From 1540, France prepared for its second Renaissance. The latter is intrinsically linked to the rediscovery of the ancient world. The development of the printing press as well as the engravers allow the circulation of works and models from town to town and from country to country.
The Italian influence is then palpable in all artistic fields. While the King of France entrusted major projects to the most talented Italian artists (Le Rosso and Primatice from 1530 and 1532 in Fontainebleau), the Italian stay appeared essential to the training of French artists who wanted to discover this new style. In Italy, they became familiar with the work of Leon Battista Alberti, who was the first to theorize perspective (De pictura, 1435-1436) and architecture (De re ædificatoria, 1541). These two works had a great resonance and revolutionized the arts.
The furniture was thus marked by the work of the main Italian architects of that time, and French architects were not to be outdone. Thus, competing with Alberti, Philibert de l’Orme devoted himself at the end of his life to writing several works, notably a theoretical treatise on Architecture (1567), the second volume of which he was unable to write. There he demonstrates his great interest in mathematical standards applied to architecture and copied from the antique. His travels in Italy allowed him to accumulate the most sophisticated artistic references.
Jean Bullant, another architect of great talent, was also a theoretician of his art. He laid down the rules characterizing Greco-Roman art, keeping great fidelity to the works of Vitruvius.
Following this new inspiration, the structure and ornamentation of the furniture evolves. From now on, the furniture is adorned with columns, capitals, cornices, friezes and architraves. The ornamentation also finds its inspiration in ancient architecture: oves, palmettes and rosette thus adorn the most beautiful creations.
In Lyon, a geographical crossroads where merchants from all over the world come together, this new research is particularly well understood. The flourishing Lyon printing press promotes the distribution of models and reference works that have become essential to the work of artists. Thus, the first edition in France of De architectura by Vitruve will be produced in Lyon in 1523.
It was therefore very early on that Lyon artists rediscovered this ancient knowledge and became familiar with the art of the Italian Renaissance. Thus, they appropriate these new ideas and put them at the service of their own achievements.
The Lyon huchiers then reinterpreted the ancient architecture and Italian Renaissance palaces to give their construction a very pure and harmonious architectural structure.
Fluted pilasters are in the spotlight. They are surmounted by capitals of various orders always respecting the proper ordering of the latter (the simplest and most stripped orders for the lower floors, the most ornate for the upper floors).
Regarding ornamentation, one of the great originalities of what one could almost qualify as the Lyonnais style remains the architectural trompe-l’oeil with perspectives, illustrating the Tuscan influence.
A true masterpiece of the Second French Renaissance, this important piece of furniture perfectly illustrates the taste of the Lyon workshops for the beautiful arrangement of Italian architecture inspired by antiquity. An architectural perspective of extreme quality forming a mirror composition unfolds on each of the panels.
This cabinet with two bodies without recess rests on four feet of rectangular section. It rises on a base composed of a molding, a palmette frieze, edged with a braid.
The lower body is punctuated by three fluted pilasters with Tuscan capitals framing two leaves. The two panels are surrounded by a frame with moldings and palmettes. They are admirably carved with a fantasized architectural decor depicting the facades of Italian Renaissance palaces, built symmetrically on either side of a fluted pilaster. On the ground floor, a door opens under a raised arch, while the upper floors are pierced with mullioned windows, dormers and oculi. Two imposing pillars with studded bosses carry an entablature, adorned with a palmette frieze, on which rests a semicircular arch on the lower surface with a central rosette box. Behind this arcade, a pyramid emerges in front of another facade whose window with a broken curvilinear pediment is sheltered under a « cul-de-four » (Quarter-sphere or half-dome vault) lined with a shell.
The checkered paving that builds the vanishing lines gives a lot of depth to these reliefs, structures the panels and directs the viewer’s eye.
A fine crowned torus underlines the belt where two drawers are revealed with facades decorated with palmettes circumscribed in an arch.
