Wednesday, August 27, 2014

A Jewelry Cabinet for two Empress's 1809

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.

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