Tuesday, October 14, 2014

The tale of the three beds from the château of Effiat

This is not a tale of cottages. No, the story begins in a certain château in Auvergne.


It was a proud dwelling built between 1626-28 by the Marshal of Effiat, Antoine Coëffier de Ruzé, counselor to Louis XIII and close friend of Richelieu.
 His château held at three beds,
They were sold at auction in 1856, as were the rest of the furnishings that had managed to be keep intact until then.

Through my various explorations this way and that, I realized that I had seen all three of these beds and had photographed them, although my pictures aren't all of the same quality. I thought I would reunite the beds here and supplement better pictures where needed.
My story is a simple one. A document really. There are no indignant bears or sassy little girls  - unless Time itself could be said to hold the role of Goldilocks!

photo:RMN Louvre

The most famous of these beds is today in the département des arts décoratifs at the Louvre. It is the perfect example of the bed à la française or the lit en housse (covered bed) of the mid 17th century and one of the few beds to come down to us from the period with its original textiles. With its hangings of Genoa velvet down, it makes a cube and has the solemn air of a catafalque. Underneath all that exhuberant fabric, the bed posts are said to be uterly simple. The luxurious aspect of beds of this time owed entirely to their upholstery and trim. In fact if few of these marvelous beds have survived, it is because the precious textiles wore out and the plain wood, usually of no value in itself, was probably burned.

Abraham Brosse
This engraving by Abraham Bosse shows the cords for raising the curtains - the 17th century gradually left the expression courtines behind for rideaux.
Otherwise tie backs were used to attach the curtains to the posts.
photo Cluny via Chest of books
An early image shows the hangings parted but we don't see the headboard.

photo: jpbraud decoration
It may have been like this one, Effiat bed No. 2  at the chateau of Azay le Rideau whose hangings have been beautifully reconstitued here.

photo Marc Walter
These seem to be the original bed textiles found in Jacques Anquetil's book La Soie en Occident.

photo: Le style et la matière
To quote Bill Pallot,
"Beds were greatly prized pieces of furniture in the 17th century 
and as such described very precisely in inventories. Louis XIII had one 
covered with purple damask and adorned with large gold embroidery, Richelieu 
owned another with tapestry of white satin and gold embroidery and Mazarin 
possessed several. Beds accompanied their owners in their travels. They were 
taken apart and placed in leather trunks. Often monumental in size, they 
were set in a corner of the bedchamber. 

Abraham Brosse

The space between the bed and the 
wall was called the 'ruelle' (narrow street). This was where private 
gatherings were held as it was customary to receive company at home while 
lying in bed."

photo: Le style et la matière

photo: Le style et la matière

photo RMN

Finally, my visit to the Musée de la Renaissance at Ecouen a few weeks ago permited me to see Effiat bed No. 3. Made in the late 16th century, it is the oldest of the trio but retains some 19th century modifications.

photo: Le style et la matière
The hangings are not original and the curators plan to restore it to its 19th century state as it was presented by Sommerard at the Hotel de Cluny in what was called the
chamber of Francois I.

photo: Le style et la matière
This ornately carved bedstead
has fine detailing on the foot posts

photo: Le style et la matière
and military cariatides at the head of the bed.

image: RMN

This engraving of the Musée de Cluny depicts the brimming cabinet d'amateur atmosphere that reigned in 1840. There must have been some indecision as to how to assemble the posts. Here the cariatides have been installed at the foot of the bed rather than at its head. 
 I have seen other beds with four cariatides or atlantes, never only two as we see here. 

© Léon et Lévy / Roger-Viollet
Here, somewhat later but still at Cluny, the columns have been switched around in the way 
which is today believed to be the correct assembly of the bed.

Cluny is now specialized in art and artifacts of the middle ages, Ecouen is the place to go for the 
15-17th centuries which is why this bed is located there now.

photo: Le style et la matière.
No pomme , no panache naturally, on this 16th century bed from Effiat at Ecouen, 
but nearby in the textile department is displayed a vase-finial which looks very much like those on the later Effiat beds in the Louvre and at Azay. 
From this angle, in a case, we get a good close look at its construction 

and next to it is a charming miniature bed, once considered to be part of a doll house.
(C) RMN-Grand Palais Gérard Blot
(musée de la Renaissance, château d'Ecouen)  

It is now recognized as an upholsterer's or embroiderer's maquette. 
 This is a model of  a Duchesse bed 
which really only became popular at the end of the 17th century.
 Louis XIV himself prefered four posts.


For another article on beds and my own 17th century bed - 
look here
 It is carved with a commemorative date of 1601 and the initials I.V. and C.G.. 
The date probably refers to a wedding date.
One day I may find out just who I.V. and C.G. were...


  1. let me have the green one with all the tassels! there's so much here, i'll be back to read this post again.

  2. I can't believe they travelled with their beds! The luxury!