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Royal Collection © Her Majesty Queen Elizabeth II
Laking FR p3,pl.1
French mid-seventeenth century rectangular ebony veneered cabinet in two stages. Fitted below the cornice with two drawers above two doors which are divided into compartments by fluted pilasters and incorporate three-dimensional figures in niches, male in the centre, female on the other side. Carved overall in low relief with nymphs, putti etc, in the frieze and with narrative scenes on the doors, some copied from illustrations of early seventeenth century novels. At either end a central relief carving is set within engraved foliate surrounds. The lower stage is fitted with three drawers carved with mythological figures and incorporating two aprons on the front is supported on two spirally turned columns below Ionic capitals, the pillars on the front elaborately carved with putti, birds and foliage. The whole rests on a rectangular platform supported in twelve bun feet. The two principal doors which are elaborately engraved on the inside with floral motifs each centred on an allegorical scene, on the right representing Anne of Austria presenting Louis XIV as a baby to Louis XIII, on the right with a kneeling Queen, hands outstretched, held in the arms of an angel, with eye in the top left corner. The cabinet is fitted with twelve drawers framing a double door enriched with spiraling Corinthian pillars carved with foliage and putti. The drawer fronts carved with pastoral scenes. Below the drawers are three slides inlaid for games (backgammon, draughts, etc.). The drawers are veneered on the inside and the centre drawer of the bottom register is fitted with a secret compartment. The inner set of doors opens to reveal an architectural conceit, veneered with exotic woods and engraved ivory and fitted with spirally turned gilt bronze columns and plaques of figures in relief. The doors on the inside are elaborately veneered and the architectural stage set incorporates watercolour by Clérisseau of Roman ruins.
Cabinets of this type - veneered all over with ebony and elaborately carved in low relief - were among the grandest pieces of furniture made in Paris in the first half of the seventeenth century. The French word to describe cabinet-making - ébénisterie (ebony work) - derives from precisely this use of costly ebony veneers, and on the best examples, such as this one, perhaps by Pierre Golle (c.1620-84), enormous care and attention were lavished. Even the insides of the drawers are veneered and inlaid with elaborate geometric designs, and among the interior fittings are chess and backgammon boards and a number of concealed drawers.
The carved decoration is partly based on the engraved illustrations of two popular early seventeenth-century French novels, 'L'Ariane' (1632) by Jean Desmarets de Saint Sorlin and 'L'Endymion' (1624) by Jean Ogier Gombauld. Among the additional scenes portrayed are two which include the infant Louis XIV, his parents Louis XIII and Anne of Austria, and Cardinal Richelieu. How and when this seemingly royal cabinet came to England is not known: perhaps it was a gift from Louis XIV to his first cousin Charles II; alternatively it might have come via Louis XIV's childless sister-in-law. Liselotte, Duchess of Orléans, to her Hanoverian cousins. It was certainly in George III's collection at St James's Palace - the feet were replaced in 1765 by the cabinet-maker John Bradburn (TNA LC 9/313). A set of gouaches of classical ruins by C.-L. Clérisseau (1721-1820) was added to the interior at a later date, either for George III or George IV.