evokes the medieval tradition of the troubadour – and the style of early 19th
century French Gothic Revival furniture named for him – as nothing else we have offered. We love that the Troubadour Style sprang from
musicians of the Middle Ages in the south of France or the Languedoc where the
word for yes was oc and not the oui of more northern climes where the musicians
were referred to as trouvères. The
origin of the term troubadour is shrouded in mystery, not to mention academic
quarrelling and so we won’t go there.
Suffice it to say that the troubadours, and the songs they composed
about love and chivalry, spread like wildfire around Europe, from castle to
castle. The intimacy of the performances
and the romance invoked by the subject matter led to vast numbers of
compositions and the first attempts outside the sacred repertoire to preserve
melodies and words with musical notation.
So ingrained in the French cultural memory were the troubadours that their name was given to a
style of painting, architecture, and decorative arts harking back to the styles
of the Middle Ages and seeking to create an ambience of that earlier time. An early 19th century precursor to the later
Gothic Revival in France, the Troubadour Style was less concerned with
orthodoxy of design elements and more focused on creating the human, even the
romantic, aspects of the earlier time, much as Sir Walter Scott created with
This cabinet reflects the hallmark of the Troubadour style, emphasizing the human aspect over
the ornamentation. Rather than panels of
elaborate tracery, the two main figures – the musician and the lady – are the
focus of the piece. Each is seated. The female figure on the left door panel
wears the traditional hennin or cone-shaped hat of the Middle Ages below which long braids dangle. Her robes billow around her as she turns
toward the musician on the right door panel.
Her faithful hound is by her side.
Both seem transfixed by the music of the troubadour, who is playing a
long-necked Renaissance lute (or possibly a cittern). What is the troubadour
singing? Are his poetry and music in
praise of the lady? How should we
imagine this tableau unfolds?
Capturing a moment in time, this engaging little scene pulls us viewers into spaces framed
by a broad ogive arch, crowned as in the flamboyant Gothic tradition, by a
stylized flame. Within these arches are
smaller ones cascading downward to frame the figures themselves, as if in the
great hall of a medieval castle. Perhaps
the revelers have just enjoyed a sumptuous meal of game from the local lands
and a sip or two of Malbec, the black wine of Cahors, so prized that it was
served at the wedding of Eleanor of Aquitaine to Henry of Anjou (later King
Henry II of England) at Poitiers in 1152.
In keeping with the early 19th century approach to Troubadour style, this cabinet places more
focus on the figures and the story than on the architectural detail but still
offers several intriguing aspects. For
example, the frieze below the top, including the two drawers, has bits of
tracery with a rosette in the middle.
Very unusual are the two drawer handles left as outcroppings or oriels
after the front of each drawer was carved away.
With their ornate, sloping tops they remind us of Emperor Maximilian I’s
rectangular outcropping with the gold-colored roof, dating from 1500, which
remains the symbol of his rule as Habsburg Emperor and of the city of Innsbruck
where his court was headquartered.
Viewing tournaments from this perch, Maximilian continued the traditions
of chivalry born in Languedoc and influencing Renaissance composers such as his
personal tunesmith from Flanders, Josquin des Prez.
Gothic style finials frame either side of the cabinet, tall and slim with a richness of
architectural detail. The magnificent
patina we see on the finials is reflected elsewhere on the cabinet, contrasting
the dark crevices of detail and the lighter surface of the oak.
Jacqueline, Le Mobilier Français du Moyen Age à la Renaissance, Editions d'ArtMonelle Hayot (Saint-Just-en-Chaussée, 1988); Faton-Boyancé, Jeanne (Ed.), 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)