CANVASES, CARATS AND CURIOSITIES

Expertly Embellished: The French Pietre Dure Bureau Plat

5 minute read

Generally speaking, there are six ways that a great piece of 19th-century French furniture may be embellished: ormolu, marquetry, pietre dure, inlaid brass, engraved bronze, and applied semiprecious stones. The exquisite Napoleon III-period bureau plat (writing desk) illustrated here is the only example that we, in our 105-year history, have ever seen that features five of the six decorative techniques!

This amazing French bureau plat was created by Jean-Louis-Benjamin Gros, an ébéniste renowned for his use of multiple mediums in a single piece

This amazing French bureau plat was created by Jean-Louis-Benjamin Gros, an ébéniste renowned for his use of multiple mediums in a single piece


The Bureau Plat

The elegant desk’s top features a striking pietre dure plaque encircled by a border of engraved bronze. Pietre dure, Italian for “hard stone,” is a rare technique similar to mosaic used to create durable, vibrant images or patterns by carefully carving and inlaying various marbles or hardstones into a stone base. The central pietre dure and bronze medallion is surrounded by truly exceptional marquetry depicting flora and fruit.

The desk’s frieze, which is covered in semi-precious stones and ormolu, is exquisitely finished on all four sides. Along one side of the desk, three ingeniously concealed drawers are only accessible by pressing secret buttons located beneath them! 

The entire masterpiece is supported on cabriole legs, each mounted with an impressive ormolu caryatid.

A strikingly similar example is part of the Rosalinde & Arthur Gilbert Collection on long-term loan at the Victoria & Albert Museum in London.


The Maker: Jean-Louis-Benjamin Gros

This exquisite desk was crafted by the renowned French artisan Jean-Louis-Benjamin Gros. Gros was a master ébéniste and marqueteur working in Paris. In fact, he exhibited and won an award at the 1855 Exposition Universelle in Paris along with his son, Aristide-Henry. Today he is best known for his elaborate combination of materials within single pieces.

 

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