Armoire with four doors and sixteen profile medallions

Armoire with four doors and sixteen profile medallions

Northern France or southern Netherlands, c. 1510
Carved oak
232 x 176 x 70 cm
Acquired with the support of Michel and Hélène David-Weill, 2002
Inv. 2001.177.1
© Les Arts Décoratifs / photo: Jean Tholance

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This armoire comprises sixteen panels, expertly carved with medallions containing eight male and eight female profiles. These profile heads, wearing a variety of outlandish hats, create a harmonious decoration on the armoire. The more crudely carved scrolls surrounding them testify to the tentative introduction of Italian decorative motifs into France. This armoire represents an important milestone in the history of furniture, between the Gothic dresser and the armoire à deux corps (cupboard on chest) in the style of the School of Fontainebleau; it represents a transitional phase during which Late Gothic decorative elements such as the six joined, linenfold carved panels on the sides of the armoire occur alongside foliated scrolls, arabesques and medallions – characteristics of the early French Renaissance. Furniture items of this kind were used in sacristies or private homes. In the absence of any religious symbols or documented sources, it is difficlt to determine the secular or liturgical origin of this armoire. It was probably designed with two parts to facilitate its transportation; this would explain the unity of the two side panels which feature an uninterrupted linenfold decoration despite the separation between the upper and lower sections. Interestingly however, the lower, more massive baluster was an addition, while the iron scrollwork, unusual on furniture of this type, is original (there are no marks under the scrollwork). The best example of an armoire resembling this one is in the church of Marseille-en-Beauvaisis, in the Oise region of France, but there are similar pieces, dated to the same period, in Bruges, Liège and Brussels, and in some of the châteaux in the Loire valley.

M.B.

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