The grandeur of Versailles commodes

In the print edition of yesterday’s NYT, an ad on p. A5 offers this astonishing piece of furniture:

Grandeur of Versailles

On the site of M.S. Rau Antiques – Fine Art – Jewelry, 630 Royal St., New Orleans LA, this description:

This monumental Boulle marquetry commode was crafted by Robert Blake (ca. 1820). Modeled after those made by Boulle for King Louis XIV. The entire ebony commode is covered in Boulle marquetry and doré bronze. A similar pair of commodes also marked [= signed] by Blake are part of the famed Frick Collection. Item No. 30-6334 : $398,500

My first interest here is lexicographic, having to do with the item commode (and its semantic development). Then on to marquetry, Boulle, and Blake.

Commodes. Unlike the OED, which tries to arrange senses and subsenses in historical order, NOAD starts with what its editors think is the currently most frequent sense in North America. So the adj. gay entry starts with the ‘homosexual’ sense — and the noun commode entry is similarly ordered counterhistorically:

noun commode: 1 [a] a piece of furniture containing a concealed chamber pot. [b] North American a toilet. [c] North American historical a movable washstand. 2 a chest of drawers or chiffonier of a decorative type popular in the 18th century. ORIGIN mid 18th century (in commode (sense 2)): from French, literally ‘convenient, suitable’, from Latin commodus. commode (sense 1) dates from the early 19th century.

The older sense is for something that is useful or convenient — in particular, for storing clothing. Then, referring to something useful or necessary can be specialized to useful or necessary in performing bodily functions. So we get, in NOAD:

noun convenience: 1 [a] the state of being able to proceed with something with little effort or difficulty. [b] the quality of being useful, easy, or suitable for someone. [c] a thing that contributes to an easy and effortless way of life. 2 British a public restroom.

And in dictionary.com:

noun necessary: 7. Chiefly New England. a privy or toilet.

And of course in the senses in 1 in the NOAD commode entry.

Marquetry. From NOAD:

noun marquetry (also marqueterie or marquetery): inlaid work made from small pieces of variously colored wood or other materials, used chiefly for the decoration of furniture. ORIGIN mid 16th century: from French marqueterie, from marqueter ‘to variegate’.

Boulle. From Wikipedia:

André-Charles Boulle (11 November 1642 – 29 February 1732), le joailler du meuble (the “marquetry jeweller”), is the most famous French cabinetmaker and the preeminent artist in the field of marquetry, also known as “Inlay”… He was commended to Louis XIV of France, the “Sun King”, by Jean-Baptiste Colbert (29 August 1619 – 6 September 1683) as being “the most skilled craftsman in his profession”. Over the centuries since his death, his name and that of his family has been given to the art he perfected, the inlay of brass, tortoiseshell, brass and pewter into ebony.

Blake. From Wikipedia:

Robert Blake (active 1826–39) was the first of the Blake family of London cabinetmakers. Robert Blake is particularly known for his marquetry and for the ormolu-mounted commodes in tortoiseshell and ebony that he made in 1708–09, after a pair that André-Charles Boulle made for Louis XIV’s Chamber at the Grand Trianon, on display in the New York Frick Collection. A pair of Blake commodes, completing the two in the Frick Collection, was sold at Sotheby’s for $658,000 on October 15, 2015.

M.S. Rau is selling just one Blake commode for a bit under $400.

One Response to “The grandeur of Versailles commodes”

  1. Bob Richmond Says:

    Looks commodious indeed.

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