11326 AA REMARKABLE NOEUD DE VIGNE VENEERED AND MAHOGANY BRASS INLAID PETITE COMMODE WITH SELENOGRAPHIC DIAGRAM TO LOWER SHELF AND FITTED WITH WRITING DRAWER Possibly Swiss. Circa 1795. Measurements: Height: 29 1/2″ (75 cm) Width:20 1/2″ (52 cm) Depth: 14 1/4″ (36 cm).
Of cross grain noeud de vigne, mahogany, ebony and brass. The rectangular veined marble top encased within a brass molding with integral pierce gallery. The body of the table is set with three drawers, the uppermost fitted with a leather lined writing surface. The four slender tapering legs with brass collars at the head and terminating in turned feet. The legs enclose a shelf inlaid with selenographic diagram of the phases and appearances of the moon, surrounded by a pierced gallery. Sides and back fully paneled and finished.
A Swiss Collection
The inlaid shelf of the present petite commode is decorated with a selenographic diagram showing the phases of the moon as it is caused by the directions of the sun’s rays and the position of the moon as it orbits the earth. The composition is very related to a drawing that appeared as Plate 19 in Harmonia Macrocosmica (1661), a collection of celestial maps by the Dutch-German mathematician and cosmographer Andreas Cellarius (1596-1665) (figure 1).
In Cellarius’ illustration, the personified sun in the center emanates rays of light toward the earth, which is surrounded by eight shaded spheres representing the moon in different phases from new to full. On the lower right, a separate diagram shows the twelve lunar phases with respect to the sun, with the its rays indicated by black lines.
The inlay design of the present petite commode appears to combine these two illustrations, with a personified sun connected to a concentric ring of ‘suns’ by lines, which surrounds the eight moons, in turn, surrounding the earth.
Aside from the remarkable use of the selenographic inlaid diagram, this petite commode belongs to a small group of Continental furniture pieces veneered in ‘noeud de vigne.‘ This technique is created by cutting the end grain of vine tree branches that are laid in a pleasingly random pattern and infilled with cuts of the thinner shoots of the vine. An indication of the costliness and sophistication of this rare medium is the existence of an important Louis XVI régulateur à équation by Berthoud with enamel dials by Coteau, whose entire casing, attributed to Balthazar Lieutand, is inlaid using this technique (figure 2).1
1. Formerly in the London art trade.