Thursday, September 23, 2010

L'Escalier de cristal: Beauty and decency

photo Le style et la matière
The widow Désarnaud (née Rosalie Charpentier) was the owner of the renowned boutique in the galerie de Valois of the Palais Royal named A l'Escalier de Cristal.  She opened the shop in 1802 as marchand-éditeur after the death of her husband and went on to influence the taste of her day. There she specialized in objets of great technical and aesthetic innovation, many composed entirely of crystal and gold plated bronze. What the previous century had done incorporating porcelaine into objects and furnishings, Mme Désarnaud-Charpentier did with crystal in the 19th. Very few crystal furnishings
have come down to us today.

photo Le style et la matière
This innovative table de toilette , donated to the Louvre by Claude Ott and Maurice Segoura in 1989, once belonged to the Duchess de Berry, daughter-in-law of Charles X. It was designed in 1819 by Nicolas-Henry Jacob, student of David, and received a gold medal at the Exposition des Produits de l'industrie. Entirely made of bronze and crystal, with the exception of a beech seat frame, the back of the armchair presents the shape of a lyre. The glass table top rests on four cornucopia and two balusters and is mounted by a duel-faced mirror flanked by two three-branched candelabra held by figures of Flora and Zephir. The drawer contains a musical mechanism whose melody is released, as a text specified at the time,

"pendant une heure: c'est-à-dire, pendant l'espace de temps qu'une jolie femme peut décemment passer devant une glace, en presence d'elle-meme.
for a duration of one hour: which is to say, for the amount of time a pretty woman may decently spend before a mirror in her own presence." *
La Duchesse de Berry by Thomas Lawrence

As of 1822,  it seems the mirror framed the graceful features of the duchesse de Berry whenever she sojourned at her country residence, the château at Rosny-sur-Seine. The Duchess, enthusiastic patron of the decorative arts, was forced to give up her scintillating accomplice in beauty after the fall of Charles X in 1836.

photo Le style et la matière
On display today at the Musée du Louvre, the looking-glass, having forever lost the melodious exchanges à deux with its mistress, stares out in mute indifference at art objects and on-lookers alike, admired for itself now rather than consulted.

Chefs-d'oeuvre d'ebenisterie, le mobilier du Louvre by Daniel Alcouffe et al.
-see also Persée for another aspect of A l'escalier de cristal


  1. i think i am might like to borrow it for an hour too!

    what an amazing dressing table.


  2. A perfect piece of writing and the quote is superb. The idea that the drawer's mechanism would play music is enchanting and makes me wonder why such a function is no longer given to furniture. Probably every style editor would deem it kitsch.

    I cannot remember ever seeing this table and chair but I certainly must when I next visit the Louvre. Just beautiful.

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  4. Renée: Surely the result of one hour's preening at a table like this would would make you just as amazing as it is ?!

    Ah, Blue - but we become such jaded beasts at times. Maybe a little more music and marveling would sooth our savage ways. Thank you for your kind words.

  5. I have a some handpainted porcelain from the l'Escalier de Cristal. This is one of my favorate pieces of furniture at the Louvre, it is a masterpiece!

  6. Wouldn't this little lovely look perfect in mirrored room? (like Miles Redd's modest bathroom). My MIL collected music boxes and clocks and they'd go off at different times. She loved it. I thought it a bit cuckoo, cuckoo, cuckoo.

  7. Oh dear goodness I just died and went to heaven...That piece is so gorgeous. What detailing and magnificence! A true treasure.


  8. Andrew 1860 aren't you lucky! Maybe we can see some on your blog?

    HbD: The important thing is to let the crystal capture the light. I love the sound of a pendulum clock beating in the heart in the house. Your MIL loved fairy tales too, didn't she?

    Kevin: I agree -- it is out of this world -- and a treasure for us all.

  9. Unbelievable piece - it looks as if it will shatter at any moment! I'd be delighted - but afraid - to use it!

  10. SF: Fear not-- it's really very solid! The armature is made of bronze.

  11. What a beauty! I love it! Kellie xx