Boulle Marquetery

The Boulle marquetry was born in the XVIIth century under Louis XIV and owes its name to André-Charles Boulle, master cabinetmaker at the court of the King in 1672 following Jean Macé.


The Boulle Marquetery: marquetry of copper and shell

In general, marquetry consists of placing inside such precious woods materials such as tortoiseshell, copper, mother-of-pearl, brass ... The precious woods most worked were ebony, pear , Rosewood, sandalwood, elm, cherry, mahogany ... These precious woods were worked by cabinet makers, who were previously referred to as "carpenter in cabinetmaking."

What characterizes the Boulle marquetry is a tortoiseshell (tortoiseshell scale) combined with metal, usually copper / brass. This technique appeared as early as the 16th century, but it was André-Charles Boulle (1642-1732) who unquestionably carried this marquetry technique to the pinnacle of his finesse and artistic creativity.


The richness of the marquetry Boulle:

Having become the first cabinetmaker of King Louis XIV, the reputation of Boulle combined with the pomp of Versailles gave rise to a quantity of furniture and objects in marquetry Boulle, exceptional inventiveness.

Boulle brought to his furniture a major innovation: bronze ornaments to protect the most sensitive parts of his pieces. Commodes, support furniture, desks ... were decorated over the years of bronzes, caryatids all more spectacular than the others!

In addition, the precious marquetry was enriched with mother-of-pearl, precious stones, lapis lazulli ... Orders flowed from a prestigious clientele: in 1680 Boulle realized for the Queen an order from a portable organ cabinet at a cost Of 8000 books ...

This technique gave rise to a superb collection of prestigious furniture, from Louis XIV, to Napoleon III.


Technique of the marquetry "Boulle"

The technique of the Boulle inlay consists of a tracing and then a careful cutting with the saw of 2 plates superimposed, in general, a plate of scale (tortoiseshell) and a plate of copper / brass. This simultaneous cutting makes it possible to obtain 2 perfectly identical patterns, which once inverted, make it possible to compose 2 different patterns:

The first part: a "positive" motif with a shell base and a brass ornamentation.

The counterpart: a "negative" motif with a brass base and a tortoiseshell ornamentation.

Each pattern is then plated either:

  • On 2 identical furniture to create a "pair"

  • On the same piece of furniture by plating the inside and the outside of it.

The Boulle inlay is not embedded in the furniture frame but assembled upside down on a paper support before being glued (to the bone glue) on the furniture frame. Once the decoration is glued, the paper is removed in order to polish the piece of furniture.

The tortoiseshell is convex and is heated by fire or boiling water to make it malleable and give it the desired shape. After cooling, it regains its original hardness. The decoration applied to the brass was engraved on the chisel. The sometimes dark or red effect of the Boulle marquetry is often accentuated by the addition of color applied to the back of the clear part of the turtle shell or the light horn. Sometimes, ivory, horn or mother-of-pearl motifs were used in marquetry on the shell base.