French. Circa 1825.


Height: 7 1/2" (19 cm); Width: 17 1/3" (44 cm); Depth: 12 3/4" (32.3 cm);

Of carton pierre, green  silk , reverse painted glass, gilt bronze. The lid of peinture sous verre or back-painted glass, central oval reserve with a scene, surrounded by an elaborate gilded pattern, the whole panel held in place with fabric. Back, front and sides covered with silk with elaborate detailing around lower and upper edges of stamped and gilded paper. Gilt bronze foliate escutcheon with original lock and gilt bronze oval ring handles on either side. Lid articulated with exterior metal hinges and interior fabric straps, inside with original mirror plate, surrounded by woven fringing. Lower section with fitted but removable section with a ground of woven silk set all around with stamped and gilded carton pierre border, containing six openings of differing shapes bearing engraved images from the story of Paul et Virginie, five with a peinture sous verre scene surrounded by mirror glass on hinges and one removable with an embroidered floral design, all with gilded and stamped metallic borders. Below is space for storage. Some repairs to carton pierre decoration.  

UK Private Collection

The tradition of the presentation of a wedding chest exists in a number of cultures. In Europe an example is the Italian cassone, a large and elaborately decorated coffer filled with the bride’s possessions, which would be gifted to the newlywed by her parents. The tradition was also pronounced in France, although by the nineteenth century it was more usual for the coffre de mariage to be given to the wife by her new husband. This is the purpose for which the present piece was made.

Coffres de mariage evolved over time to provide increased practical usefulness, and this example has been adapted as a lady’s travelling box, with space for garments and possessions in the lower section, as well as six compartments for cosmetics and a mirror in the lid. These pieces would often be decorated with iconography referring to matrimonial bliss and a happy family life, a tradition, which is also in evidence in this case. The lid of the box bears a central reserve with an illustration of two gods of antiquity drinking from the cup of friendship: Cupid, representing love and desire, and Hymen, representing marriage. This subject was popular in the early nineteenth century during the Romantic age, as reflected by Jean-Baptiste Regnault’s (1754-1829) version of 1820 in the Louvre (figure 1) and a sculpture of the gods entitled Cupid Rekindling the Torch of Hymen by George Rennie (1801-1860) in the Victoria and Albert Museum of 1831.

In the illustration on the present piece the stone pedestal on which the nymph reposes, who proffers the cup of friendship, bears an inscription that proclaims in clear letters, “de près et de loin”, or “near and far”. This was a phrase often associated with matrimonial bliss in France. It was the title used by the French romantic novelist Paul Lacroix for his Roman Conjugal, or Marital Romance of 1837.1 In this instance it could hold a double meaning, referring to our box’s intended use when travelling. Surrounding this central panel are four words that still often appear in congratulatory messages in France on the occasion of a marriage; sentiment (feeling/emotion), tendresse (tenderness), felicité (bliss) and bonheur (happiness).

Full research report available on request.

Full research report available on request.