Andre-Charles Boulle, an extraordinary third generation cabinet-maker to the French kings, stunned Europe with his marquetry technique which came to be known as “Boulle Work”. He was considered “the most remarkable of all French cabinet-makers” and was referred to as the most skilled craftsman of his profession in the 17thCentury.
In his workshops in the Louvre, his materials consisted of tortoiseshell, brass, pewter, mother of pearl and bone or animal horn, and then he used dark-toned woods, like ebony, kingwood and rosewood for the body of the cabinet or piece of furniture he was creating. But it was Boulle’s marquetry technique that caught the everyone’s eye.
To create his signature marquetry, Boulle developed an intricate and extremely difficult technique of sandwiching light and dark sheets of materials together, then he cut delicate inlays from this sandwich, also known as packet. The result was contrasting inlays, one being the “primary”, and the other being the “counterpart”. So the final product Boulle created was a light pattern of marquetry on a dark background and the other piece of furniture would be the opposite, a dark pattern of marquetry on a light background.
Boulle’s magnificent pieces of marquetry were inlayed into the body of the cabinet, essentially resulting in a pair of opposing cabinets. Boulle often designed a pair of cabinets for a married couple, with the husband having the “primary” marquetry and his wife having the “counterpart” marquetry. I, myself, would have insisted on the “primary” marquetry, but it’s not the 17thcentury so I could get away with that now, but I digress. Back to Monsieur Boulle…
The use of tortoise shell, is an important reference point when studying Boulle marquetry. A rare and very expensive material, tortoiseshell was chosen for its aesthetic beauty, warmth and it’s mottled 3-d affect it had on the eye and was particularly apt for using with ebony and the other exotic woods.
I have a stunning pair of examples of this type of Boulle marquetry arriving in my showroom from our studio in France this summer. The two opposing cabinets are shown here, and are as rare as they are spectacular. For a private viewing, please contact me at isabellashaus.com.
Thanks for joining me and Andre-Charles Boulle! More to come on future blogs.
Bye for now!