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!
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.
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.