At the Versailles palace, the King’s Corner Cabinet has just been restored to its former glory after 18 months of work. This room, which bears witness to the intimacy of the monarchs, allows us to discover one of the masterpieces of French furniture: the cylinder secretary ordered by Louis XV.
One room, many lives
The corner cabinet is a room that has been much transformed over the years, adapting to the lifestyle of its occupants. During the reign of Louis XIV, the king had set up a permanent representation of himself and his power in the Grand Appartement. However, he had this room fitted out to house the royal collections. This room was part of the private areas of the King’s flats where only the royal family and a few privileged people were invited.
Louis XV, who was much more secretive than his predecessor, had the layout of the gallery changed to make the cabinet a living rather than a performing flat. In 1760, the cabinet was reconfigured: the entrances were modified and the decor redesigned. It was in this room, adapted as a working space, that Louis XV spent most of his time, alone or with his ministers.
Louis XVI, for his part, settled his personal affairs in the midst of the souvenirs and personal objects that covered the sumptuous woodwork.
“Continuing the visit of the flats on the courtyard side of the castle, one came across this series of cabinets where the king spent his life and worked incessantly. The rarest furniture was piled up there as well as a host of curiosities. “
– Souvenir of a member of Louis XVI’s court
During the French Revolution, some of the furniture was sold. Under Louis XVIII, the ceiling and cornice were redone.
The restoration of the King’s Corner Cabinet
The King’s Corner Cabinet was the last room in the King’s inner flat with tarnished gilding and painting. The restoration, carried out with the support of Rolex, enabled the Cabinet to be restored to its original splendour: the panelling and parquet flooring were removed, the old gilding was cleaned, the “king’s white” painting was redone using 18th century techniques, and the lighting was redesigned… 18 months of work were required to complete this restoration.
Originally, the corner cabinet was decorated with large tapestries. In 1753, the King’s first architect, Ange-Jacques Gabriel, and the sculptor Jacques Verbeckt, planned to equip the room with full-height panelling, as in the other rooms of the flat. The decoration is made up of numerous motifs: fleur-de-lys, palm trees, rural scenes, hunting attributes, etc., as well as seven medallions representing children.
The furniture in this room includes the chest of drawers by Antoine-Robert Gaudreaus, delivered in 1739, the clock La France et Marc by Jospeh-Léonard Roque, the candelabra of the American Independence and the cylinder secretary, which is one of the most famous pieces of furniture in the world.
The King’s desk
This cylinder secretary, which has just been restored by the C2RMF (Centre de Recherche et Restauration des Musées de France), is a real eye-catcher. In 1760, Louis XV commissioned this masterpiece of French furniture from the cabinetmaker Œben. Completed nine years later by Riesener, the piece arrived in Versailles in 1769.
Eleven different craftsmen were called upon to make it. Precious woods, marquetry, veneer, bronzes, mechanics, gilding, clock-making… nothing is too good for the King! There are 4 inner drawers, 2 outer drawers for inkwells and, under the cylinder which can only be opened with a key, 6 drawers and 3 sliding compartments as well as 3 secret drawers under the top to keep documents safe.
During the French Revolution, the desk escaped destruction but the monarchic emblems were removed. For example, the medallion in the bas-relief which originally represented a profile of Louis XV was replaced by a profile of Minerva, the attributes of the monarchy on the cylinder were replaced by a scientific trophy…
The King’s Corner Cabinet will be open to the public as soon as the castle reopens, on the occasion of guided tours.