and table derives from this concept, employing associated marquetry and stand designs which are closely related to those of LePautre. This Parisian engraver provided inspirations for a group of remarkable marquetry cabinets on stands which feature boldly carved three dimensional figures in various attitudes supporting structures composed of elaborately patterned floral scenes. His engravings of cabinets frequently depict caryatid supports, nude from the waist up, and with either both or one arm raised.2 One of these engravings bears a striking resemblance to the present group;3 displaying cherubic caryatids of remarkably similar design, with short, curly locks and plump bodies, the engraving leaves no doubt that the stand designs are taken directly from the inspirations of Lepautre.
Several of Lepautre’s designs which were realized by Pierre Gole, one of the preeminent ébénistes of the Louis XIV period and known to have worked at the celebrated Manufacture Royale Gobelins, possess more immediate affinities with the present cabinet and table. Four cabinets, two made at the Gobelins4 and two attributed to Gole by the scholars Lunsingh Scheurleer, Pierre Kjellberg and Pierre Ramond5 exhibit caryatid supports, nude from the waist up with cushions on their heads and terminating in tapering foliate-ornamented bases over paw feet.
Distinctive marquetry provides further evidence that relates the present pieces to the work of Pierre Gole. The sophisticated use of exotic woods and similar marquetry compositions of urns of flowers on pedestals
framed by rinceaux and floral motifs appear in other works by this master: a cabinet on stand;6 a pair of armoires;7 and the central panel of the Gole cabinet published by Ramond. 8 These reveal a common design source and an aesthetic sensibility so parallel to the present group that there is little doubt as to their origins at the Manufacture Royale des Gobelins.