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Work Flat desk

Department of Decorative Arts: 18th century: rococo

Bureau plat (large writing-table)

© 2010 RMN / Jean-Gilles Berizzi

Decorative Arts
18th century: rococo

Author(s):
Barbier Muriel

Charles Cressent was unique among his fellow cabinetmakers. He had received training as a sculptor and took over the workshop of a cabinetmaker whose widow he married. A key eighteenth-century artist, Cressent played a crucial role in the birth of rocaille in France. This desk reveals his command of his art in the areas of both form and technique. Here the sculptor fully expressed himself, especially in the gilt bronze.

Flat desks

Flat desks, a brainchild of the creative André Charles Boulle, first appeared in the years 1710-15. Large flat desks became one of Charles Cressent's specialties right from the outset of his career. Like this example, a desk of this type comprises a large, rectangular top with rounded corners protected by leather quarter rounds. To fulfill their utilitarian role, they were covered with velvet or leather; the top of the Louvre model is in leather. Curved legs hold up the apron, which has a lively line and two, three, or five drawers. The Louvre desk has five drawers, three large and two small. The latter are concealed behind gilt bronze river-heads. To accompany these flat desks, Cressent proposed several kinds of pendulum paperweights. The Louvre desk had a paperweight, but only the upper part remains, surmounted by a figure of Diana and flanked by two groups depicting a boar and a stag, each being attacked by a dog.

The veneer

Cressent used a crossband veneer to make this desk, a cabinetmaking technique that uses the wood's grain as a decorative feature. Here Cressent chose a herring-bone pattern, using it to underscore the desk's structure. The artist often used a satinwood veneer framed by darker amaranth. The Louvre desk features both kinds of wood. The bronze stands out against the amaranth.

The bronze

Cressent attached a great deal of importance to bronze decoration. His large flat desks are always ornamented with ten bronze motifs, in addition to the narrow strips framing the drawers and protecting the top and legs. These patterns are distributed along the apron: four female busts at the top of the legs, called "espagnolettes", smiling and gracefully turning their heads. They bring to mind the elegant figures in Watteau's "fêtes galantes". Two smiling or menacing faces in the middle of the small sides are set inside cartouches that are already rocaille; bearded river-heads or croziers adorn the middle of the large sides. On the Louvre desk, the rivers seem to spring from a broad acanthus leaf concealing the small drawers. These very graceful, finely chased bronze details recall Cressent's training as a sculptor and are free from the excesses of rocaille.

Bibliography

Alcouffe D., Dion-Tennenbaum A., Lefebure A., Le mobilier du musée du Louvre, t.1, Dijon, Editions Faton, 1993, p 118 - 123.Pradere A., Les ébénistes français de Louis XV à la Révolution, Paris, Editions Le Chêne, 1989, p 129.

Technical description

  • Charles CRESSENT (Amiens, 1685 - Paris, 1768)

    Bureau plat (large writing-table)

    C. 1740

    Paris

  • Satinwood and kingwood veneer; gilded bronze

    H. 0.85 m; W. 2.06 m; D. 0.95 m

  • Assigned from the Mobilier National, 1870 , 1870

    OA 5521

  • Decorative Arts

    Sully wing
    1st floor
    Marquise de Pompadour
    Room 604

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