The bureau Mazarin is a 17th-century desk form named after Cardinal Mazarin, Regent of France from 1642 to 1661. It is the earliest predecessor of the pedestal desk, and typically has three drawers flanking a central recess and cupboard, raised on eight legs united by X- or H-shaped cross-stretchers. Although the generic name for these bureaux implies a connection with Cardinal Mazarin, he apparently never owned one, nor is it certain this type of bureau was produced during his lifetime. However, he is sometimes believed to have placed an order for the first desk of this type with Pierre Gole (c. 1620-1684), an expatriate Dutch ebony worker. Gole, who is credited with the invention of the form, first supplied such a bureau to the Court in 1669.
Furthermore, the bureau Mazarin is most popularly associated with Andre-Charles Boulle (d. 1732), ébéniste du Roi, in whose famous technique the highest-quality examples were produced. Boulle, who had married Gole's daughter, developed a technique of marquetry which involved cutting the veneer and inlay material, usually tortoiseshell and brass, together. Thus, the cut-out brass fits perfectly in the spaces left in the tortoiseshell, and vice versa. Brass-in-tortoiseshell marquetry is known as première partie, the negative being known as contre-partie. The brass was commonly engraved, as in the present lot. Boulle's technique lent itself well to foliate scrolling designs and grotesque scenes, for which he often used designs by Jean Berain (1638-1711); indeed, just like Boulle's technique of marquetry has become synonymous with a whole generic furniture type, so the use of Berain's engravings in the making of this marquetry became so common that marquetry compositions of this type became known as 'Berainesque'.