André-Charles Boulle

Bureau plat by André-Charles Boulle (Château Versailles)
© RMN (Chateau de Versailles)/droits reservés
Inlay of scales, ebony and brass, decorated with gilded bronze female figures and table legs of lion paws
Association Génération Boulle
19, 21 rue Pierre Bourdan FR-75012 PARIS

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André Charles Boulle was born into a Catholic family .He was the son of Jan Bolt and John Boulle, carpenter and wood worker. From 1666 to 1676, he had his own studio where up to 40 people worked, including his own daughters.
From 1672, King Louis XIV, on the advice of Colbert, who considered him “the most skillful wood worker in Paris”, offered Boulle a home in the Louvre. He lived there until his death at the age of 89. To be admitted to the Louvre is a sign of royal favor, but it’s also a privilege of liberty from Corporations (or guilds, communities practicing structured supply restrictions and regulations defining a profession under the Ancient Regime). Considered the most famous woodworkers in history, he introduced the art of furniture in gilt bronze, which he sculpted, melted, carved and gilded himself, and which carried him to a point of nobility and excellence beyond compare in his time.
« Boulle » inlay, the superposition of scaled decor and brass, was not an invention of Boulle, even if the term « Boulle inlay” has become a generic term since then. Indeed, the Dutch craftsmen had already been using this technique since the second quarter of the seventeenth century. It is equally said that A.C Boulle was the inventor of the commode. It has more so developed its traditional form in France but it came from Italy at the start (mid-seventeenth century).

The principle of this inlay is the découpage of one scaled plate of scales and one plate of brass, which are then superimposed.
Instead of being embedded, the inlays were assembled upside down on a paper support and were then glued on the frame of the cabinet, which was prepared beforehand. This scene stick, and then you would take away the paper to polish the piece of furniture.
The scale, a rounded form, was heated in fire or boiling water to make it malleable or give it the desired shape. After cooling, it regained its original hardness. The decoration on the brass was engraved with a chisel.
Sometimes, patterns in ivory, horn, or mother of pearl were used as inlays for the base of the scale.
The great decorators of the time furnished drawing of scenery to be added to the « Boulle » furniture, as the famous decorator Jean ler Berain (1640-1711) who has the title « artist of the room and the king’s cabinet ». His decoration of reference for this type of furniture is an architectural perspective in columns filled with foliage inhabited by birds, monkeys, and grotesques. The engravings of Claude Gillot (1673-1722), another painter and decorator, master of Antoine Watteau, were taken as models for decorative inlaid “Boulle” furniture. It was based mainly on “Commedia dell’Arte”.