Andre Roubo’s The Book of Plates: A Makers Year 57

Okay, this is sad.

I gave myself a Christmas present, which alone is sad. But I wrapped it up myself, and put it beneath the tree, and opened it on Christmas morning… Why? Because I knew that it was going to be special and I wanted to celebrate that. (What is that you got there Dad? A big book of old drawings? Why do you want that?  Will you just carve the damn bird and stop reading!)

This book is just stunning! Why in this three-second-attention-span age should we need an American publisher to show us the work of an almost forgotten French furniture maker? We deserve the celebrity-ridden, cultural desert we inhabit – so we should celebrate and recognise the publishers who take this delightfully contrarian view. It will have taken conviction and determination to do this – this alone should be celebrated.

So what have they done, this small independent American (dammit) publisher?

They have found and published the writings of an almost forgotten and largely ignored French writer, designer and craftsman, called Andre-Jacob Roubo. This is a man who not only has the technical skill of great maker, but the illustrative ability of an artist and, to complete the circle, the communicative ability of a writer.

[Tweet “‘The Book of Plates’ (@lostartpress) is a “proper book” – of a quality rarely seen these days.”]

The damn thing is that he was French! Since 1360 the British have been reliving the Hundred Years War with those bastards, so we know little about the culture of ‘ebanists’ – the great cabinetmakers to the court of Louise XIV. This is where everything was made in ebony. The most difficult of timbers, all this was to a great degree shut off to us, by self-inflicted chauvinism.

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Lost Art Press has brought us sad anglophiles the writings of Roubo in this beautifully made book, The Book Of Plates.  Steady on my lovelies, this is nothing to do with crockery.  Plates were the best quality engraving method used to create with detail and precision the illustrations Roubo needed. So the production values of this book had to also be pretty high as well. And it is. This is a “proper book” – a book of a quality rarely seen these days.

The Book of Plates cover image

Everything from images of the tools of a French cabinetmaker’s shop, to the King’s carriage, to the processes of constructing the interior of a dome. It may not be the case, but it feels like everything this man ever saw or made is in there. From the size and shape of a block necessary to handrail the corner of a majestic Rococo staircase, to the “geometry needed by Ebanists”.

What is mind-blowing about this book is the expression of the knowledge and intelligence of its creator. A wealth of understanding put down in drawings. Pinned down for all time, understanding of complex details that will enable us to go ah-ha! that’s how they did it.

[Tweet “I hope we will now find makers going to Roubo and taking his forms and methods into the 21st century.”]

We will now see dozens of facile direct digital translations swiped from Roubo cropping up in contemporary pieces. That’s a given, and pretty okay. However, what I hope we will now find is modern makers going to Roubo and, from these images, taking forward forms and methods into the 21st century. For this, we must be very grateful to Lost Art Press for all their considerable work.

In the UK, The Book of Plates is available here from Classic Handtools. In the US, try getting it direct from the publisher here.

Happy reading, and happy making.


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