We have to recollect that the reign of Louis XIV. was the time of the artists Berain, Lebrun, and, later in the reign, of Watteau, also of Andre Charles Boule, ciseleur et doreur du roi, and of Colbert, that admirable Minister of Finance, who knew so well how to second his royal master’s taste for grandeur and magnificence. The Palace of Versailles bears throughout the stamp and impress of the majesty of le Grande Monarque; and the rich architectural ornament of the interior, with moulded, gilded, and painted ceilings, required the furnishing to be carried to an extent which had never been attempted previously.
Louis XIV. had judgment in his taste, and he knew that, to carry out his ideas of a royal palace, he must not only select suitable artists capable of control, but he must centralize their efforts. In 1664 Colbert founded the Royal Academy of Painting, Architecture, and Sculpture, to which designs of furniture were admitted. The celebrated Gobelins tapestry factory was also established; and it was here the King collected together and suitably housed the different skilled producers of his furniture, placing them all under the control of his favourite artist, Lebrun, who was appointed director in 1667.
The most remarkable furniture artist of this time, for surely he merits such title, was Andre Charles Boule, of whom but little is known. He was born in 1642, and, therefore, was 25 years of age when Lebrun was appointed Art-director. He appears to have originated the method of ornamenting furniture which has since been associated with his name. This was to veneer his cabinets, pedestals, armoires, encoignures, clocks, and brackets with tortoiseshell, into which a cutting of brass was laid, the latter being cut out from a design, in which were harmoniously arranged scrolls, vases of flowers, satyrs, animals, cupids, swags of fruit and draperies; fantastic compositions of a free Renaissance character constituted the panels; to which bold scrolls in ormolu formed fitting frames; while handsome mouldings of the same material gave a finish to the extremities. These ormolu mountings were gilt by an old-fashioned process, which left upon the metal a thick deposit of gold, and were cunningly chiselled by the skilful hands of Caffieri or his contemporaries.
[Illustration: Boule Armoire, In the “Jones” Collection, S. Kensington Museum. Louis XIV. Period.]
Boule subsequently learned to economise labour by adopting a similar process to that used by the marqueterie cutter; and by glueing together two sheets of brass, or white metal, and two of shell, and placing over them his design, he was then able to pierce the four layers by one cut of the handsaw; this gave four exact copies of the design. The same process would be repeated for the reverse side, if, as with an armoire or a large cabinet, two panels, one for each door, right and left, were required; and then, when the brass, or white metal cutting was fitted into the shell