Marie Antoinette's desk

You may remember an apartment I featured awhile back that belonged to my friend Henry, HERE. Henry is interested in the age of enlightenment and in the arts of the time period; remember his visit to Versailles where he shared some of his pictures of the beautiful woodwork? He was kind enough to put together a post for me about a recent piece he saw that he thought we would all enjoy. Here is a delightful Louis XVI writing table I discovered at the National Gallery of Art. Superstar cabinetmaker Jean Henri Riesener made the table for Marie Antoinette in 1785. The table was at the Tuileries Palace, where the royal couple lived three years until their guillotine visit in 1793. The table is a perfect example of the Louis XVI style. It is symmetrical and rectilinear; and outlined in gilt bronze rope beading. A parquetry trellis pattern covers the tabletop, fenced three-quarters by a gilt bronze gallery.On the table’s sides, gilt bronze bas-relief putti play musical instruments in the clouds, flanked by “grills” of alternating palmettes and fluting. Two-toned parquetry echoing the tabletop edge lends depth to the tapered legs, which terminate in gilt bronze leaf-cast sabots. In a candlelit palace, the elegant table would shimmer in delicate golden outline. Louis XVI and Marie Antoinette idealized virtue, simplicity and reason. They associated these ideals with the ancient Romans. In furniture design, Roman motifs like fluting, putti and acanthus leaves symbolized these ideals. The symbolism was ironic in the context of the controversially lavish royal lifestyle. Marie Antoinette’s writing table (Widener Collection 1942.9.407) is on display in Basement Gallery 11 at the National Gallery of Art in Washington, D.C.

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