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Work Armoire à deux corps (cupboard on chest)
Department of Decorative Arts: 17th century
Armoire à deux corps (cupboard on chest)
© 1994 RMN / Daniel Arnaudet
The carved decoration of this armoire displays unusual exuberance and virtuosity. Its structure is characteristic of French armoires of the Renaissance and the first half of the seventeenth century: two separate sections and four doors. The relief work was carved after engravings by Bartolomeus Spranger and Marten de Vos. The piece thus reveals the links between Prague artists and French artists via engraving.
This armoire consists of a recessed upper section with two carved doors and terms on either side, under which are two drawers with sea horses facing each other. The entablature is decorated with a frieze of military trophies and a modern top bearing the date 1617. The lower section has two carved doors and is surmounted by a cincture with two drawers decorated with foliated patterns. The structure with strong relief and markedly architectural features is characteristic of armoires made in the early seventeenth century.
Iconography illustrating strength and power
The reliefs on the doors are drawn from Flemish engravings. The compositions on the upper section are inspired by two engravings after Bartolomeus Spranger (1546-1611): on the left, Bellonius leading the imperial troops to victory over the Turks, a work by Jan Muller of Amsterdam dating from 1600 and dedicated to Archduke Mathias, brother of the Emperor Rudolph II; on the right, the Triumph of Wisdom over Ignorance by the Antwerp engraver Aegidius Sadeler dating from 1600-09. The two reliefs in the lower section are inspired by Adriaen Collaert's Planets series after Marten de Vos. Each planet is accompanied by a Virtue and the corresponding Age of Man. On the left Mars is shown with Virility and Caution, and on the right Jupiter appears in a cloud above an Old Man and Memory. As often, the sculptors eliminated subsidiary motifs. The subjects of these engravings can be interpreted as a eulogy to the strength and wisdom of power. As Jupiter and Mars are used to represent Rudolph II, Henri IV and Louis XIII, Bellonius and Marie de Médicis, the themes can thus apply to both the Empire and the French monarchy.
The question of where it was made
As the subjects of the engravings were eulogies of Archduke Mathias and Rudolph II, the question of the provenance of the work is of some importance. Its general appearance and the absence of marquetry make it unlikely to have been produced in southern Germany. The idea that it was made in Flanders has also been put forward, but is just as unconvincing. Very different to pieces crafted in Paris, this armoire, whose corner columns resemble the models of the Dijon joiner and architect Hugues Sambin, is closer to furniture from Franche-Comté and Burgundy, if not Avignon and Toulouse. It was probably made in eastern France, perhaps in Lyons or Dijon. However that may be, the work demonstrates the distribution and knowledge of engravings by Marten de Vos and Spranger and links between the Prague school and French artists in the early seventeenth century.
BibliographyAlcouffe Daniel, Dion-Tennenbaum Anne, Lefébure Amaury, Le Mobilier du musée du Louvre, t. 1, Paris, Éditions Faton, 1993, pp. 40-43.
Un Temps d'exubérance. Les arts décoratifs sous Louis XIII et Anne d'Autriche, Paris, Éditions de la Réunion des musées nationaux, 2002, pp. 226-227.
Armoire à deux corps (cupboard on chest)
First quarter of the seventeenth century
H. 2.51 m.; L. 1.85 m.; D. 0.8 m.
Purchased in 1828; former collection of Pierre Revoil
MR R 61
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