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Work The Empress's Jewelry Cabinet

Department of Decorative Arts: 19th century

The Empress’s Jewelry cabinet, called the "Grand Ecrin"

© 2008 Musée du Louvre / Martine Beck-Coppola

Decorative Arts
19th century

Author(s):
Catherine Voiriot

The empress Josephine only owned this cabinet, which served as a jewelry case, for a short period of time. It was delivered to her in 1809, just before her divorce from Napoleon, and subsequently belonged to the empress Marie-Louise, the emperor's second wife. The cabinet is made of yew and purpleheart, with inlaid mother of pearl and gilt bronze. Three doors open onto the main body of the piece, which holds the drawers where the jewelry was kept.

Furniture for Josephine

This jewelry cabinet was intended for the bedchamber of the empress Joséphine (1763–1814) in the Palais des Tuileries. The bronzes conceal locks and mechanisms allowing access to the drawers and secret compartments. The secret mechanisms were changed when the cabinet was given to the empress Marie-Louise (1791–1847) in 1810. In 1812, the jewelry case was supplemented by two further pieces from the cabinetmaker François-Honoré-Georges Jacob-Desmalter, which were smaller but in the same style.

A cabinet of architectural shape

Designed after a model by the architect Charles Percier (1764–1838), the cabinet has the shape of a building standing on eight vertical legs and suppported by a rectangular base. Above the cornice rises a stylobate. A cassolette for perfumes stands on the base. The legs and cornice are made of purpleheart, while the interior of the cabinet, furnished with thirty drawers of the same wood (ten in each part of the body), are neither of purpleheart nor yew, but solid mahogany.

Lavish gilt bronze decoration

The jewelry case is lavishly decorated with elements in bronze. In the center is a scene depicting the birth of the Queen of the Earth, "to whom Cupids and Goddesses hasten to bear their offerings." Long attributed to Pierre-Philippe Thomire (1751–1843), the bronzes were probably made by the Maison Jacob-Desmalter. The model for the subject in the center was the work of the sculptor Antoine-Denis Chaudet (1763–1810), whose drawings are in the Department of Prints and Drawings of the Louvre. Lastly, on each of the side doors stands a goddess turning toward the central scene. The decoration as a whole foreshadows the ornamental excess of the late nineteenth century.

Bibliography

Alcouffe Daniel, Dion-Tenenbaum Anne, Lefébure Amaury, Le Mobilier du Musée du Louvre, t. 1, Dijon, Éditions Faton, 1993, pp. 311-313.
Dion-Tenenbaum Anne, Louvre. Les objets d'art. Le XIXe siècle. Guide du visiteur, Paris, Éditions de la Réunion des musées nationaux, 1993, pp. 22-23.
Dion-Tenenbaum Anne, notice n 284, in Louvre. Les collections, Paris, Éditions de la Réunion des musées nationaux, 1993, pp. 274.
Dion-Tenenbaum Anne, Musée du Louvre. Nouvelles acquisitions du département des Objets d'art 1990-1994, 1995, pp. 228-230.
Ledoux-Lebard Denise, Le Mobilier français du XIXe siècle, 1795-1889 : dictionnaire des ébénistes et des menuisiers, Paris, Éditions de l'Amateur, 1989, pp. 280 et 333-334.

Technical description

  • François-Honoré-Georges JACOB-DESMALTER (1770 - 1841)

    The Empress’s Jewelry cabinet, called the "Grand Ecrin"

    1809

    Paris

  • Yew, kingwood, mahogany, ebony, mother-of-pearl, gilded bronze

    H. 2.76 m; W. 2 m; D. 0.60 m

  • Provenance: the Great Bedchamber at the Palais des Tuileries, where it was used first by Joséphine, then by Marie-Louise
    Loaned by the Musée National du Château de Fontainebleau, 1964

    OA 10246

  • Decorative Arts

    Richelieu wing
    1st floor
    Finacor
    Room 73

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