Luxury Design, Past & Present
A Louis XV period antique French walnut commode of elegant proportions, circa 1760 with its original marble top. This important commode (the French term for chest of drawers) showcases the qualities of the best hand made furniture created during the reign of Louis XV (1723-1774). Please focus on the sense of movement created by the artisan who crafted this chest. The front of the chest has a serpentine configuration as opposed to the flat facade seen on less accomplished pieces. This change in profile required great skill as the solid walnut timber boards had to be carved by hand to achieve a curved shape. A large board was required because so much had to be cut away and discarded to get to the desired balance of curved elements. Each of the two drawers have an incised line that surrounds the original gilded bronze hardware. This line technique was chosen to provide a dark outline against the luminous quality of the walnut timber and the reflective metal. Both the handles on the left and right as well as the escutcheon (lock plate) where the key was inserted to lock and unlock the chest all feature this incised line. The intricacy of the hardware is quite beautiful and adds to the luxurious feeling because of its excellent quality and the patina that is the result from hundreds of years of use as hands pulled open and pushed shut the drawers. All of the hardware has the sensuous lines of the rococo with the organic quality of nature translated into a fixed depiction. Flower blossoms, stems, leaves and vines are all arranged in a naturalistic fashion that nevertheless functions easily. Please recall that at this point in time interior illumination was limited to fires blazing in a hearth and wall sconces, candlesticks and chandeliers all holding candles. Not necessarily the beautiful slow burning smokeless candles we use today but all sorts of candles from sputtering low grade materials that produced enormous amounts of smoke and soot to the best quality that used purified wax designed to reduce the smoky, sooty quality that was much more usual. The important aspect of using bronze, both gilded and burnished, was the manner in which it caught the available light and gave a focal point to anyone seeking to use the chest who needed to grasp the handles or guide a key into one of the locks. Of course the drawers were kept locked to prevent theft of the contents which was always a risk in the eighteenth century when servants living in a household was common. You will see when looking closely that hardware from this period was attached with tiny nails whose rounded heads were worked into the design and are virtually unnoticeable. The apron beneath the lowest drawer is an integral aspect of the overall design as it possesses a beautiful curvaceous outline with a wonderful medallion placed directly in the centre. The design of this medallion features a pair of open blossoms placed facing away from each other with each having three leaves and all of it contained within a facing pair of "C" shaped scrolls. The striking aspect of this hand carving is that the entire arrangement is pierced and open from front to back. Again this was designed to be a highlight in a room with naturally produced light while now it is much more pronounced with the use of electricity to fully light a space. Flanking this central medallion on both the right and left is a flowering branch with five petal blossoms that extend out to the sides that are also carved in high relief for contrast. The apron has a gentle undulating shape along the lower front edge as well as the sides and is highlighted with the use of scrolled motif to add texture and dimension. All of the four legs are each carved from a solid piece of walnut timber that is rounded at the two front corners with an inset recessed vertical area that emphasizes the curve. This frames the two drawers before the legs descend in a graceful curve known as a "cabriole" before they end in a solid foot. The lower portion of the legs with the cabriole form are also set at a forty five degree angle that balances the body of the chest in a graceful way. The original marble top reflects the thickness used on pieces during the eighteenth century that includes chests, buffets and consoles and the warm tone of the marble was perfect with the glossy patina of the walnut.
Please notice the proportion of this chest which was designed to have an important mirror or painting placed above. A pair of gilded candelabra would have definitely provided light and there may have been a clock or porcelain displayed as well. In our time a piece of contemporary art provides an intriguing element of tension when placed above a chest from the eighteenth century.