Wednesday, August 27, 2014

Detail of 'Anne of Austria's' solid gold chest

This chest enclosed in openwork gold casing with mainly floral decoration is referred to as being that of Anne of Austria (1601-66). Although trace of the luxurious object is found in the inventories of the Crown Collection, it did not appear in the inventory following the queen's death. The origin of the chest is therefore uncertain. It is nonetheless a very rare example of the sumptuousness of seventeenth-century Parisian goldsmiths' work.

A chest decorated with gold filigree

The chest stands on four lion's paws on circular pads. The lid is slightly domed and the piece has a gold handle at each end. The front face is fitted with a lock. Consisting of a wooden case entirely covered with blue satin, the chest has openwork decoration, like gold netting, inspired essentially by plants. The flowers include tulips, sunflowers, and French marigolds arranged harmoniously in luxuriant foliage and stem patterns. The blue satin is visible through the openwork decoration.

An essentially floral style

The very realistic floral decoration is reminiscent of work by Parisian goldsmiths in the 1660s, but the broad, serrate leaves and large flowers recall the engravings in the Livre des fleurs of the goldsmith François Lefèbvre, engraved by Balthazar Moncornet and published in Paris in 1635. These engravings incorporate floral elements in a more stylized, more abstract range, close to the goldsmiths Roberday or Delabarre and linked more to the period 1640-50. The chest seems to belong to an intermediate trend between the unrealistic plant style of 1625-35 and the naturalistic floral style of the 1660s. It is the only one of its kind today and may be the work of goldsmiths working at the Louvre, such as Ballin, Delabarre, or Gravet.

Uncertain origin

The origin of the chest has raised many questions. An anonymous note found inside it in 1830 and now lost suggested that the piece had been given to Anne of Austria by Mazarin. The chest appears in the inventory of the crown jewels in 1784, an estimate for restoration concerns it in 1784, and further mention of it is found in the general inventory of the Garde-Meuble (Furniture Store). It is unlikely to have belonged to Anne of Austria, since it does not appear in the inventory compiled after her death. However, it could have been given to Marie-Thérèse by Louis XIV on the occasion of their wedding in 1660. The chest could also be the one ordered in 1676 by Louis XIV to house the king's precious stones (a hoard of gems, mounted or not, that was added to regularly for diplomatic presents). In spite of these uncertainties, the chest in the Louvre exemplifies the taste for filigree and for gold objects that was widespread at the court of France.

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