Luxury Design, Past & Present
The superb colour of the walnut and the excellent proportions of the carved detail on this antique French Louis XV period chest of drawers or "commode en arbalète" give this example of excellent French cabinet making its desirable appeal. Please be sure to enlarge and zoom on the photographs to see the details that distinguish this French walnut chest. The term arbalette (English spelling) refers to the shape of a crossbow with its centre section for the hand flanked by curved sections that flare outward to each end. In order to achieve this shape across the entire front section of this chest the cabinet maker used all of his considerable skill to create a uniform and pleasing profile. Of course the luminous quality of the walnut is shown off to best advantage when it is cut and polished to reflect light across the grain in the manner of an "arbalète". Interestingly the French term for what Americans call a chest of drawers is a "commode" after the French word "commodité" which means comfortable or luxurious. Both of the front corners on the commode are curved as is each front corner of the top in keeping with the arbalette profile. Take a look at the front legs as they are beautifully shaped in a modified cabriole accented with raised moulding and taper to a bold "pied de biche" known as the foot of a deer or doe. The elegantly raised foot elevates the entire chest in a graceful way so prized in the France of Louis XV. The curved apron has an important element that demonstrates the Rococo period design. Set slightly off centre between the two legs on this commode notice that the elaborately carved scallop shell is located more to the left side in true rococo fashion. The ruffled edges that flank the shell showcase more of the skill of the cabinetmaker as does the cross hatch design set in relief. All three drawers feature gilt bronze hardware with rampant lions securing the drop handles. Lions, the King of the Animals, were often associated with royalty scross Europe and the image of a lion used on a piece of furniture often denoted an aristocratic connection. The ormolu hardware also includes the shield shaped escutcheons (lock plate covers) set in the centre of each drawer. When enlarged the photograph shows a portrait bust at the base of each escutcheon similar to those seen during the reign of Louis XIV (1643-1715). The left and right sides of the chest feature a recessed panel of walnut framed by moulding with an arch top. The apron along each side has a gentle curved edge with a carved scallop shell set in the centre. The luscious walnut used on every visible surface of this antique Louis XV commode is a testament to the owner's discerning eye and insistence on the best available design and craftsmanship.