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About This Artwork
Oak, tortoiseshell, brass, pewter, ebony, and gilt-bronze mounts
44.5 x 73 x 48.3 cm (17 1/2 x 28 3/4 x 19 in.)
Michael A. Bradshaw and Kenneth S. Harris, Eloise W. Martin, Richard T. Crane, Jr., Memorial, and European Decorative Arts Purchase funds; through prior acquisitions of Mrs. C. H. Boissevain in memory of Henry C. Dangler, Kate S. Buckingham Endowment, David Dangler, Harold T. Martin, and Katherine Field-Rodman, 2001.54
Although not all treasure chests are as beautiful as their contents, this coffer, designed by André-Charles Boulle to protect precious jewels, textiles, or documents, is surely equal in allure to the items it once held. It is made of oak, veneered with tortoiseshell, ebony, and gilt bronze in elaborate arabesque patterns, a marquetry technique that Boulle perfected. Specifically, this is an example of what is called première partie (first part) boulle marquetry, in which the metal decoration is inlaid on a tortoiseshell ground; the reverse technique is referred to as contre-partie (counterpart).
The center of the front panel and the two side panels feature youthful faces which may represent Apollo, the Greco-Roman god of light and poetry, often associated with the Sun King, Louis XIV, who ruled France from 1643 to 1715. By contrast, on the lid of the casket a bearded satyr-like face grimaces. Two long-necked cranes are mounted on the front of the coffer, while the mounts on the back of the panel feature a pair of lions with voluminous manes. Cranes are symbols of vigilance, and lions are guardians of treasure, making both appropriate motifs for a coffer that might have contained jewels, costly textiles, or important papers.
— About This Object, European Decorative Arts LaunchPad app