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Work Armoire (wardrobe)

Department of Decorative Arts: 17th century

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Armoire

© Musée du Louvre, dist. RMN / Martine Beck-Coppola

Decorative Arts
17th century

Author(s):
Muriel Barbier

From 1672, André Charles Boulle enjoyed the privilege of having a workshop at the Louvre, where he brought the technique named after him, but which he did not invent, to its most accomplished heights. In the seventeenth century Boulle was already very successful, delivering several pieces of furniture to the Royal Furniture Repository. This monumental wardrobe attributed to him is built of a single chest, a technique Boulle was among the first to use. It is a majestic testament to his genius.

The armoires of André Charles Boulle

Armoires (wardrobes) made of a single chest and two large doors were one of Boulle's specialties. This was a new kind of furniture in the early eighteenth century; until then, wardrobes had been built of two superimposed chests and four doors. The top of this one is formed by an entablature featuring a seashell-decorated arch in the middle and a sloping dome. The wardrobe has two large doors encrusted with Boulle marquetry and gilt bronze. However, the seat rail and legs are gone, replaced by an ebony-veneer plinth trimmed with narrow strips of brass, perhaps by the cabinetmaker Jean-Henri Riesener in 1784, the date given in his stamp. The drawing for this wardrobe is in the Musée des Arts Décoratifs in Paris. A similar armoire is in the Wallace Collection in London. Several other wardrobes by Boulle (or attributed to him, like this one) are known, including one combining polychrome wood marquetry, one with Boulle marquetry, and a pair. All three are in the Louvre.

"Partie" and "contre-partie"

Boulle combined "partie" and "contrepartie" marquetry in this wardrobe. Marquetry "en partie" (light on dark, in this case brass arabesques fitted into a tortoiseshell ground) is in the center of the front and the sides; marquetry "en contrepartie" (dark colors against a light ground, here tortoiseshell scrolls on brass), trimmed with tin, covers the edges around the doors and the three sides of the base. The compartments on the doors and sides are decorated with foliage, scrolls, and cascading flowers, in inlaid brass and blue-colored horn.

Gilt bronze decoration

Boulle's workshop was in the Louvre, meaning that he enjoyed royal protection and was able to practice two trades simultaneously. He made his own bronzes, a privilege that under the strict guild rules of the time would have been impossible for any other cabinetmaker. In this wardrobe he beautifully combined marquetry and bronze. The doors are decorated with hunting, fishing, and gardening trophies that seem bound together by tortoiseshell foliage scrolls. Putti atop both doors hold the brass- and horn-inlaid panel. Boulle personally designed his bronze prototypes, sometimes using the same patterns for several different pieces of furniture. His well-known, highly inventive drawings are typical of the ornamental vocabulary of the late Louis XIV style and ushered in the "régence" style.

Bibliography

Alcouffe D., Dion-Tennenbaum A., Lefebure A., Le mobilier du Louvre, t.1, Dijon, Editions Faton, 1993, p 80-83.Pradere A., Les ébénistes français de Louis XV à la Révolution, Paris, Editions Le Chêne, 1989, p 67.

Technical description

  • Attributed to André-Charles BOULLE (Paris, 1642 - Paris, 1732)

    Armoire

    C. 1710

    Paris

  • Ebony veneer; marquetry of brass, pewter, tortoiseshell and horn; gilded bronze

  • Provenance: Grand Cabinet of Thierry de Ville d’Avray, Intendant General of the Meubles de la Couronne at the Hôtel du Garde-Meuble, Place Louis XV.
    Assigned from the Mobilier National, 1870

    OA 5441

  • Decorative Arts

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Additional information about the work

Stamp of Jean-Henri Riesener.