Jean-Henri Riesener and the Formulations of Late Baroque Style

Jean Henri Riesener- Desk of Marie Antoinette- Styylish

The work of German cabinetmaker Jean Henri Riesener (he worked primarily in France) exemplifies the transition between the Baroque and Neoclassical styles. Notable for his exquisite use of Baroque-style decorative elements in the context of more rigorously geometric pieces, Riesener made a name for himself at the court of Louis XVI. Indeed, he was said to be Marie Antoinette’s preferred furniture maker.

In today’s blog, we want to delve into the foundational work of Riesener and analyze it in the context of his time. Then, we’ll introduce you to pieces in the Styylish catalog that resemble his exquisite craftsmanship.

For more information on Baroque furniture, check out our recent post on French Rococo in the context of Netflix’s Bridgerton. And for a closer look at 2022’s hottest design trends in the context of antique furniture, check out our post on the topic here!

Jean-Henri Riesener: A Life

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A portrait of Jean-Henri Riesener, by Antoine Vestier (1786)

Jean Henri Riesener was born in 1734 in Gladbeck, Westphalia, a town now located in the state of North Rhine-Westphalia in western Germany. He moved to Paris at a young age to apprentice with an ébéniste (a cabinetmaker specializing in ebony wood). He achieved his master credentials in that field at the age of 34.

Riesener became a familiar face at court early on. For Louis XV, he completed the lavish Bureau du Roi (King’s Desk), often cited as an exemplar of Louis XV Baroque furniture. Riesener’s exceptionally detailed décor and careful craftsmanship set him apart from his contemporaries.

But it was later in his career that he reached his greatest visibility. He was named the official king’s cabinetmaker under Louis XVI in 1774. Subsequently, he became known for his richly decorative contributions to the early Louis XVI style. Indeed, many of Riesener’s pieces from that period seem to embrace the Neoclassical geometry favored by the King, while continuing to showcase the lavish decorative detail that defines Riesener’s Baroque pieces.

French revolutionaries associated Riesener with royal tastes during the French Revolution and tasked him with removing the royal insignia from all of his existing pieces. He survived the Terror but died in relative obscurity in 1806.

Riesener’s Work: The Bureau du Roi

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The Bureau du Roi, by Riesener

Emblematic of his early Rococo work, Riesener crafted the lavish Bureau du Roi personally for Louis XV. Featuring heavy gilding, curved legs, and exceptional marquetry décor, it’s one of the most iconic pieces of Baroque furniture.

At the hand of this desk, we can extrapolate some of Riesener’s greatest strengths. First and foremost, none could rival his talent for working with gilded bronze. With exceptional attention to detail, Riesener crafted worlds in his gold décor. From the smallest leaf to the regal lions on the corners of the desk, every part of the ornamentation oozes liveliness.

For fans of that kind of lavish ornamentation, the Styylish catalog offers beautiful options.

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A stunning Louis XV Commode – available now on Styylish

This Louis XV Commode offers a beautiful interpretation of the style period, with elegant gold mounts and beautifully shaped wood.

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A Giltwood Console Table – available now on Styylish

For something that captures the overgrown opulence of Riesener’s gold bronze mounts, consider this South German Giltwood Console Table, which can bring a tasteful elegance to your entryway.

Wood Marquetry

Another strength of Riesener’s is doubtlessly his wood marquetry work. The floral scape brought to life in the wood of the Bureau du Roi is more than just decorative – it’s genuinely breathtaking.

If you love that kind of detailed marquetry, check out these pieces from the Styylish catalog.

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A stunning Neoclassical dresser – available on Styylish

A very different kind of wood marquetry can be found on this Italian Neoclassical Dresser, for instance. With beautiful detail, musical motifs delight in a manner that will breathe song into your rooms.

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A Buffet Server of the Napoleon III period – available now on Styylish

And this Late-19th-century French buffet server is a century younger than any of Jean Henri Riesener’s work but is clearly directly inspired by it. Note the gilded ornamentation and floral motifs, especially. No wonder – French Revivalist furniture of the late 19th century obsessed over recapturing the glory of the Age of Kings.

Riesener’s Work: Marie Antoinette’s Desk

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Marie Antoinette’s Writing Desk, by Riesener

Later in his career, Riesener’s work became increasingly angular, reflecting the changing tastes of Parisian society. As the king’s cabinetmaker under Louis XVI, he crafted stunning Neoclassical furniture, including this desk for Queen Marie-Antoinette.

The first thing to notice on the desk is its geometry. Here, indeed, elegant right angles suppress the sinuous curves of his earlier work. But that doesn’t mean the desk isn’t decorated with the same aplomb as Riesener’s baroque desks.

The legs are straight and rectangular but lined all over with small gold details. The façade features Riesener’s trademark gilded bronze work. It’s a special joy to trace his work from the mid-to the late-18th-century and observe a distinctive personality amidst changing forms.

For fans of this era of Riesener’s work, the Styylish catalog has stunning treasures to offer.

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A Louis XVI-style Cabinet – available now on Styylish

This Louis XVI-style cabinet feels deeply connected to the aesthetic of Marie Antoinette’s desk. Particularly the décor around the top of the piece recalls the geometry of Riesener’s piece.

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A classic Louis XVI Roll Top Desk – available now on Styylish

This elegant Roll-Top Desk is an exemplar of French Neoclassicist furniture. Featuring rigorous geometry and beautiful gold details, it perfectly captures everything you might love about Riesener’s later body of work.

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A Louis XVI Kingwood Dresser – available now on Styylish

And while this Louis XVI Kingwood Dresser goes lighter on the gold, it features enchanting marquetry that any fan of 18th-century furniture will treasure thoroughly.

Jean Henri Riesener: A Royal Legacy

Jean Henri Riesener’s legacy is certainly one of royal success. But it’s also one of hard work, artisan quality, and exceptional artistry. It’s easy to see why we remember Riesener as one of the few true stars of 18th-century cabinet making. An artisan rarely showcases as much skill and creative brilliance at the same time.

Browse the Styylish catalog and see how artisans throughout the centuries draw inspiration from craftsmen like Riesener. Bringing one of their pieces into your home is sure to bring a unique brilliance to your living space.