Lot 262
  • 262

A highly important and rare French verde antico marble-mounted, painted and carved walnut armoire attributed to Hugues Sambin (1520-1601), Burgundian circa 1580

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  • 205cm. high, 147cm. wide, 62cm. deep
with an overhanging cornice, above a pair of cupboard doors flanked by two male and one female caryatid figures in drapery, the two male caryatids on turned foliate carved columns, the female terminating in a pilaster carved with fruit and ears of corn, flanking an architectural niche with the figures of Prosperine and Pluto, above  a pair of painted panels, one depicting Neptune, the other Venus, above a two drawers flanked by verde antico marble plaques on lunette carved flattened bun feet, the panelled sides with pierced roundels, the whole carved with floral and fruiting swags, foliate trails and masks

Catalogue Note

Comparative Literature:
Daniel Alcouffe, Anne Dion-Tenenbaum, Amaury Lefebure, Furniture Collections in the Louvre, Vol. I, Middle Ages, Renaissance XVII-XVIII centuries (ébénisterie), 19th century, p. 34-35, no. 12.
Alain Erlande-Brandenburg, Hughes Sambin, Un créateur au XVIe siècle (vers 1520-1601), Paris, 2001, p. 69.
Jacques Thirion, Le Mobilier du Moyen Age et de la Renaissance en France,  Dijon, 1998, pp. 118, 181 and 188.

We are indebted to Mr A. Brandenburg for his attribution of this armoire to Sambin and his contribution to the footnote.

This magnificent armoire is one of only four attributed to Hughes Sambin executed with virtuoso carving and painted panels which uniquely are not mounted on the armoire but are painted directly onto the walnut carcass. Furthermore, in the history of French furniture making, it is one of the earliest examples of this type of armoire being made in one piece, as previously these large pieces of furniture were traditionally made in two sections 'armoire à deux corps’ (see the armoire in the Louvre post). Its imposing size exemplifies its function as a `parade’ object reflecting the prestige of its owner and the richness of the carving reflects the Mannerist art of the period and the in particular that of Fontainebleau. The carving with abundant fruiting swags and foliage convey the richness of the piece and the quality of execution suggests an ébéniste of distinction and this armoire would have been an important commission at the time it was made and must have been made for an illustrious patron.

The architectural form of this armoire is inspired by designs by the celebrated architect and designer A. Du Cerceau (see post), see a design by him illustrated by Thirion, op. cit, p. 181, reproduced here in fig.2.  It reflects the form of this armoire with elaborate swags, separate upper and lower sections and caryatid figures.  

The three caryatid figures are closely related to engravings in Sambin’s publication Oeuvre de la diversité des termes don’t on se sert en architecture, (pub. 1572) see Thirion, op.cit., p. 188-reproduced here in fig.3. The male and female terms have the very distinctive belted drapery seen on the figures on this armoire. It is also worth comparing the engraving depicting Hercules on a leaf carved pilaster which must have surely inspired the entwined foliate demi-columns on this armoire.

Many of the carvings are based on 16th century printed sources and there are various mythological references with the carved figures of Prosperine and Pluto and the painted panels with Neptune and Venus.The figure of Prosperine and Pluto in the niche is derived directly from Rosso’s `gods in niches’ suite engraved in 1526 by Caraglio, which were reproduced in 1530 by Bink and copied by Du Cerceau after 1540–see Thirion, p. 206, for an engraving of Pluto, reproduced here in fig. 4.

It is worthwhile comparing this armoire with the four only other recorded examples of furniture either by or attributed to Sambin in Museum collections:

The Doors in the Musée des Beaux-Arts, Dijon:

There is a pair of doors by Sambin made for la salle Saint-Louis du palais de Justice, Dijon,  illustrated by Erlande-Brandenburg, op. cit., p. 76, planche VIII, reproduced here in fig. 5.  They have similar architectural niches and are separated by a male caryatid figure reminiscent of those on this armoire. The doors have superbly carved military trophies which reflects those on the porte du scrin which is documented as made by Sambin (see post).

There are other documented works by Sambin commissioned for the palais du parlement of the duchy of Bourgogne and in 1583, Sambin was paid 24 écus by the Crown Treasury out of the 128, that was agreed on for the clôture de la chapelle du Saint-Esprit and the porte du Scrin, the latter is illustrated by Erlande-Brandenburg, op. cit. p. 24, fig. 5, now also in the Musée des Beaux-Arts, Dijon.

