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Louis XV’s roll-top secretary: One of the most luxurious creations of the 18th century & the most lavishly decorated desk ever

David Goran

The Bureau du Roi (the King’s desk), also known as Louis XV’s roll-top secretary, is richly ornamented royal Cylinder desk whose construction was commenced under Louis XV and finished under Louis XVI of France.

It was made for the new Cabinet du Roi at the Palace of Versailles.

Louis XV’s roll-top secretary in the Palace of Versailles  Photo Credit

 

It was known in France as “Louis XV roll-top secretary”  Photo Credit

It was known in France as “Louis XV roll-top secretary”  Photo Credit

 

Commissioned under Louis XV in 1760 and completed approximately nine years later Photo Credit

Later, it was transferred to Paris (in the Louvre Museum) after the French Revolution but has been returned to the Palace of Versailles in the 20th century where it stands again in the famous study room where kings Louis XV and Louis XVI carried out their daily work.

The desk was ordered by Louis XV in 1760 from the Royal cabinetmaker Jean-François Oeben (1721-1763) for his private study. Jean-François Oeben started with a miniature model set in wax and developed the complex mechanisms. The full-scale desk was finished in 1769 by Oeben’s successor Jean-Henri Riesener.

Its first designer was Jean-François Oeben, the master cabinet maker of the royal arsenal  Photo Credit

Its first designer was Jean-François Oeben, the master cabinet maker of the royal arsenal  Photo Credit

 

The first step in its construction was the fabrication of a highly detailed miniature model in wax   Photo Credit

The first step in its construction was the fabrication of a highly detailed miniature model in wax   Photo Credit

 

The back and the left side of the Bureau du Roi  Photo Credit

The back and the left side of the Bureau du Roi  Photo Credit

Riesener later executed a simplified second version of the Bureau du Roi for Pierre-Gaspard-Marie Grimod (today in the Wallace Collection in London) and his copy was the first of a number of replicas that were produced from the 1870s onwards by leading cabinetmakers in Paris, including four examples by François Linke, the most influential Parisian cabinetmaker of the late nineteenth and early twentieth centuries.

Today Linke is best known for the exceptionally high quality of his work, as well as his individualism and inventiveness. The formation of Linke’s distinctive style was made possible by his collaboration with the sculptor Léon Messagé.

 

Adorned with lavish gilt-bronze mounts and remarkable symbolic marquetry  Photo Credit

Adorned with lavish gilt-bronze mounts and remarkable symbolic marquetry  Photo Credit

 

In addition to the intricate marquetry and finely cast mounts, the roll-top desk mechanism was especially ingenious   Photo Credit

In addition to the intricate marquetry and finely cast mounts, the roll-top desk mechanism was especially ingenious   Photo Credit

 

Ornamentation of ormolu representing figures, miniatures and female busts Photo Credit

Ornamentation of ormolu representing figures, miniatures and female busts Photo Credit

This magnificent piece of furniture was made of the finest carpentry, marquetry patterns representing trophies, different veneers and ormolu ornamentation with various cubby holes, drawers, and slots with a writing sliding panel. Secret diplomatic papers were kept inside the secretary’s secret drawers, whose only key was carried by the king.

Read another story from us: The Crown of Louis XV is one of the most remarkable crowns in the world

The original design was to have a miniature bust of Louis XV on top, but it was replaced by Minerva after his death in 1770. It is perhaps the most famous piece of furniture ever made and one of the most luxurious creations of the eighteenth century.