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.
Embossed straw work is seldom seen due to its rarity. The Straw Shop is pleased to share images of some with you.
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. Also of interest, although faint in the below example is the use of black ink to define designs.
The central 3.25″ recessed plaque is of embossed straw work, thought to be produced in Le Puy, France.
Here is a detail of the center portion:
It is also evident how differently the pieces laid in the mold may later appear when placed in different angles.
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 1815. What makes this so interesting is embossed straw work is found throughout the piece. From The Metropolitan Museum of Art, New York, Accession Number 30.64:
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.
The two images below show the embossed panels surrounding the center of the box.
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.
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.
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)
The following is yet another example of embossed straw, this time it said to be 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.
Below the embossed portrait of a gentleman, or perhaps another likeness of Napoleon Bonaparte?, is another example of a piece likely produced in a series.
The most recent addition to The Straw Shop Collection is the following piece. This piece is especially interesting due to the background element of colored straw flowers and leaves. The ink inclusions to further define elements such as leaves or petals was a common decorative straw practice in the 1700s, as mentioned earlier and is corroborated by other straw pieces from the 18th Century.
The center of the panel, in addition to the embossed central figure of St. Francis, reveals the black ink accents mentioned above.
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.