This chest is decorated with marquetry panels depicting fanciful landscapes with ruins and buildings. They are almost certainly based on engravings, as yet unidentified. The unknown craftsman has used veneers (thin slices of different coloured woods) to create a picture, rather as a jigsaw is put together, although the veneers are stuck to the carcase of the piece using glues. Here, the main background veneer is tulipwood, with the detail built up in purplewood, sycamore, boxwood, holly, ebony and burr woods (taken from the misshapen growths, or burrs, found on some species of tree which are prized for their beautiful grain).
The natural tones of the woods are enhanced in some cases by staining with extra colour, and the veneers are shaded to create perspective effects by dipping them carefully into boxes of hot sand to create darker, singed areas. The chest of drawers has been made even grander by the addition of bronze mounts gilded to look like gold, and a heavy marble top.
Marquetry furniture such as this was very time-consuming and costly to make, and France (Paris in particular) was a well-known centre of production. Here, the craftsman has selected his veneers with the greatest care to create the effects he needs - for example, the natural grain of the wood creates the look of clouds in the sky. Architectural "capricci" such as this were very popular in the 18th century, with their combination of idealised picturesque or classically-based buildings and landscapes with romantic ruins.
» Is this a real or imagined landscape? What reasons can you give?
» How do you think the design process evolved. The craftsman started out with a coloured drawing, probably done by someone else, then had to select the woods to suit the design.
» Can you tell immediately that the object is a chest of drawers? Look at how the function has been disguised - the pictorial decoration runs right across the divide of the drawers and the handles are hidden away to the sides. The important element of the design is the picture.