Box thumbnail 1
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Image of Gallery in South Kensington
On display at V&A South Kensington
Furniture, Room 135, The Dr Susan Weber Gallery

Box

1510-50 (made)
Artist/Maker
Place Of Origin

This small box mimics chests that were about ten times larger. Like the chests, it is made of oak, and is held together at the corners using strong dovetail joints. The carved decoration of profile, classical style heads and grotesque ornament was also found on early sixteenth-century French chests, but whereas the back of the box is decorated, the backs of chests were usually plain, as they were placed against a wall. Another difference lies in the relation of the box and the low plinth or stand on which it appears to sit: the type of chest that it mimics has a flat, plain bottom and is separate from its low plinth that raises it off the ground and protects it. With this box, each side of the moulded plinth is integral with the carved board above it, and the box bottom actually sits on the ground.

Emile Peyre (1824-1904) was a notable Parisian collector of French medieval and renaissance artefacts. In 1895 the South Kensington Museum (renamed the V&A in 1900), bought over 300 pieces of furniture and woodwork from him, (as well as sculpture and metalwork), at a cost of £11,878. 16s. 9d.


object details
Categories
Object Type
Materials and Techniques
Oak with carved decoration
Brief Description
Carved with profile heads. French 1500-50, oak. Ex Peyre Collection.
Physical Description
Lidded oak box carved on all four sides with low relief Renaissance ornament centred on profile heads.



At the front, a helmeted bearded man in profile with classical garment (possibly adapted from Virgil Solis, Freize with fourteen busts in medallions against a stippled ground, Bartsch 461 (303), centre of lower row), facing right, supported by two grotesque putti, whose bodies terminate in scrolling acanthus. On the back, a woman in profile facing right, wearing a 16th century style headdress and high-necked smock, flanked by two pairs of vertebrate grotesque scrollwork (on the left with bearded male heads, on the right with eagle(?) heads), and half roundels with profile heads of young men (one with beard, one with cap) facing the centre. On the left end, a helmeted bearded man in profile, facing right, wearing a slashed gown over a fancy smock. On the right end a woman in profile facing left, with a simple low neckline and headdress.



Construction

The box takes the form of a miniature chest on moulded plinth, but structurally all four sides of the 'plinth' are integral to their faces, and the bottom of the box sits just above floor level not above the 'plinth' where it would be expected in a full-size chest. Quartered, planed oak boards have been used. The box is of through-dovetailed construction with mitred joints, the front and back dovetailed (x3) to the sides. (This arrangment mimics the dovetailing of a full-size chest, providing strength when the sides are 'pulled', as they are when lifted by side handles; the alternative configuration of dovetails as seen on drawers, strengthens the front and back, where strain occurs as the drawer is pulled from its front). The 'plinth' section of the box has considerable wear on its undersides but its original curved underside centred on a notch is still faintly visible. The lid (which is probably a replacement, see below) is held on two hand-made iron strap hinges fixed with hand-made nails. The bottom (a single board) is held in a rebate on all four sides. Internally the box is plain, without a compartment or till, as would be standard in a full-size chest. There are traces of an internal metal lock (now missing and presumed to have been added, not original), a keyhole cut crudely in the central medallion, and on the lid, the remains of a lock plate held on two nails. There are three small round holes in the bottom, one of which has a peg in it. At the back, along the 'plinth' the wood has deteriorated to 'cubing'.



At first sight, it apepars that the lid may be original, given the level of wear on it, the marks in the oak produced by iron staining, and its apparently long association with the hinges. However, other evidence suggests that it is a replacement (though perhaps of an early date), held on the original hinges: the lid is slightly too shallow for the depth of the box (a discrepancy unlikely to be explained by cross-grain shrinkage), the colour is slightly different, and the level of wear is noticeably heavier than the front, back and sides. It is held on two matching iron strap hinges each held by two nails (through four holes) to the back, one nail entering vertically downwards into the back, and 3 or 4 nails to the lid. The hinges appears to be of considerable age, there is iron staining in both lid and back, and there is no evidence of earlier fixings.
Dimensions
  • Height: 18.2cm
  • Length: 44cm
  • Depth: 20cm
Thickness of boards varies from 24mm at base to 14mm at top. Lid is 13mm thick. Measured on 15/9/10 by LC
Style
Marks and Inscriptions
114 (Printed, pasted label on back in centre of 'plinth')
Gallery Label
Box About 1500–50 Northern France Oak, carved Lid probably replaced Museum no. 693-1895 The dovetail joint was an ancient technique revived in Europe from about 1500. It produces a strong joint and was commonly used for chests, where lifting by the handles puts great strain on the sides. This box mimics the form of a chest. It is constructed using just two dovetails and three pins at each corner. (01/12/2012)
Object history
Bought from Emile Peyre for £50 'wormeaten and chipped. The front is pierced with a key hole'



This box was acquired from Emile Peyre of 146 Avenue Malakoff, Paris. It was listed in Peyre's house as no. 110 'small renaissance coffer with medallions' in the 'Inventory of the contents rooms [sic] containing that part of Monsieur Peyre's Collection, iron-work and wood-work which he is willing to sell. The rooms are all on the ground floor of the house.' (In Thomas Armstrong's (Director for Art 1881-98) handwriting, numbered 1-329, description and price, arranged by room.) It was located with numerous other objects, many of them fragments of sculpture, in a narrow room on the ground floor overlooking the garden, (the room marked C in an annotated sketch plan of the ground floor of Peyre's house, which apparently accompanied a letter dated 28/2/1895 from Armstrong to Major General Sir John Donnelly, secretary of the Science and Art Department.) This room was set behind the front door/hallway, and opened into a larger, garden-facing room.
Summary
This small box mimics chests that were about ten times larger. Like the chests, it is made of oak, and is held together at the corners using strong dovetail joints. The carved decoration of profile, classical style heads and grotesque ornament was also found on early sixteenth-century French chests, but whereas the back of the box is decorated, the backs of chests were usually plain, as they were placed against a wall. Another difference lies in the relation of the box and the low plinth or stand on which it appears to sit: the type of chest that it mimics has a flat, plain bottom and is separate from its low plinth that raises it off the ground and protects it. With this box, each side of the moulded plinth is integral with the carved board above it, and the box bottom actually sits on the ground.



Emile Peyre (1824-1904) was a notable Parisian collector of French medieval and renaissance artefacts. In 1895 the South Kensington Museum (renamed the V&A in 1900), bought over 300 pieces of furniture and woodwork from him, (as well as sculpture and metalwork), at a cost of £11,878. 16s. 9d.
Bibliographic Reference
Edmond Bonaffé, Le Meuble en France au XVI siècle (1887) p. 128 'Coffre Auvergne'
Collection
Accession Number
693-1895

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record createdJune 13, 2008
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