Rolltop desk

Maker: David Roentgen (German, Herrnhaag 1743–1807 Wiesbaden, master 1780)

Designer: Case after a design by Thomas Chippendale (British, baptised Otley, West Yorkshire 1718–1779 London)

Designer: Marquetry panel after a design by Januarius Zick (German, Munich before 1730–1797 Ehrenbreitstein)

Date: ca. 1776–79

Culture: German, Neuwied am Rhein

Medium: Oak, cherry, pine, mahogany, veneered with maple, burl woods, holly, hornbeam (all partially stained), tulipwood, mahogany, and other woods; mother-of-pearl; partially gilded and tooled leather; gilt bronze, iron, steel, brass, partially gold-lacquered brass

Dimensions: 53 1/2 x 43 1/2 x 26 1/2 in. (135.9 x 110.5 x 67.3 cm.)

Classification: Woodwork-Furniture

Credit Line: Rogers Fund, 1941

Accession Number: 41.82


Six legs instead of the usual four distinguish this object. The added pair and the lavish mounts changed the frontal view into more of a facade. The monogram DR, for David Roentgen, inlaid on the drawer above the kneehole, indicates the cabinetmaker’s satisfaction, as his items are rarely signed. Access to its inner secrets can be gained only via one keyhole. The mechanism opening the lower compartments is a perfected version of earlier models. The turn of the key commands which side opens. Pressing it in only halfway disengages the writing surface, which can then be pulled forward; simultaneously, the top opens to reveal the interior decorated entirely in the restrained French Neoclassical style with mahogany and gilded mounts. The outside was once colorful, as the chinoiserie marquetry is set into panels of maple, perhaps once stained blue gray, evoking a steel-blue fabric that was popular in the late 1770s. Like a theater scrim, it would have set off the scenes of Chinese life, confining them within an apparently shallow, three-dimensional space.