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The majestic and baroque Louis XIV style with its solemn and heroic classicism was clearly a royal style, triumphant in its stately elegance. It reached its resplendent maturity around 1685-90, under the aegis of Charles Le Brun, the famous artist who decorated the Galerie des Glaces in the Château de Versailles, and Colbert, who purchased the Gobelins manufactory for the Crown and organised it under the title of Manufacture Royale des Meubles de la Couronne to produce the most magnificent furniture and furnishings for the interiors of the royal houses. For a short period, Versailles was decorated with silver furniture made at the Gobelins, which, however, was soon melted down.

The craftman Boulle’s great work, which reflects the mature taste of Louis XIV, adopted the ideal style of Le Brun – a style of stately and ponderous solemnity saturated with reminiscences of classical Rome. This famous craftman gave his name to a specific technic called “Boulle”, which is a peculiar kind of inlaid or veneered work composed of tortoiseshell and thin brass, to which other metals, enamel, and ivory are sometimes added. The play of light upon the surface and the variety of curvature commonly found in different parts of the piece of furniture are admirably adapted to show off to advantage the rich materials employed. Cabinets, armoires, bureaux plats, coffres de mariage mounted on stands, and from which the serre-bijoux was derived, commodes, pendulum clocks, pedestals, and mirrors were favorite subjects for Boulle marquetry. Boulle work has always been and is still regarded as the supreme expression of the Louis XIV style. The admirable unity existing between the bronze mounts and the marquetry has never been surpassed. At the end of the seventeenth and early eighteeth century the compositions of Boulle marquetry were often in the style of the great ornamentist Jean Bérain, who, together with Pierre Lepautre, infused a new vivacity into their decorative designs, which “released” French art from Le Brun’s solemn classicism and put it on the way to Régence.

No piece of furniture embodies the characteristics of the Louis XIV style and of the period itself more than the stately upholstered armchair with its air of imposing strength and immobility. Contributing to its greatness is the raked, rectangular upholstered back showing no wood and of excessive height to frame the lofty headdresses, the seat almost big enough for two, the great wooden down-curving arms invariably terminating into a wide volute and the legs solidly joinded with a heavy H- or X-form stretcher. The legs are tapering baluster-shaped, sometimes pedestal-shaped, and very often scroll-shaped.

Equally characteristic of the Louis XIV period are the monumental beds having four tall posts (lit à colonne), their wood frames covered with fabric and their several sets of hangings that served as a guarantee against drafts. Since beds were regarded as perhaps the most convincing of all signs of wealth, the selection of stuffs bordered on extravagance.

Carved and gilt wood console and side tables with marble tops became the pieces under the Bourbon monarchs in which decorative richness displayed itself with the greatest abundance and at times even extravagant excess.

Tall and elaborately carved gilt wood guéridons, also called torchères, were often designed en suite with the gilded console tables and mirrors. The original model had a small round top, a central standard, and three or occasionally four splayed feet to make it firm and steady.

Nevertheless, of all the new furniture introduced at this time, the commode, or chest of drawer, was destined to have the most brilliant career. Making its debut around 1690, the commode was generally designed with either two or three rows of drawers.

Also of rectangular plan are the great Louis XIV armoires, with two long paneled doors, characterized by a projecting cornice which is almost always horizontal and displays a complicated style of moldings.

The Louis XIV style rapidly crumbled away in the closing years of the seventeenth century as a new style, seen in the work of such ornamentists as Jean Bérain, under the influence of the nascent rococo, began to evolve considerably before the death of the grand monarck in 1715.

Learn about each era:

> Middle Ages

> Renaissance and Louis XIII
> Louis XIV
> Régence
> Louis XV
> Transition and Louis XVI
> Directoire
> Empire
> XIXth century
> Art Nouveau
> The Modern Movement


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