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Drawer front

  • Place of origin:

    France (made)

  • Date:

    1600-50 (made)

  • Artist/Maker:

    Unknown

  • Materials and Techniques:

    Walnut, carved

  • Museum number:

    111-1899

  • Gallery location:

    Furniture, Room 133, The Dr Susan Weber Gallery, case BY9, shelf LEDGE1

This walnut panel was once the front of a cabinet drawer, although it appears to have been adapted to this function from a carved frieze or panel. There are still signs of the joints used to secure it to the structure of the drawer, a keyhole and evidence of a metal lock. As walnut is prone to woodworm damage, much early furniture is greatly deteriorated leaving only elements – usually the more decorated parts – to survive. From the 19th century some of these fragments were incorporated into new pieces of furniture made in a 16th century style.
A design of tritons (mythological mermen) and sea horses is expressively carved in low relief from the solid wood. The design may relate to prints by early 17th century designers such as Odoardo Fialetti (1573-1638?), who had been influenced by Andrea Mantegna’s engraving Battle of the Sea Gods (c.1470s), which was itself inspired by antique classical sculpture.

Physical description

Drawer front, created from a rectangular frieze panel of walnut, grained side to side.

The panel is carved in low relief with a tumultuous scene of five sea-horses and two tritons, (sea-gods in the form of mermen) in churning water, set within a flat, plain border along the top and bottom and right side. The naked tritons are shown up to their waists in water. The horses, open-mouthed in terror, are lifting their legs above the waves, one showing claw-like hooves.Two fish-like tails are also visible.
The figures are grouped either side of the central keyhole, moving towards it, each man among his horses. The man on the left grips a horse’s mane, and carries a curved horn at his side. The man on the right brandishes a large object in his right hand, possibly a jaw bone and what appears to be a shell-like horn in his left. As the two groups surge towards the keyhole, the lead horses’ legs clash beneath it.

On the back at each end is a simple mortise cut to receive a dovetailed drawer side (with remains of nails). A narrow rebate has been cut along the lower edge. Fixings for a lock (missing) appear behind the off-centre keyhole that was filled with wax (removed 2012).

It seems likely that a longer panel was adapted to serve as a drawer front, by reducing it to size, cutting joints and a rebate, and adding a lock and keyhole.

Place of Origin

France (made)

Date

1600-50 (made)

Artist/maker

Unknown

Materials and Techniques

Walnut, carved

Marks and inscriptions

No. 80
inscribed on a paper label on the back

No. 58560 [unclear]
pasted paper label on back

Dimensions

Height: 10.7 cm, Width: 40.3 cm, Depth: 2.3 cm

Object history note

Bought 'chipped and slightly cracked' for £1- 3s - 4d from Monsieur Fulgence, 75 Rue la Boetie, Paris (see Maj. General Sir J.F.D. Donnelly's report on RP 100954/1898 - "1 frieze, carved wood (chipped, cracked and restored) 30 francs"

Historical context note

The design may relate to prints by early 17th century designers such as Odoardo Fialetti (1573-1638?), such as the suite of 6 prints of Tritons and Nereids dating to about 1610-37 (The Illustrated Bartsch, vol. 38, nos. 24-29). Such works were presumably influenced by Andrea Mantegna’s engraving Battle of the Sea Gods (c.1470s), which was itself inspired by antique classical sculpture.

Descriptive line

Carved walnut drawer front, France, 1600-1650

Materials

Walnut

Techniques

Carved

Subjects depicted

Sea-horses; Tritons

Categories

Furniture; Myths & Legends; Woodwork; Renaissance (French)

Collection

Furniture and Woodwork Collection

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