tall, narrow cabinet is referred to in French as a half-armoire or, in French,
as an homme-debout or bonnetière.
Regardless of which French term is employed, the homme-debut and
bonnetière represent artisan furniture made on commission and were not produced
in industrial quantities.
From a generic standpoint, a tall slim cabinet having a single door is referred to as
a half-armoire and is, literally, half the width of the standard, double-doored
armoire. Depending on the region and
the folklore involved, it appears that some half-armoires were referred to as
an homme-debout or standing man. Some
believe the origin of the term lies in the Vendée region when, during the
French Revolution, armed men were hidden away between battles. At some point along the way, the
homme-debout became more closely associated with a design involving a single
door at top and bottom separated by a single drawer. Legend has it that the drawer was hollowed out
to fool people into thinking it was not an homme-debout but used to conceal the
Chouans, Royalist insurgents in the regions of the Loire, Brittany, and
Normandy. At the same time, it appears
that the designation bonnetière was kept for the version with the single
door. Its function was to hold the
elaborate and unique headdresses warn by women in regions of France such as the
Dauphiné, Périgord, the Vendée, Brittany and Normandy on special occasions but
stored on wooden molds in the half-armoire when not in use.
This piece appears to combine the best of both worlds - a single door above a single
drawer at the base. Made of solid oak,
it boasts a wonderful display of Gothic design elements, which is very unusual
since a half-armoire is more closely associated with regional furniture styles.
The beautifully sculpted Gothic tracery or fenestrage comprising this piece is
somewhat restrained and is limited to the front; the sides are unadorned. The single door is divided into two main
panels. The top panel is larger and
rectangular in shape. While its central
ogee arch attracts the eye, it is unusual that the background is made up of
four lancet arches that start and stop in their journey from bottom to
top. Within the ogee arch, which is
subdivided into two rounded arches made up of two lancet arches each, the
ornamentation is simple and the beauty of the wood is in full display. The ogee arch has two crockets on each side,
small and intricately carved representations of vegetation.
The square design comprising the bottom of the door is more evocative of a
cathedral's rose window in its circular design but is restrained in detail,
letting the beauty of the oak shine through.
The drawer at the base is decorated with triangular shapes mimicking the
X-shaped patterns of the frieze above the door. Uniting the design from top to bottom are elongated lancet arches
on either side of the door and of the frieze at the top.
Collection Bruno Perrier Haute Epoque (Catalog for Sale at Auction on April 6,
1992 at the Hôtel Drouot, Paris); Boccador, Jacqueline, Le Mobilier Français du
Moyen Age à la Renaissance, Editions d'Art Monelle Hayot
(Saint-Just-en-Chaussée, 1988); Thirion, Jacques, Le Mobilier du Moyen Age et
de la Renaissance en France (Editions Faton, Dijon, 1998); Viollet-le-Duc,
Eugène, Le Mobilier Médiéval (Georges Bernage, editor) (Editions Heimdal, 2003).