With its peculiar lion masks, spiky swags and stylised foliage, this cabinet features many of Diehl's preferred ornaments and designs, usually encompassing Etruscan, Egyptian, Gothic and Asian influences. Further links may be drawn between the present cabinet and Diehl's most famous pieces, such as the mounts present on the centre table exhibited at the Paris 1867 Exposition Unierselle or the large porcelain plaques which feature on a side cabinet made for the 1878 Paris Exposition. Another important feature to mention is the galvanoplastie technique used to create the mounts, a new process favoured and extensively used and developed by Diehl.
Born in Germany in 1811, Charles-Guillaume Diehl settled in Paris circa 1840. He first specialised in Boulle marquetry and small functional furniture. By 1878, he was known for his 'meubles néo-grecs très étudiés et très savants, participating in all the major expositions universelles where he was awarded numerous medals (1855, 1867, 1869 and 1873). Artists such as the marqueteur Varlot, the bronze designer Brandley or the sculptors Fremiet and Guillemin collaborated with Diehl to execute his most intricate pieces.
The mounts of this meuble d'appui is the result of galvanoplastie, an electrical process that produces an exact metal copy of a work of art. The first stage in the process involves taking a mould of the original by covering the mould's surface with powdered silver to make it electrically conductive. The mould was then placed into a bath of copper ions with a positive electrode and a negative electrode attached at opposite ends. The mould was fastened to the negative electrode and when an electrical current was passed between the positive and negative poles, the negative charge attracted the positive copper ions into the mould. Layers of copper were formed in the mould until the copy was freestanding. Finally, the copper core was covered in gold by a similar process, electrochimie, in which the copper copy attracted gold ions in the bath. Firms like Christofle used the process to reproduce works of art in order to make them more widely available to customers. Electrochimie was also ground-breaking to the goldsmiths trade because mercury gilding, in practice since the Middle Ages, created fumes that caused the premature deaths of many workers. Although the electrically gilded mounts do not replicate the smooth surfaces of mercury gilding, they show that the owner of the meuble d'appui was appreciative of avant-garde fashion and was educated in contemporary technology. At the 1855 Paris Exposition, galvanoplastie was celebrated for its well-conceived application of industry to design. The thick layers of gilding on these mounts are indicative of the luxury capable by the process, also embodied in the galvanoplastie furniture mounts and table settings that adorned the court of Charles X at the Tuileries.