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Work Rolltop desk

Department of Decorative Arts: 18th century: neoclassicism

Secrétaire à cylindre (cylinder desk)

© Musée du Louvre/A. Dequier

Decorative Arts
18th century: neoclassicism

Muriel Barbier

Marc Antoine Thierry de Ville d'Avray was appointed Intendant Général du Garde-Meuble in May 1784. In July of the same year, he commissioned this rolltop desk for his private use from the cabinetmaker Jean-Henri Riesener. Although the design had been perfected by Jean-François Oeben some twenty years earlier, the desk is a fine example not only of Riesener's expertise but also of the vogue for certain types of furniture which lasted until the end of the Ancien Régime.

Thierry de Ville d'Avray, a discerning patron

This rolltop desk was commissioned from Jean-Henri Riesener by Marc-Antoine Thierry de Ville d'Avray, who had become general manager of the royal furniture in May 1784, on the death of his predecessor, Fontanieu. The desk was ordered in July and delivered three month's later for the large study in Thierry de Ville d'Avray's apartment in the Royal Furniture Repository (now the Admiralty). In May 1785 he sent it to the Château de Fontainebleau for his personal use; it was later used by the count of Provence. As manager of the royal furniture, Thierry de Ville d'Avray was in a good position to choose the period's most brilliant craftsman, then in his last year as royal cabinetmaker.

A lasting design

About 1760 Jean-François Oeben designed a new type of bureau: the rolltop desk. The writing area can be covered by a shutter made of flexible slats, which is rolled round a cylinder hidden behind the top tier of drawers. In the Château de Versailles is found the most famous example of this type of desk, the "bureau du roi," which was begun by Oeben and finished by Riesener. Riesener made several rolltop desks; the one for Thierrry de Ville d'Avray indicates that the Louis XV style was not yet regarded as outmoded in the 1780s. Standing on four slightly curved solid mahogany legs, the desk has an apron with five drawers, a pull-out writing surface on one side, and a roll locked with a key. As with the king's desk, the lock secures both the roll top and the drawers in the apron. The drawers in the frieze, which do not lock with a key, contain a surface that may be propped up and an escritoire made of silvered copper.

Riesener's technique and mechanism

Jean-Henri Riesener was apprenticed to Jean-François Oeben and took over his workshop when Oeben died in 1763. Riesener applied what he had learned from his master to crafting Thierry de Ville d'Avray's desk. The mechanism follows the design perfected by Oeben for his own productions. For the veneer, however, Riesener departed from his training to invent a new decorative approach. He enhanced the bird's-eye mahogany by adding fine gilt-bronze friezes to each panel. Mahogany was not widely used until the late eighteenth century, when its reddish brown color and fine grain began to be appreciated. Riesener made other rolltop desks in a more emphatically Neoclassical style, notably two writing desks for Marie Antoinette, one in the Tuileries and the other in the Château de Fontainebleau.


Alcouffe D., Dion-Tennenbaum A., Lefebure A., Le mobilier du musée du Louvre, t.1, Dijon, Editions Faton, 1993, pp. 276-279.

Pradere A., Les ébénistes français de Louis XV à la Révolution, Paris, Editions Le Chêne,1989, p. 371.

Technical description

  • Jean-Henri RIESENER (Gladebeck, near Hessen, 1734 - Paris, 1806)

    Secrétaire à cylindre (cylinder desk)



  • Oak frame; solid acajou moucheté (fiddleback mahogany); acajou moucheté veneer; gilded bronze
    Stamp of Jean-Henri Riesener

    H. 1.21 m; W. 1.58 m; D. 0.81 m

  • Provenance: commissioned in 1784 by Thierry de Ville d’Avray, Intendant General of the Meubles de la Couronne, and delivered to his Grand Cabinet at the Hôtel du Garde-Meuble de la Couronne (present-day Ministry of Marine); Cabinet of the comte de Provence, Château de Fontainebleau, in 1785. Assigned from the Mobilier National, 1901 , 1901

    OA 5160

  • Decorative Arts

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Additional information about the work

Two cabinetmakers' marks on the outside