Bureau du Roi

From Academic Kids

The Bureau du Roi ('King's desk'), known in France as the Secrétaire à cylindre de Louis XV ("Louis XV roll-top secretary"), is the name given to the richly ornamented royal Cylinder desk whose construction was started under Louis XV and finished under Louis XVI of France. It is the most lavishly decorated desk ever made, surpassing even the huge decorative "Kunstschrank" secretary desks of Germany.

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SecretaireVersailles.jpg
The Bureau du Roi, returned to its original setting at Versailles

The Bureau du Roi was probably started in 1760, when the commission was formally announced. Its first designer was Jean-François Oeben, the master cabinet maker of the royal arsenal. The first step in its construction was the fabrication of an extremely detailed miniature model in wax . The full scale desk was finished in 1769 by his successor, Jean Henri Riesener, who had married Oeben's widow. Made for the new Cabinet du Roi at the Palace of Versailles, it was transferred to the Louvre Museum in Paris after the French Revolution, but has been returned to the Palace of Versailles in the 20th century where it stands again in the room where it was standing before the Revolution, i.e. the Cabinet intérieur du Petit Appartement ("Inner study of the Private Apartments"), the famous study room where kings Louis XV and Louis XVI carried out their daily work, and inside which King Louis XVI took the decision to support the American insurgents in 1777. Secret diplomatic papers where kept inside the secretary's secret drawers, whose only key the king always carried with him.

The desk is covered with intricate marquetry of a wide variety of fine woods. In an oval reserve at the center of its 'public' side, away from the king himself, is the marquetry head of Silence, with forefinger to lips, a reminder of the discretion required in the king's business. Gilt-bronze moldings of plaques, statuettes, miniature busts and vases, even integral scrolling gilt-bronze candle stands, further adorn the surfaces of the desk. The original design was to have a miniature bust of Louis XV on top, but it was replaced by Minerva after his death in 1770.

The creation of the Bureau du Roi symbolizes the culmination of nearly a century of efforts in the application of mercantilism in France. This was started by Jean-Baptiste Colbert in the 17th century, to promote French manufactures of all kinds, in luxury goods as well as commodities. All the decorative arts were targeted under this strategy, and cabinet-making was no exception. Under his plan, luxury goods would serve as examples for inciting the quality manufacture of lesser products. Within the domain of luxury goods royal masterpieces would serve as examples at a higher level.

Symbolically, Versailles lay at the center of monarchic France. At the heart of Louis XIV's Baroque Versailles stood the Chambre du Roi, the king's bedroom, centered upon the King's Bed behind a railing, and its morning rituals of the lever du Roi (the King's arising), all framing the person of the king in a hieratic canopy of estate, attended by the recently-tamed nobles. By contrast, at the heart of Louis XV's Rococo Versailles of the mid-18th century, with its more domestic rituals, stood this functioning symbol of a benevolent autocrat, attended by his bureaucratic ministers, now largely drawn from the legally-trained upper middle class.

See also the list of desk forms and types.

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