The upper body is bordered by palmettes. It uses the same tripartite division as the previous one. However, the pilasters are crowned with Ionic capitals with volutes and oves. The leaves are enclosed in frames decorated with flowers.
On the panels, the artist has created another architectural decoration. In the foreground open two arches resting on fluted pilasters whose rectangular capitals decorated with palmettes support two arcades decorated with a braid and whose lower surface is carved with roses. The spandrels are decorated with flowers. In the background, another arcature houses a fluted column with a curved shaft carrying a capital with a double basket of acanthus leaves, characteristic of the Corinthian order. A triangular pediment interrupted by a Burgundy cabbage surmounts the arch.
An imposing cornice surmounts the cabinet. Resting on the pilasters, it thus forms an entablature, composed of a frieze of palm leaves and a cornice carved with ovals, triglyphs and palmettes.
The sides of the cabinet also received a lot of attention. The panels of the lower body are decorated with a semicircular arch under which a portico with an interrupted pediment houses a torso column. Flowers decorate the spandrels. An architectural facade completes the decor. The panels of the upper body have two semicircular arched arches, supported on both sides by a facade pierced with a dormer door and windows and decorated with cartouches (one of which bears the date of the making of this piece of furniture. from 1580) which seem to lead us inside an Italian palace, as the chandelier suggests. Our gaze is guided thanks to the paving towards a second semicircular archway with a curvilinear pediment interrupted by a vase, opening the perspective on a facade that seems to border the path.
Inside the cabinet, on the lower leaves, two engravings are revealed. On the right door is a Crucifixion. Saint Mary and Saint John are on either side of Christ on the cross. In the lower part of the engraving the caption reads: “Dure uiator abis nihil haec spectacular curas / Pendenti cum sis unica cura Deo. / Tota suo moriente dolet natura Magistro. / Nile which solus eras caussa dolenda doles.”
The signature [Christoff Swartz Monachiensis pinx [it] / Ioa [nnes] Sadeler sculp [it]] indicates that the engraving was made by Johann Sadeler I (1550–1600 / 160) after Christoph Schwarz (1548–1592).
This engraving is part of the series “The Passion of Christ” that Johann Sadeler produced in 1589 from an altarpiece painted by Christoph Schwarz for the private chapel of Renée de Lorraine, wife of Duke William V of Bavaria. This altarpiece made up of nine copper panels was destroyed in the 19th century. The panel of the Crucufixion, which alone survives, was in the center of the altarpiece. It is now kept at the Alte Pinakothek in Münich.
On the left door the engraving represents Saint Francis receiving the stigmata.
The caption reads: “Signastidomine Servum Tuum. Franciscum. Signis Redemptionis Nostrae ”
This Lyon Renaissance cabinet, whose architecture is affirmed both in its structure faithful to ancient standards and in the ornamentation of its panels, reveals the great mastery of the Lyon workshops which are at the origin of its creation.
Sculptors and huchiers work here in symbiosis to express and translate ultramontane architectural perspectives with the same talent.
The realization of the panels combines both delicacy and attention to detail, which even goes so far as to include the window shutters or the particular embossing of the facings. Thus, nothing is left to chance but on the contrary reflects the sculptor’s perfect knowledge of research both in terms of perspective and architecture, thus demonstrating all his mastery.
The quality of workmanship, the sense of proportions and volumes given to the structure and the refinement of the sculptural work make this cabinet a true masterpiece of the second French Renaissance.
The presence of the date on which it was executed contributes to its rarity while providing us with valuable indications on the evolution of furniture at that time.
The sponsor of this piece of furniture was undoubtedly a true esthete wishing to own a piece of furniture of great quality which would reflect the most innovative stylistic researches of its time.
Ludmila Virassamynaïken (dir), Art et Humanisme Lyon Renaissance, Somogy, Paris, 2015
Evelyne Thomas, Vocabulaire illustré de l’ornement, Eyroles, Paris, 2e édition, 2016
Jacqueline Boccador, Le mobilier français du Moyen Âge à la Renaissance, Edition d’Art Monelle Hayot, 1988