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David Roentgen was a German craftsman and entrepreneur who made furniture for some of the grandest patrons in Europe, including Catherine the Great of Russia, Frederick the Great of Prussia, and Marie Antoinette of France. A brilliant artist in marquetry, Roentgen employed twenty varieties of wood in this desk, including American black walnut, which European craftsmen first began using at just this time.
The desk’s form is inspired by a design for a desk and bookcase in the English furniture maker Thomas Chippendale’s book “The Gentleman and Cabinet Makers Director,” published in 1754. Roentgen adapted Chippendale’s design, changing the top to a broken scrolled pediment more in keeping with the German Rococo style. The marquetry designs conjure exotic figures standing on what look like dilapidated stage sets. The depiction of these half-ruined structures became occasions for marquetry cutters to display their virtuosity. Details of birds and trees add to the charming decoration, in which the playful fantasy characteristic of chinoiserie is given free rein.

Details

  • Title: Secretary Cabinet
  • Creator: David Roentgen (German, 1743–1807)
  • Date Created: About 1775
  • Physical Dimensions: Bottom, 41 7/8 × 54 1/4 × 24 1/8 in.; top, 59 1/4 × 54 3/4 × 14 1/2 in.
  • Type: Furniture
  • External Link: The Art Institute of Chicago
  • Media: Walnut veneered with various woods, and gilt-bronze mounts
  • Credit Line: The Art Institute of Chicago, gift of Count Pecci-Blunt, 1954.21
  • Artist: David Roentgen (German, 1743–1807)

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