Louis XIV embarked on grand building programs that entailed the design and manufacture of splendid sets of furniture. Emulating the lavish tastes of his mentor, Cardinal Mazarin, he acquired or commissioned a dazzling series of seventy-six wood cabinets; some were decorated with lacquer, but many displayed combinations of precious materials such as lapis lazuli, agate, marble, silver, and ivory.
wood-marquetry panels of high quality; work in the metal-marquetry technique (brass or pewter inlaid on tortoiseshell) Contrast in the treatment of colors and surfaces as well as bold and sometimes exaggerated movement, features of the Baroque style, are characteristic of the furniture produced in these craftmen’s workshops.
The practice of veneering with tortoiseshell, believed to date to the first century B.C. in Rome, underwent a tremendous revival in Europe during the seventeenth century, when the shell of the tropical seagoing turtle was applied to wood surfaces of furniture, where it often served as a ground for inlaid decorative patterns of other showy and sometimes exotic materials. The popularity of tortoiseshell veneer during this period is well illustrated by several pieces in the Museum’s collection. A tabletop designed by Pierre Gole (1986.38.1) features a combination of tortoiseshell, wood, ebony, and ivory.
Working in a large community of painters, sculptors, and artisans housed in workshops under the Grande Galerie of the Louvre, Boulle’s lodgings and workshop were near those of Jean Bérain and the clockmaker Jacques Thuret (died ca. 1738). The three craftsmen were linked by friendship and by blood:
The rising cost of Louis XIV’s unsuccessful military campaigns, which forced the king to order the destruction of his silver furniture in 1689, caused a drastic retrenchment in his expenditures for the arts. Every aspect of furniture production was affected: restrictions were imposed on the gilding of wall paneling and furniture, and the Gobelins manufactory was closed between 1694 and 1699.
The workmanship of a Boulle commode illustrated here (1982.60.82) is of high quality, exemplified in the casting and chasing of the gilt-bronze winged-sphinx corner mounts. It would appear to belong among the early workshop replicas dating from 1710 to 1715. At that time, the commode was still a relatively new type of furniture that was first produced about 1700 as a combination of a chest and a desk with drawers.