Louis XVI ebony cabinet-secrétaire with Florentine mosaic plaques and fine ormoulu mounts signed by Adam Weisweiler. The cabinet is decorated with nine plaques of Florentine pietre dure mosaic on the door; the top and bottom rows dating from the late 17th century and the middle row from the 18th century. They are placed within a pewter and ebony lattice and are individually framed with beaded ormoulu moldings; an unusual wave-patterned ormoulu frame surrounds the whole composition. All the stone is natural except for a piece of goldstone (a type of glass with copper crystalline inclusions that was invented in Venice in the 17th century) found in the necklace of the woman wearing a turban on the middle left panel. The use of pietre dure on French 18th century furniture is much rarer than the use of lacquer or porcelain.
The piece is mounted with fine ormoulu, probably made by François Rémond who worked extensively with Daguerre, the marchand-mercier who was Weisweiler’s dealer. The mounts include the exquisite relief in the frieze depicting putti playing in clouds and the inset columns flanking the door. The unusual four-part columns, seemingly unique to Weisweiler, are composed of a complex spiraling ormoulu capital above an ormoulu inlaid ebony baluster over a graceful tapering spiral of interwoven ebony and ormoulu terminating in an hourglass-shaped base.
There are four plain plum pudding mahogany drawers behind the hinged mosaic-covered door, which opens from the right. The back of the door is veneered in exceptionally well-figured flame mahogany arranged in horizontal bands and framed in plum pudding mahogany. The drawer below the door, decorated with flat, unadorned ormolu trelliswork, opens to reveal a sliding leather-covered writing surface and a compartment containing the original containers for writing implements.
The top and stretcher shelf are of Spanish brocatelle marble. The six ebony legs, inlaid with ormoulu, swell to meet the stretcher shelf and taper below it, terminating in tapering sabots. The ormoulu-rimmed shelf is indented between the inner legs to facilitate writing on the pull-out writing surface. [Lacking the bronze plinths that were placed beneath each female figure on the sides. Later ring pulls in interior.]
An identical cabinet, also with brocatelle marble (incorrectly described as “griotte” marble in the 2008 Huntington catalogue) but with raised Japanese black and gold lacquer panels and opening from the left, is in The Huntington Collection in San Marino, California. Both pieces were possibly in the 1791 London Daguerre sale (Lemonnier. Pages 168-9):
Nº42: “an elegant ebony cabinet the front curiously and beautifully inlaid with gems, comprised of precious stones from Florence, and with Brocadella marble top. Superbly mounted in ormoulu (110£)”.
Nº 45: “a small curious cabinet of the fine old raised Japan with brocadella top and ormoulu mountings (25£).
A commode in the Queen’s collection (Koeppe, page 336) was lot 59 in that sale: “an elegant ebony cabinet, the front curiously and beautifully inlaid with gems, comprised of precious stones from Florence, brocadella marble top superbly mounted in ormoulu (115£)”.
Two commodes in Buckingham Palace in The White Room have an identical bronze wave-patterned frame surrounding four rows of pietre dure panels and identical corner mounts. An 18th century plaque showing a landscape and the two flanking plaques, portraying costumed individuals, are possibly by the same hands as the three 18th century plaques on the present cabinet. The cabinets are certainly by Weisweiler and were probably purchased from Daguerre, the marchand-mercier for whom Weisweiler worked and who had a shop in London that sold many pieces to the royal collection.
Robert R. Wark. French decorative Art in The Huntington Collection. The Huntington Library, San Marino, California, 1979. Page 50.
Patricia Lemonnier. Weisweiler. Editions d’art Monelle Hayot, Paris, 1983. Nº 69. Pages 68 and 179. Illustrated page 69.
Shelly M. Bennett and Carolyn Sargentson, editors. French Art of the Eighteenth Century at The Huntington. The Huntington Library, Art Collection, and Botanical Gardens in association with Yale University Press, New Haven and London, 2008. Page 112, 113. Fig. 55.
Wolfram Koeppe, editor. Art of the Royal Court. The Metropolitan Museum of Art, New York; Yale University Press, New Haven and London, 2008. Page 91. Fig. 100. Fig 101.