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» » Bookcases and Showcases or the Art of Presenting Collections

Bookcases and Showcases or the Art of Presenting Collections

20 November 2020 | Galerie Atena

Bookcases and Showcases


The Bookcase as Storage Unit


The bookcase used for the storage of books appeared in England at the end of the 16th century, more than a century before France where this type of furniture was found from the Regency period. It was made of wood resistant to xylophagous insects that could attack books: cedar, cypress, oak, mahogany, ebony and cherry. Proportionate to the size of the room, the bookcase was composed of shelves and wire mesh doors. Some of them were called "bottom cabinets" and were similar to furniture at support height.


Empire Bookcases


Under the Empire, bookcases were large and glazed in their upper part (two thirds of the furniture). The lower part opened with two solid doors, decorated with bronze scenes. Among the most common decorative motifs : the swan, grape vines, palmette, oak and laurel branches tied with a thin floating ribbon.

Pair of Empire-Style Bookcases by Maison Jansen
Empire-Style Bookcases by Maison Jansen

The cornice is straight, the forms are sober, the uprights are highlighted with flat pilasters or small columns decorated with bronzes at the top and bottom. Even if monumental bookcases are the most popular, low bookcases also decorate the interiors.



Restauration Bookcases


Restoration period bookcases - in mahogany, rosewood or amaranth - are slender and poorly decorated. The uprights, in flat pilaster, are surmounted by a straight cornice in low relief.


Bibliothèque en acajou et bronze doré d'époque Empire

Very large Empire mahogany and bronze bookcase, Circa 1800

Louis XVI-Style Vitrine in Mahogany Veneer

Louis XVI-Style Vitrine in Mahogany Veneer

Bibliothèque Charles X en placage de palissandre

Monumental Charles X Bookcase in Rosewood Veneer with Inlaid Decoration


The two or three doors are glazed at two thirds of their height. The lower third, with wooden doors, is inlaid with patterns or dark fillets forming small panels. The inlaying realized by the craftsmen of this period is exceptional.



Napoleon III Bookcases


Bookcase is a typical piece of furniture of the Napoleon III period. Gothic models (also known as "à la cathédrale") were still very much in vogue. Black lacquered wooden bookcases were then created : the lower part was in wood while the upper part had two or three glass doors, sometimes with a grid.


Napoleon III French Vitrine in Bérain Style

Napoleon III Vitrine in Bérain Style


Napoleon III Showcase with Floral Marquetry in Louis XV Style

Napoleon III Showcase with Floral Marquetry in Louis XV Style

Like cabinets, bookcases were richly decorated with marquetry in Boulle style or Louis XVI style. Louis XV models crafted of exotic woods marquetry, were also fashionable. Their ornamentation was composed of gilded bronzes and floral motifs in marquetry.


Browse All Bookcases




Showcase was a piece of furniture intended to allow, through a facade and/or glass sides, to see inside. It was generally composed of shelves supporting small objects and collectibles. Showcases appeared during Louis XVI period, and was designed as a small, sober cabinet with glass doors. Its ornamentation was discreet to give the objects inside all their brilliance. Louis XVI cabinets had toupie or fluted feet. 


19th Century Display Case in Louis XVI Style and Adam Weisweiler Taste

Louis XVI-Style Display Case in Adam Weistweiler Taste

Vitrine d'exposition à fond de glace et monture en bronze doré

Art Deco Gilt Bronze and Glass Vitrine With Mirrors

Table vitrine Napoléon III de goût néoclassique

Napoleon III Display Case in Neoclassical Taste, Circa 1860


Browse All Vitrines


Display cases had an great success and cabinetmakers made then smaller models that could be placed on chests of drawers. Others were supported by slender, beautifully decorated legs. Vitrines could be glazed on all sides or atop only. Later, showcases had larger sizes, metal frame and the four sides entirely glazed.