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Embossed Straw

Embossed straw, or raised straw work, is fairly specific to the 18th century.

Embossing  (to carve, mold, or stamp a design on (a surface) so that it stands out in relief) with sheets of straw create highlighted parts of the inlay.

A dampened sheet of straw was inserted into two negative molds, originally carved of horn.  The molds, which then pressed positive dies in low relief, allowed repetitive production.  There are many identical copies of embossed straw still in existence.   Examples of bone molds may be found in the Victoria and Albert Museum and the British Museum in London.   The embossed work typically pictured religious scenes, royal portraits, bouquets and domestic scenes.

Notice the use of straw inlay in the below designs.  The designs further show the incorporation of embossed straw which dramatically changes the appearance of the otherwise one dimensional work entirely.

Paper was added to help support the raised straw work.  The below two framed pieces  are representative  of this popular form of decorative straw work in the 1700s and early 1800s.  Although not part of The Straw Shop Collection, we are grateful the owner shared the two images below for educational purposes.

 

1800s embossed straw

Embossed straw work is seldom seen due to its rarity.  The Straw Shop is pleased to share images of some with you.

embossed straw 1800s

 

These images portray the same religious character although based on our research it does not depict a specific saint.  These motifs have been described as depictions of  St Francis of Assisi depicted with the crucifix, book and skull. To date we have not located any information to substantiate this claim.  The inlaid style of straw work is thought to be typical of the 1700s as shown below.

Inlaid straw work,1700s straw work, the straw shop collection, antique straw ,

Inlaid straw work typical of 1700s photo courtesy The Straw Shop Collection

The central 3.25″ recessed plaque is of embossed straw work, thought to be produced in Le Puy, France.

Straw embossed and inlaid panel circa 1720s St Francis of Assisi courtesy Ruby Lane

Straw embossed and inlaid panel circa 1700s Courtesy The Straw Shop Collection

 

Here is a detail of the center portion:

Embossed straw, straw work 1700s, The Straw Shop Collection

Embossed straw detail ca 1700s courtesy of The Straw Shop Collection

You may have noticed the above two scenes were probably made using the same mold.   What visually really differs in the two examples is the way the straw was laid in the mold.

Extending the practice of embossed straw from one century into another this example is the interior piece of what is described as a toilet box. Described as dating between 1804 and 1814.  This dating is likely based on Napoleon Bonaparte crowning himself as Emperor of France in 1804 and ruling until his exile in 1814.   What makes this so interesting is embossed straw work is found throughout the piece.

Embossed straw example with Napoleon profile, Courtesy Metropolitan Museum of Art, NY, Embossed straw,The Straw Shop

Embossed straw example with Napoleon profile, Courtesy Metropolitan Museum of Art, NY

This heavily embossed box not only had images of people, plants, fruit in relief on various pieces, but the likeness of Napoleon Bonaparte. According to an exhibition held in 1978 by Metropolitan Museum of Art in New York, entitled “The Arts Under Napoleon”, we learn once he crowned himself Emperor he motivated craftsmen from all areas to portray his likeness on everything. His image, as a reborn Caesar complete with a laurel leaf crown, was used in medals, portraits sent to other dignitaries, souvenirs and other items such as this toilet box.   Apparently Napoleon did not care to pose often for the various pieces ultimately portraying him.   As a result his likeness varied. The likeness portrayed on this piece is said to have been a “Profile head of Napoleon after an original by Jean-Pierre Droz (French, La Chaux-de-Fonds, Neuchâtel 1746–1823 Paris)” according to The Metropolitan Museum of Art, New York.

Embossed straw example with Napoleon profile, Courtesy Metropolitan Museum of Art, NY

Embossed Napoleon image Courtesy Metropolitan Museum of Art NY

The two images below show the embossed panels surrounding the center of the box.

Embossed Toilet Box inner panel with couple and cherub Courtesy Metropolitan Museum of Art NY

Embossed Toilet Box inner panel with couple and cherub Courtesy Metropolitan Museum of Art NY

Embossed Toilet Box inner panel with cherub Courtesy Metropolitan Museum of Art NY

Embossed Toilet Box inner panel with cherub Courtesy Metropolitan Museum of Art NY

The following images show the extensive use of embossed straw in this piece. Six of the original seven boxes once nestled in the center of this piece are shown below.

Embossed Toilet Box inner container signed CANAL DE LA SOANE, A LYONNE Courtesy Metropolitan Museum of Art NY, The Straw Shop

Embossed Toilet Box inner container signed CANAL DE LA SOANE, A LYONNE Courtesy Metropolitan Museum of Art NY

Embossed Toilet Box inner container signed Don de La - Mitie Courtesy Metropolitan Museum of Art NY, The Straw Shop

Embossed Toilet Box inner container signed Don de La – Mitie Courtesy Metropolitan Museum of Art NY

Embossed Toilet Box inner container with green flowers Courtesy Metropolitan Museum of Art NY

Embossed Toilet Box inner container with green flowers Courtesy Metropolitan Museum of Art NY

It is possible the green box shown above is simply the base side of another container as the complete image shows only six boxes in total.

Embossed Toilet Box 4 of the 5 center containers Courtesy Metropolitan Museum of Art NY, The Straw shop

Embossed Toilet Box 4 of the 5 center containers Courtesy Metropolitan Museum of Art NY

Here is a photo of the box completely opened, revealing a missing container to complete the toilet box. The size of the box is as follows:  Overall (confirmed): 9 7/8 × 16 1/4 × 11 3/8 in. (25.1 × 41.3 × 28.9 cm)

Embossed Toilet Box displaying containers Courtesy Metropolitan Museum of Art NY

Embossed Toilet Box displaying containers Courtesy Metropolitan Museum of Art NY

The following is yet another example of embossed straw, this time said to from the collection of Lison De Caunes.  The shepherdess reading a book, with the sheep in the back ground behind the napping dog is yet another example of this style of work. Notice the similar straw style surrounding the framed center.

Embossed straw- panel of shepardess from the Collection of Lison De Caunes.

Panel of shepherdess from the Collection of Lison De Caunes, Courtesy Ebay.fr

Below the embossed portrait of a gentleman, or perhaps another likeness of Napoleon Bonaparte?, is another example of a piece produced in a series.

embossed art, embossed straw,

Embossed straw from The Straw Shop Collection

 

As always, The Straw Shop welcomes additional information on this subject.

The Straw Shop is indebted to Metropolitan Museum of Art NY,  Ebay, The Straw Shop Collection and the generous individual who supplied the images for this article.

Copyright Jan Huss 2016.