The Wallace Collection

The Wallace Collection, A Family Collection, A National Museum, An International Treasure House
Coffer
  • Coffer
  • Workshop of André-Charles Boulle (1642 - 1732) , Attributed to
  • France
  • c. 1700
  • Oak, ebony, pewter, contre- and première-partie marquetry of brass, pewter and turtleshell, gilt bronze, pinewood, walnut, oak, blue silk, silver thread and braid, steel
  • Object size: 37.7 x 61.8 x 39.5 cm, coffer
    Object size: 84.5 x 70.5 x 52.4 cm, stand
  • F412
  • East Galleries I
Commentary
History
Further Reading
  • Coffers like this are sometimes referrred to as marriage coffers, but this is a nineteenth-century description and they were in fact known as coffres de toilette in the seventeenth century when they were first made. This indicates that they would have been used for storing personal items associated with the toilette, a ceremonial preparation for both men and women for getting dressed and made-up at the beginning of the day. The design clearly evokes the earlier travelling trunks bound with cord or leather straps. Models like this were made by André-Charles Boulle from the 1680s.
    The marqeutry on this coffer and stand incorporates pewter as well as brass, giving an added richness to the pieces. This is further embellished by the outstandingly fine gilt bronze mounts, such as the mask of Apollo in the centre of the coffer covering the keyhole, and the two bearded satyrs’ masks either side. In the centre of the drawer at the top of the stand is another mask, this time of Daphne with sprigs of laurel springing from her hair identifying her as the beautiful nymph who rebuffed Apollo. Note the way in which the Daphne mount and the gilt-bronze volutes from which the handle falls reflect the movement of the metal marquetry: this is a fine example of the harmony of design and quality of execution that have made Boulle’s work prized by collectors ever since.
    The gilt-bronze vase on the stretcher is a 19th-century addition. The coffer and stand was exhibited at Bethnal Green (1872-75) where the description made explicit reference to the fleur de lys ornament and the royal crown, thus giving it a supposed royal provenance.
    Although this coffer was treated as a pair to another in the Wallace Collection (F411) from as early as 1890, the two had separate provenances in 1870 when the 4th Marquess of Hertford died, one being in his Parisian residence in rue Laffitte and the other in Hertford House in London. There are subtle differences between the two - the marquetry on the coffers does not match exactly and is much richer on this one.