Exceptional 18th Century French Louis XV Period Bleached Walnut Lyonnaise Armoire
An exceptional 18th century French Louis XV period armoire, circa 1750s, handcrafted of solid walnut by talented artisans in Lyon, the capital city in France’s Auvergne-Rhône-Alpes region, world renowned for its superior production of armoires. This impressive oversized bleached Lyonnaise chateau armoire features a hand carved stylized chapeau de gendarme crown with les perles (beading that resembles a strand of pearls). Artisans used this beading technique as a decorative element on only the grandest pieces with pearls symbolizing power and luxury since only the most wealthy aristocrats could afford them. The frieze is adorned with intricately carved scrolling floral and foliate tendrils. The carved, panel doors open to reveal a spacious interior with three sturdy shelves. Short carved cabriole legs ending in scrolled French toes support the gracefully contoured and carved apron that also functions as a drawer for even more storage.
The first armoires appeared in France during the latter half of the 16th century and were originally designed to store arms or armor. Most often the prominent feature of the home, these large cupboards were later used to hold a family's belongings – from linens to clothing to silver and even food. Cabinetmakers drew their inspiration from the cupboards of Italy, Germany, and Spain, but by the reign of Louis XV, the French armoire had reached its height of popularity and possessed a distinctly French flair.
Because armoires were a very important part of the French household, little expense was spared in outfitting them with the finest hardware, as can be seen here. Elaborate escutcheons, long ornate hinges, and even the keys were an integral part of the overall design of the armoire. Often, the hinges, lock, and key cost more to produce than the armoire itself. Massive walnut armoires such as this were generally reserved for the very wealthiest families. As styles changed, the armoire evolved into a smaller, more reserved cupboard, making these monumental creations all the more important. Rare, Louis XV period armoires such as this are the epitome of French Provincial furniture. They are increasingly difficult to find in this condition, especially with their original hardware, for it was often removed and melted down for ammunition during the unrest of the late 18th and early 19th centuries.
The expense of such a monumental armoire was enormous and it often served as an indication of a family's wealth and social standing. As their wealth and possessions grew, armoires were added to the household and it was not unusual for a rather wealthy family to have several armoires, though most certainly not all of them were the high caliber and size of this fine example. It is also interesting to note that most French Provincial armoires were crafted of oak since it was a readily available resource. Walnut armoires such as this, of an exceptional size, were much less common and generally reserved for the very wealthiest families. Today, they are considered the finest examples of the period.
h - 114"
w - 67.5" with crown; body w - 58"
d - 23"
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