The Francis I Renaissance Sideboard

February 21st, 2011 | posted by Bill Rau

This astonishing 16th-century dressoir (or sideboard) was created in Lyon during the height of the French Renaissance.

As both an antiques dealer and a collector, I’m always actively searching for items that embody the greatest qualities of their type. Now, it may sound odd to say that a piece of furniture is exciting, but this 16th-century sideboard is certainly one piece that would top off a museum curator’s wish list. Created during the French Renaissance, this Francis I-period sideboard, or dressoir, is over 425 years old, and represents an inconceivably small number of furnishings from this era to exist–anywhere. Just look at the condition of this sideboard and you can understand why “exciting” really just scratches the surface of how magnificent it really is.

I first encountered this dressoir over two decades ago by chance at the home of a private collector. Its richly detailed carving, great size and outstanding condition immediately struck me. Of course it wasn’t for sale. Several years later, while having the unique opportunity to explore paperwork at the Frick Collection archives, I discovered that they had what is the mate to this exceptional masterpiece, purchased by Henry Clay Frick in 1917. Mr. Frick paid an incredible $110,000 for it at the time, which would equal approximately $26,300,000 in 2010 currency (using the relative share of the GDP conversion table). That price puts the Frick dressoir as among the most expensive pieces of furniture ever to sell in the history of the world. Talk about exciting! So, when M.S. Rau Antiques had the opportunity to acquire our sideboard from the private collector, I jumped at the chance.

In terms of craftsmanship and condition, it is virtually impossible to comprehend that this dressoir was created over 425 years ago.

It would have taken the most skilled artisans to create this dressoir during what was the very first period of decorative furniture. The exterior is made entirely of walnut, with a sturdy oak interior. Comparable yet less sizeable examples of great French Renaissance pieces have been in the collections of the Victoria and Albert Museum, The British Museum and The Louvre, and are featured in the important treatise on 16th-century furniture Le Meuble en France au XVI Siecle (The Furniture in France in the 16th Century). However, to the best of our knowledge, there has not been a cabinet of even remote similarity come up for sale anywhere in the world within the past fifty years.

No serious antiques enthusiast knows exactly where their passion for collecting is going to lead them. I certainly never expected events to unfold they way they did in the acquisition of this sideboard. It just goes to show that you never know what you’ll find, or what adventures you may embark upon, in the quest for the best. Now that’s exciting.

To learn more about the Francis I Renaissance Sideboard, click here.

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