Buffet and hutch (buffet à deux corps)

Probably Paris, c. 1730
Carved waxed oak, iron
320 x 188 x 67 cm
Purchase, 1949
Inv. 36189
© Les Arts Décoratifs

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The buffet, whose form derived from the armoire à deux corps (cupboard on chest), is distinguished from the latter by its two parts of different heights – a lower part at elbow height with a projecting ledge, and a far more elaborate upper part. Specifically designed for dining rooms, it was made of solid walnut or oak for greater sturdiness, with a simple molding matching the door panels. In the wealthiest homes, the buffet was sometimes an impressive piece with richly carved decoration highlighting the role of the sculptor. It was intended to hold the most precious tableware, and could also display it to advantage when the doors were opened; in his Art du Menuisier (1771), André-Jacob Roubo described the upper part of the buffet as follows: “it contains three or four shelves at the most, on which the plates and dishes are placed, together with other items needed for laying the table; as these dishes are sometimes luxury items, or made of a precious and fragile material such as porcelain, for example, they are placed upright on the shelves.” The front edge of the shelves is curved, “so that their full width is at their ends, and they can easily hold piles of plates.” Carpenters invented a specific system to serve the display purpose of this kind of buffet: doors that fold back in two parts, so that the flaps can open against the sides. This particular buffet does not have doors of that kind as it must originally have been fitted into wood paneling and admired for its outstanding carved decoration rather than its contents. This expressly commissioned decoration frames the client’s monogram, contained in rococo cartouches in the center of the upper doors. Above the cartouches, high-relief busts of Minerva and Diana, surrounded by their respective attributes, are accompanied by trophies evoking hunting and the sciences. These busts resemble espagnolettes – female busts of theater characters that appeared in the early eighteenth century and were made popular in French furniture decoration by the sculptor and cabinetmaker Charles Cressent. They are echoed at the top of the arched cornice by the head of a commedia dell’arte character, probably Harlequin, proudly sporting a feathered headdress. The palm trees and dragons adorning the canted corners of the buffet are also a feature of the decorative repertoire of the early eighteenth century. Palm trees with leafy trunks, which first appeared in 1710 on the casing of the organ in the chapel of Versailles, became part of the decoration of wood paneling, especially around mirrors. On this buffet, the sculptor used them to support two shells into which dragons appear to be breathing fire. These strictly decorative elements probably echoed the fountain and marble basin that were traditionally placed in the same room.

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