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Cabinet

© 1990 RMN / Daniel Arnaudet

Decorative Arts
17th century

Author(s):
Barbier Muriel

Parisian 'cabinetmakers working in ebony' in the first half of the seventeenth century developed a piece of furniture which was based on Flemish and German cabinets. Their method was quite different, but the element of surprise remained unchanged: as in the theater, the cabinet concealed a sumptuous scene behind a sober exterior. In the same way, cabinets veneered with ebony on the outside opened up to reveal creations of precious materials on the inside.

The Parisian ebony cabinet

Always large in scale, cabinets of this kind stand on an independent but matching support of eight legs. In the Louvre example, the pilasters which form the back legs and the columns of the front ones rest on a wide base supported by flattened boule feet. This base supports a top which has a band of drawers. The upper part has two leaves with slightly raised carvings surmounted by a projecting ledge. The ebony cabinet is a highly architectural piece of furniture resulting from a combination of German and French Renaissance influences. An abundant bas-relief decoration can be seen in the ebony. The use of this wood gave its name to the corporation of 'cabinetmakers working in ebony' which, in the early eighteenth century, gave rise to the French term "ébénistes". Its black color gives the furniture quite a sober look, but this conceals a whole set of drawers on the inside which also have an ebony veneer as well as miniature trompe-l'oeil decorations. Cabinets were to be found in the room of the same name, at the end of a series of linked apartments into which only close friends or relatives or honored guests were admitted.

The ornamentation

The bas-reliefs illustrate the virtues and scenes from Roman history and mythology. The two leaves are surrounded by a carved frame and wavy moldings and represent, on the left, Horatius Cocles defending the Sublician Bridge in Rome against the army of the Etruscan king, Lars Porsena; and, on the right, the companions of Horatius Cocles cutting down the bridge. At the corners of these two scenes are, on the left, Faith, Hope, Temperance, and Justice; and, on the right, Charity, Prudence, Fortitude, and Innocence. On either side is a niche with statuettes of Mars and Minerva. Underneath these scenes, at the level of the frieze, are five bas-reliefs illustrating episodes from military campaigns. The backs of the large leaves are carved with landscapes surrounded by flowers and moldings. Inside, on the surfaces of the twenty drawers, are displayed two scenes from the story of Apollo and some children playing with marine creatures. Also inside is a landscape of artificial rocks dotted with shells and small houses made of paper.

A group of cabinets

The cabinet belongs to a set which probably came from the same workshop and is characterized by the quality of its carvings, the way the styles of decoration on the exterior are broken up by columns and pilasters, and the presence of ronde-bosse statuettes (carved in the round rather than in relief). The nine other cabinets in the group are scattered between Fontainebleau, Serrant and Écouen (France), New York and San Francisco (USA), Windsor (UK), Amsterdam (Netherlands), St. Petersburg (Russia), and one private collection. The Louvre cabinet is probably the oldest of the group. It is likely that this furniture was made in the workshop of the cabinetmakers Adriaan Garbrand and his son-in-law Pierre Gole, who were of Dutch extraction but established in the Faubourg Saint-Germain.

Bibliography

Exposition Un temps d'exubérance, les arts décoratifs sous Louis XIII et Anne d'Autriche, Paris, Editions de la Réunion des musées nationaux, 2002, pp. 236-237.

Alcouffe Daniel, Dion-Tenenbaum Anne, Lefébure Amaury, Le mobilier du musée du Louvre, t. 1, Dijon, Editions Faton, 1993, pp. 52-59.

Technical description

  • Paris (c. 1645)

    Cabinet

  • Oak and poplar frame; blackened fruitwood base; ebony veneer

    H. 1.84 m; W. 1.58 m; D. 0.56 m

  • Former Pierre Revoil collection, acquired in 1828

    MR R 62, OA 6629

  • Decorative Arts

    Richelieu wing
    1st floor
    Effiat
    Room 32

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