Musée du Louvre, Paris:

The present armoire is almost identical in both form and carved decoration to one also attributed to Hughes Sambin (circa 1520-1601) in the Musée du Louvre, Paris originally in the collection of the Marquise Arconati Visconti, 1916 (inv. OA 6968)-reproduced here in fig. 1. It was originally, as was always the case in the 16th century, comprised of two sections as one can see evidence of the previous fixings. The Louvre armoire differs with the offered one, in that the architectural niches are carved with the figures in high relief of Hercules raising his club and Venus standing on a sphere with Cupid. The Louvre piece is the only other recorded example of an armoire by Sambin with similarly painted panels, although the subject-matter differs to that on the offered armoire as they depict `The Creation of Man’ and `The Murder of Abel by Cain’. It might be a possibility that this armoire and the one in the Louvre were originally a pair.  

The painted panels on the Louvre armoire by comparison with two signed panels in the Dijon Musée des Beaux-Arts and with a series of monochrome paintings signed and dated 1581 on a dresser in the Musée du Palais Granvelle in Besançon, have been attributed to the Dijon stained glass artist Evrard Brédin, who collaborated with Hughes Sambin.

Another influence which can be found on the Louvre armoire is that of Fontainebleau. The figure of Hercules in the niche is derived directly from Rosso’s `gods in niches’ suite.

The only other difference apart from the painted panels on the Louvre armoire and the offered armoire is the presence of marble plaques on the latter.

Musée des Beaux-Arts, Besançon:

There is a dressoir attributed to Sambin with painted panels by Bredin, circa 1581, in the Musée des Beaux-Arts, Besançon, illustrated by Thirion, op. cit., p. 118, reproduced in fig. 6..  It was executed for the co-governor Gauthiot d’Ancier and two of the painted panels are dated 1581 and signed E. Bredinus F. 1581, (for Bredin), as on the Louvre example. It is obviously of a different form to the offered armoire being a dressoir, but is conceived in a similar vein. It bears certain similarities to the offered armoire such as the caryatid figures on the lower section, the painted panels in an architectural niche and the fruiting swags.

Musée d’Ecouen, Paris:

The armoire in the Musée d’Ecouen is constructed in two sections and this facilitated the  transferral of these cabinets from one house to another. In its architectural form, it is similar to the offered armoire though on a much less grander scale and is illustrated by Erlande-Brandenburg, op. cit., p. 69, plate 1, cat. 9, reproduced here in fig. 7. There are painted panels in niches and as on the offered armoire, the form of the niches on the upper and lower section of the doors differ. The carved decoration is solely concentrated on the façade and could well be the work of several hands. Customarily, the higher quality work is reserved for the upper section which is at eye level. The decoration and pose of the fauns is similar to that on the cabinet of Gauthiot d’Ancier. The laurel leaf crowns on the fauns are similar to the porte du Scrin and the porte de la Grande Salle of the Palais de Justice of Dijon (see post). The treatment of the fruiting swags and foliate entwined columns is also similar to that on the offered armoire. 

The history of the armoire:

Until the end of the Renaissance, armoires were intergrated into the structure of of a building and it was not until the middle of the 16th century that they took up a three dimensional space. In the inventories of the Connétable Anne de Montmorency in 1568, there is mentioned, 'de grans armoires de boys à mectre habillements, ouvrans à deux battans, attachées à la muraille’. Furthermore, in the ‘cabinet de curiosités' of Catherine de Medici in 1589, there  is also mentioned, `Une grane armoire à dix guichetz près et joignant la muraille du costé des fenêtres…" These armoires were placed into the walls and presumably not detachable, nor were they adorned.

By the second half of the sixteenth century it is possible to discern several different types of armoires. The rather more rectangular ones with vertical divisions such as columns or terms are a common trait in the Northern tradition. The armoires with a much larger lower section with very rich and defined carvings are akin to the Bougogne and Midi regions. This should not be blindly accepted as the rule since the wealth of carving of the south and the architectonic features of the north were admired by both and incorporated by each and there was this crossover.

