M. Markley Antiques
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For more information about the history of armoires, scroll down below the photo gallery.
Château des Bois CollectionTM of French antique furniture contains armoires
dating from the 18th to the 20th centuries in Renaissance, Henri II, Louis XIII
and Louis XIV styles in solid oak or walnut.
The collection includes a pair of matching bibliothèques or
library cabinets with glass
doors as well as a monumental Louis XIV armoire made in Provence in the 18th
century. Like their Medieval ancestors,
these armoires are wonderfully versatile and command attention in whatever room
they are found.
centuries, armoires have commanded pride of place in French homes, treasured
for their imposing presence and their ample storage capacity. Like most categories of furniture, the
armoire traces its ancestry to the chest, from a time as far back as the Dark
Ages when some clever French person turned a chest on its end and shoved it
against a wall so that the lid would swing open as a door. The modern term "armoire" comes from
the Latin word "armorium," or the chest that was used by Roman soldiers
to store arms. From a cultural standpoint, this conversion
from chest to armoire signals the beginning of a less nomadic and more
prosperous lifestyle in which people no longer limited their furniture choices
to whatever they could carry on their backs.
war, pestilence, floods and crime as the common denominators of European
existence for centuries, the armoire played a pivotal role in storing and
protecting the possessions of its owner.
In this context, it is important to remember that until the 19th century
industrialization of the textile business, items such as rugs, tapestries,
curtains, clothing, tablecloths and bedding were extremely expensive and
comprised the most valuable possessions of a household. Therefore a richly carved and massive
armoire was a fitting repository to preserve and protect these trappings of
Gothic and Renaissance times, the armoire was less popular than its cousin,
also descended from the chest, the bahut-deux-corps or two-piece cabinet. Beginning with the reign of King Louis XIII
in the 17th century, armoires reasserted
their dominance as the premiere category of furniture with bold designs
featuring raised diamond patterns, Maltese crosses and other geometric
shapes. Louis XIV's reign saw the
development of the largest armoires in walnut with massive architectural
mouldings at top and bottom. Because of
their solid and sturdy construction, many of these survive to this day,
particularly in Southern France.
our armoires date from the 19th century when France was swept by a passion for
the revival of past styles such as Gothic, Renaissance (Henri II), Louis XIII
and Louis XIV, leading to
re-interpretations of the armoire for contemporary use. This gave rise to ingenious methods of
construction so that armoires could be taken apart and re-assembled in rooms
whose small doorways would not otherwise admit these giants. Craftsmen employed stylistic elements
characteristic of the earlier periods such as columns, mythological creatures,
and intricately carved vegetation. It
was also the time when the bibliothèque or armoire with glass doors became
popular for libraries and offices.
recent visit to France, a young woman told us of the huge Louis XIV era armoire
in the living room of her family's fifth floor apartment in central Paris and
how it was a treasured member of the family.
We asked if it was a problem moving it and she responded that she did
not know - it had been in the same place for over 200 years! Such is the reverence and affection reserved
for armoires in France that, although they are rare, we are able to find them so beautifully preserved.
In the U.S., the armoire has enjoyed a Renaissance of its own, including conversion into an "entertainment center" or the home for a wide-screen television. This has led to a scarcity of the larger pieces of particularly solid construction with ample interior space.