Writing desk (bureau brisé), ca. 1685
Alexandre–Jean Oppenordt (Dutch, active France, 1639–1715), maker; Jean Berain (French, 1640–1711), engraver
Oak, pine, and walnut veneered with ebony, rosewood, and marquetry of engraved brass on tortoiseshell; gilt bronze, steel; H. 30 3/8 in. (77.2 cm), W. 41 3/4 in. (106 cm), D. 23 3/8 in. (59.4 cm)
Gift of Mrs. Charles Wrightsman, 1986 (1986.365.3)
This desk, with a folding top that opens to reveal a small writing surface, is one of the few surviving pieces commissioned for Louis XIV's personal use. It was one of a pair intended for the king's petit cabinet, a small private room in the north wing of Versailles. The decoration on the top incorporates such royal symbols as the crown, the crossed L monogram, and the mask of Apollo, the sun god to whom Louis XIV likened himself. The four corners display openwork fleurs-de-lis, symbolizing the French monarchy, with lyres, the musical instrument of Apollo, between them.
The desk belongs to a type of furniture called bureau brisé (literally, "broken desk"). The top is hinged to open, or "break," along its width to reveal a fitted interior, veneered with Brazilian rosewood, that consists of a cramped writing surface with four drawers at the back. The bureau brisé originated in 1669 and continued to be made until the early eighteenth century, when a large flat-topped writing table, the bureau plat, replaced it.