About this artwork
The inventive lyre shape of this secretary, surmounted by three stepped drawers and supported by griffins, identifies it as an elaborate, complex case form made in Vienna during the Napoleonic era. The upper half of the front falls forward to serve as a writing surface revealing interior compartments, drawers, and shelves. The secretary shares characteristics with the Empire style developed in France, a bolder and more severe expression of the Neoclassical interest in ancient Greek and Roman art. Though craftsmen throughout Europe studied French handbooks detailing new designs, models were not merely imitated; this example was made with materials and techniques typical of Viennese workshops. Its form has no direct source in antiquity, although the lyre shape and abundant decorative details—griffins, cornucopias, paw feet, and interior caryatid figures—are familiar classical motifs. The variety of woods, selected to create contrast between light areas and dark borders, matches the pastiche of decorative forms. Vienna was a major European design center in the early nineteenth century, and this desk type enjoyed wide popularity. Production continued throughout the ensuing Biedermeier era, into the 1840s.
- Fall-Front Desk
- Various woods and gilt-bronze mounts
- The upper left drawer signed at rear and also fitted lower right drawer: CP ET F. Impressed stamp at rear left side and on base: COMPOS´E PAR C. PERCIER ET PFL FONTAINE MDCCCXII.
- 141 × 91.4 × 39.4 cm (55 1/2 × 36 × 15 in.)
- Gift of the Centennial Fund; Mrs. Burton W. Hales, Mrs. William O. Hunt, Jessie Spaulding Landon, Mrs. Harold T. Martin, Adelaide Ryerson, Mrs. E. Hall Taylor, Mrs. Chester D. Tripp, and Mrs. Philip K. Wrigley funds