Small desk with folding top (bureau brisé)

Maker: Marquetry by Alexandre-Jean Oppenordt (Dutch, 1639–1715, active France)

Designer: Designed and possibly engraved by Jean Berain (French, Saint-Mihiel 1640–1711 Paris) (1638/9-1711)

Date: ca. 1685

Culture: French, Paris

Medium: Oak, pine, walnut veneered with ebony, rosewood, and marquetry of tortoiseshell and engraved brass; gilt bronze and steel

Dimensions: 30 5/16 x 41 3/4 x 23 3/8 in. (77 x 106 x 59.4cm)

Classification: Woodwork-Furniture

Credit Line: Gift of Mrs. Charles Wrightsman, 1986

Accession Number: 1986.365.3


This desk, with a folding top that opens to reveal a small writing surface, is one of the few surviving pieces commissioned for Louis XIV's personal use. It was one of a pair intended for the king's petit cabinet, a small private room in the north wing of Versailles. The decoration on the top incorporates such royal symbols as the crown, the crossed L monogram, and the mask of Apollo, the sun god to whom Louis XIV likened himself. The four corners display openwork fleurs-de-lis, symbolizing the French monarchy, with lyres, the musical instrument of Apollo, between them.

The desk belongs to a type of furniture called bureau brisé (literally, "broken desk"). The top is hinged to open, or "break," along its width to reveal a fitted interior, veneered with Brazilian rosewood, that consists of a cramped writing surface with four drawers at the back. The bureau brisé originated in 1669 and continued to be made until the early eighteenth century, when a large flat-topped writing table, the bureau plat, replaced it.