France, Louis XIV period
Carved and gilt wood
Red of Rance marble top
- Console table, circa 1720, Paris, musée des Arts décoratifs (inv. 4838)
The rectangular belt of this console, rounded at the anterior sides, is adorned with a grid of lozenges in the center of which is a flower. The middle of each side holds a shell motif surrounded by acanthus leaves. The center of the console is adorned with an Indian head, embellished with a feather, circled by acanthus leave interlacing. At each anterior angle, an Indian head wears a headdress crowned with feathers with, under the neck, a collar continued by acanthus leaves, a soft part succeeds, announcing another acanthus leaf forming the bottom of the leg. At each posterior angle, the legs reproduce the same shape with the shell motifs in place of the Indian busts. A crossbar connects the four legs with a flattened part in the center, adorned with an arabesque motif; flowers and acanthus leaves join the four legs.
History and specificity of the consoles during the reign of Louis XIV
Categorized as a carpentry furniture, the console table is above all an architectural piece of furniture in which the art of gilt wood has particularly flourished. Born at the end of the 17th century, it accompanied the apparition of large overmantels and settled lastingly throughout the next century in the interior decoration. Originally a fixed element of the paneling, it was created for a specific location, most often at the gap of the window or on the side of a fireplace with matching marbles; it was an exhibition space for objects of collection: bronze statues, precious vases, etc.
If the first consoles were created during the reign of Louis XIV, presenting term or sheath-shaped pedestals, the latter having tendencies to take sinuous outlines in the last years of the 17th century as illustrated with this console. Clearly designed to be applied to the wall and to be seen from the front, this console is richly adorned with women’s sculpture with feathered headdresses on the front. Today, separated from its original space, it bears witness to the creative verve which took over the ornamentalists in this domain. Its creation comes from the activity of architects, ornamentalists and sculptors.
The representation of women’s heads wearing headdresses adorned with feathers said “Indians”
Although Christopher Columbus was the first to discover the existence of a new continent in 1492, expeditions were essentially carried out by the Spanish and the Portuguese until the beginning of the 16th century. Considering the economic and symbolic issue, Francis I was the first French sovereign to really consider the importance that the financing of an exploration could have. From the 16th century onwards, exploration of the north of the American continent was mainly carried out by French and English navigators (Giovanni da Verrazzano in 1524, Jacques Cartier in 1534 or Cavalier de la Salle and Henri de Tonti in 1682). Echoing to these discoveries, the French quickly knew the clothes and headdresses of the Indians as early as 1536, with a number of Indians of North America making the travel to Europe. They discovered Paris, were received at the Court, nourished the inspiration of writers like François Rabelais or Michel de Montaigne and their images were diffused by engraving. The representation of women adorned with feathers as the headdresses worn by the Indians, that we see on this console, echoes to the fascination created by the native American Indians, even higher during the reign of Louis XIV because of the exploration of the center of the North American territory which continued then, marked by the possession of Louisiana in 1682. From the beginning of his reign, the Carrousel of 1662, an equestrian ballet, depicted five quadrilles illustrating Roman, Persian, Indian, “American Savages”. One will find the Indians, present in the Carrousel of the Gallant Amazones in 1686, illustrating one of the four parts of the world. The drawings of these costumes preserved in the Archives nationales allow us to discover the fantasy costumes presenting the headdresses worn during these festivities. The use of figures wearing headdresses with feathers to illustrate this theme is also present on pieces of furniture. We then find Indian-headed women bronzes on a bookcase of Charles Cressent treating the theme of the four parts of the world, preserved in the Gulbenkian Museum in Lisbon. The women’s collars carved on this console are furthermore a reminiscence of what we called in the first decades of the 18th century the espagnolettes, a term used to designate a fashion vogue inaugurated in the 1700 Carnival. This fantasy clothing was, amongst others, composed of a folded lace collar and a hat with a feather. Very successful at the time, we can see it in the paintings of Jean-Baptiste Santerre, Alexis Grimou or in the works of Nicolas Cressent. They thus most probably inspired the sculptures of this console.
- Daniel Alcouffe, Yves Carlier, Gérard Mabille, 18e aux sources du design, chefs‑d’œuvre du mobilier 1650–1790, Dijon, Éditions Faton, 2014.
- Elizabeth Caude, Jérôme de La Gorce, Béatrix Saule, Fêtes et divertissements à la cour, Paris, Gallimard, 2016.
- Catherine Hofmann, Hélène Richard, Emanuelle Vagnon, L’Âge d’or des cartes marines, Quand l’Europe découvrait le monde, Paris, Seuil, 2012.
- Bill G.B. Pallot, L’Art du siège au xviiie siècle en France, Paris, A.C.R. Gismondi, 1987.
- Bill G.B. Pallot, Le Mobilier du musée du Louvre, volume II, Siège et consoles (menuiserie)
- xviie et xviiie siècles, Paris, Éditions Faton, 1993.
- Alexandre Pradère, Charles Cressent, sculpteur, ébéniste du Régent, Dijon, Éditions Faton,
- Anne-Marie Quette, Le Mobilier français Louis XIII-Louis XIV, Paris, Éditions Massin, 1996.
- Height: 80 cm – 31 ½ inches
- Width: 130 cm – 51 inches
- Depth: 66 cm – 26 inches