This antique chest dates from the period when chests or coffres were
often the main items of furniture in French households. A true "multi-tasker,” a chest functioned as bed, table, and
seat while holding all manner of worldly goods. This versatility as well as a chest’s portability have ensured popularity to
this day while giving birth to other forms of furniture such as the armoire (a chest turned on its end so that the lid swings outward as a
door) the cathedra chair (a low, narrow chest with a tall, carved back added), and the two-piece cabinet or bahut deux corps (two chests
laying on their sides and stacked on top of one another).
This particular chest has its origins in northern France and dates from the 17th century. Originally, it had an iron lock that was likely melted down for armaments during
wartime but replaced with a handsome, and perhaps patriotically motivated,
fleur-de-lys cartouche. Miraculously, the other hand-forged iron elements, such as the side handles and the
hinges for the top, remain in place.
It is likely that the acanthus leaf frieze around the base was added later, and the top appears to be a replacement, albeit from old wood. Inside, the bottom
panel has been completely replaced to give the chest’s structure greater stability and load-bearing capabilities.
The two front panels of bas relief carving display traditional design elements from the time of
Louis XIII such as the cornucopia, sheaves of wheat and flowering plants. These agricultural motifs had gradually replaced
the gothic arches, rosettes and fenestrage characteristic of chests of earlier periods. The plis de serviette panels on the sides,
however, are typical of the gothic style. For other pieces where the fleur-de-lys is prominent, see armchair
1023 and the two-piece
Because this chest is so very old, it shows its age
in numerous dents, splits, and other imperfections
accumulating over the three-plus centuries of
its existence. More of a museum piece
than most of what we offer, its resilience and
survival speak volumes about the creativity
and durability of works of art doubling as furniture
down through the ages.
Rousseau, Francis, Le Grand Livre des Meubles (Copyright Studio, Paris,
1999); Un Temps d’Exubérance, Les Arts Décoratifs sous Louis XIII et Anne d’Autriche, Paris, Galeries Nationales du Grand Palais (Réunion
des Musées Nationaux, 2002)