Hugues Sambin:

The celebrated French architect and ornamentalist was also a maître menusier. A true Renaissance man, he was a sculptor, architectural draughtsman, ornamental designer and engraver. His most celebrated work, although published posthumously is L’Oeuvre de la diversité des termes dont on use en architecture, réduit en ordres published in 1572. He was born in the Franche-Comté around 1520 at Gray, where his father Mammès Sambin was himself a sculptor. It is recorded that he spent several years in the workshops of Fontainebleau under François I, where he cooperated with many Italian sculptors and architects of the day. In 1547, Sambin married Catherine Boudrillet in Dijon, the daughter of his maitre the master-carpenter Jehan Boudrillet from Troyes. He became maître menuisier in March 1548 and several times became head of the guild of carpenters and in 1557, Sambin bought a house in the parish of Notre-Dame, along the historical rue des Forges, where he lived until his death in 1601. 

From 1558, Sambin concentrated mainly on architecture and is known to have worked on the house of the vicomte Jean Maillard on 38 rue des Forges (1561-1565), where he was most likely the sculptor-decorator. He was also involved in the building of the house of Marc Fyot on the rue de la Madeleine, today rue Amiral Roussin.

 In 1564, the council of Djion commissioned several triumphal pieces for the arrival of the King Charles IX and in 1571, Sambin worked for Léonor Chabot, comte de Charny, lieutenant-général to the government of Burgundy. It is at that time that he was named “architecte” of the city of Dijon and he remained in service of the the comte de Charny until 1574, and dedicated his famous work to his patron: L’Œuvre de diversité des termes don’t on use en architecture, réduit en ordre edited in Lyon by Jean Durant in 1572.

Unlike his contemporaries Du Cerceau, Palissy, de Brosse, to name but a few, Hugues Sambin’s legacy has not enjoyed the same success of posterity. Until recently little was known of this menuisier who’s wealth of carvings have adorned the churches and Palaces from Dijon to Fontainebleau.

Jacques Androuet du Cerceau:

Jacques Androuet, c.1520-c.1584, surnamed du Cerceau thought to derive from the emblem of a circle marking his workshop, was the father of the dynasty bearing his name. He was a French designer and architect who published very influential engraved designs for silver, furniture and textiles. Alhough he was referred to by contemporaries as architecte and was even appointed architecte du roi, it is his engravings, produced from 1549, for which he was greatly respected and widely remembered. In 1559, upon is arrival in Paris, he produced the celebrated Livre d'architecture dedicated to Henri II in 1559 and Les plus excellents bastiments de France (1576, second volume 1579) which remains his best known work and was one of the most influential architectural publications of its time. He used Renaissance motifs from other designers and borrowed ideas from the Italian Mannerists.


Very few pieces of furniture after his designs survive which demonstrate his direct influence, see for example, the walnut cabinet in the Frick Collcction, New York, but only one example executed after a design by him is known to exist-the `Sea-Dog Table’ at Hardwick Hall, Derbyshire, made in around 1580.


From 1560, he became architect to the Princess Renée of France, the wife of Ercole II, Duke of Ferrara (d. 1559), who offered him sanctuary during the religious wars, when he fled to the Huguenot stronghold of Montargis, the seat of Renée de France, around 1569. The Château featured strongly in his best-known work and is thought to have been restored by him after a devastating fire in 1525 and the arrival of the Hugenots in 1562. Attributed to him are designs for two chateaux, Verneuil and Charleval for the son of Catherine de Medici, Charles IX of France. His many publications not only demonstrate his numerous works but also the prevalence of his oeuvre throughout the decorative arts.


Nearly all of Jacques Androuet du Cerceau's descendants became famous architects in their own right. Baptiste Androuet du Cerceau, c.1545-1590, designed the Pont Neuf spanning the Seine at the tip of the Ile de la Cité, and became supervisor of royal construction in Paris, while Jacques Androuet du Cerceau, the younger, c.1556-1614, worked on the Tuileries. His two grandsons Salomon de Brosse and Jean Androuet du Cerceau, c.1585-1650, is known for his mansions in Paris, one of which is the Hotel de Sully. Finally through marriage, the most famous architects of the seventeenth century, namely Jacques Lemercier, Louis Le Vau and François Mansart, can all trace their ancestry back to Jacques Androuet as their ancestor.