The interior scenes filmed during the BBC series 'Versailles' included architectural period details, vases, paintings, and furniture. Some of these were not authentic and reappear in different parts of the palace when the prop manager needed a dash of color or a particular shape, but others were authentic antiques that roughly approximated the style of the items that would have been in the royal palace during the late 17th and early 18th century.
The production designer of the BBC production Katia Wyszkop described work for the series in an interview with Architectural Digest in 2016. Click here to view the article > https://www.architecturaldigest.com/gallery/go-inside-the-set-design-of-versailles
Many locations were used in the filming and some did incorporate authentic antiques but most of the room settings were imagined by Katia Wyszkop. Among the noticeable images are the large tapestries and opulent gilded furniture and the stunning scenes filmed in the Hall of Mirrors, so called for the many mirrors and other reflective surfaces in the room and tall windows designed to magnify and reflect light.
We don’t think about the importance of light in today’s electrified world. We flip a switch and the lights come on regardless of the time. But in the pre-industrial age furniture was gilded and inlaid in bright colors, becoming canvases for creative artisans as a way to magnify limited light which was especially limited outside of Versailles public rooms. Thousands of members of the court lived in Versailles and many apartments were crowded, cold, dirty, and except for the very few nobles who ranked high enough to enjoy a suite of rooms, unpleasant.
In these small rooms furniture had to be practical. Walls typically held doorways or windows or fireplaces and there were no closets. Furniture served as storage and as surfaces for holding objects, often candlesticks.
A space-saving form that was particularly well-suited to a small room is the encoignure, a curved front triangular cabinet often with a marble top, that fit into the corner of a room. The marble top protected against fire hazards from dripping candles and wet surfaces that might damage the wood or cabinet contents. This type certainly would have been in the royal palace or in similar residences throughout France.
Most encoignure are small with a single rounded door that opens to an interior with shelves. With storage and a protective marble top, the encoignure was an efficient form located in a room without much space to spare. The cabinetmaker Pierre Roussel created this pair of encoignure, which like his other furniture uses colorful stained woods depicting landscape and other scenes. The inlaid wood surface must have been a welcome respite to the lack of scenery for most of the rooms in Versailles. Many apartments were described as being ‘closets’ with no windows, no heat, and low ceilings, particularly those located in the upper attic rooms.
Fanciful classical buildings decorate this pair of encoignure by Roussel and the corners of the rounded front are embellished with ormolu mounts simulating fabric swags and oak garlands. The gilding reflected the limited light in the room just enough so the occupant would have been able to avoid bumping into the furniture in the dim light.
While most of the colors on this pair of cabinets have faded, the green sky and other elements remain as vestiges of bright stains of reds, golds, yellows, blues and other colors. Sunlight fades these colors and it is likely that once the cabinets were removed from their original location, both artificial and natural light began the process of lightening the colors that were the most transitory. The primary carcass material of these encoignure is oak, a strong, durable wood that would sustain years of regular door openings and closing and bear the weight of the marble top. The exotic woods came from French colonial centers in Africa, Asia, and the Americas. Cabinetmakers in France went through a rigorous process to become a maitre ebeniste, a master cabinetmaker, and Pierre Roussel, the maker of these cabinets achieved his maitre ebeniste in 1745. Little is known about Roussel who was described in 1769 in the ALmanach du gray Merite as one of the most significant cabinetmakers in Paris. Much of his work was for the German market and incorporated elaborate inlays of exotic woods. Roussel died in 1783 and the firm continued under his two sons.
Though this pair of Encoignure cannot be connected to Versailles, this type certainly would have been in the royal palace or in similar residences throughout France. One of the last owners was the noted Cleveland philanthropist, Elisabeth Severance Prentiss, who gave this pair of Encoignure to the Cleveland Museum.