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  • Place of origin:

    France (probably, made)

  • Date:

    ca. 1540-1600 (made)

  • Artist/Maker:


  • Materials and Techniques:

    Carved oak

  • Museum number:


  • Gallery location:

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

These carved panels show profile and three-quarter heads set within medallions, a very popular design motif in the sixteenth and seventeenth centuries. Their use followed the growth of scholarly interest in ancient classical coins and medals. The carvers of these panels copied the heads from an engraving by Virgil Solis of Nuremberg (1514-62), which identifies one as 'OTHO' , the Holy Roman Emperor Otto I (912 -973), the other perhaps representing Queen Adelaide of Italy, who married Otto I in 951. The surrounding cherubs, putti, mask and birds were almost certainly adapted from other sixteenth-century prints. It appears that this double panel, together with another pair (Museum no. 799-1895), formed part of a larger framework, probably from two matching doors to a tall cupboard. At some point before 1895 both double panels with some framework attached were sawn out of the doors and converted to serve as small cupboard doors, with the panels turned on their sides.

The panels formed part of the collection of Emile Peyre (1824-1904), a notable Parisian collector of French Medieval and Renaissance artefacts. In 1895 the South Kensington Museum (renamed the Victoria and Albert Museum in 1900), bought over 300 pieces of furniture and woodwork (as well as sculpture and metalwork) from him, at a cost of £11,878 16s 9d.

Physical description

Two carved panels with profile heads (a helmeted man on the left, and a women with a headdress on the right, facing each other) within a joined framework.

The two medium relief panels are carved in the solid, and held in a pegged, mortise-and-tenoned framework, with mitred cyma reversa moulding at the four sight edges. There are two cut-outs along the bottom edge for strap hinges (to judge by the fixing holes and shadows) which are now missing. An iron lock ring is nailed to the back mid-way along the top rail, with a corresponding key-hole on the front. Midway up the right stile is a hole with 'tails' opening on the front of the stile for a metal staple (missing). Rebates have been cut in the outer faces of the framework: at the back on the sides and bottom edge, and at the front on the top edge.

The left panel shows a roundel containing a bearded man in profile in an elaborate helmet, facing to the viewer's right, after the figure of Otto in Virgil Solis' engraving (see below). Above the roundel are two putti flanking a mask; below the roundel are two conjoined, addorsed grotesque birds. The right panel shows a young woman in three-quarter view, with a headdress and flying hair, and a double scroll, facing the viewer's left, taken from the same Solis engraving. Above the roundel are two putti supporting a mask superimposed on a cartouche; below the roundel are two addorsed kneeling putti.

This double panel, and another, similar (799-1895), acquired with it, seem to have been acquired with a dark stain on the front, which was apparently stripped c.1960-80.

Place of Origin

France (probably, made)


ca. 1540-1600 (made)



Materials and Techniques

Carved oak

Marks and inscriptions




Height: 48.8 cm, Width: 71.2 cm, Thickness: 4 cm

Object history note

This double panel and its companion were both acquired from Emile Peyre of 146 Avenue Malakoff, Paris, at the price of £50 for both - 'French, first half of 16th cent., slightly wormeaten'. They are listed in Peyre's house as no. 243 '2 Cupboard doors with fall-down front, renaissance medallions with heads' 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.) They were located in the ground floor passage (marked A on the plan) leading from the front door towards the rear of the house towards the garden.

Other lists among the Museum's Peyre papers "list of objects from the Peyre collection suggested for Dublin Musuem" and "List of wood and ironwork in the Peyre collection which is proposed to send to the Edinburgh Museum" appears to suggest that two other panels (presumably ensuite) were sent to these two Museums.

Taken from Museum papers MA/1/Plo86/1, nominal file Peyre, Emile.

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.

Both heads are derived from an undated engraving (3.4 x 17cm) designed by Virgil Solis (1514-62) showing four busts in medallions on a panel with satyrs (Illustrated Bartsch, Solis no.442, Bartsch 297; V&A E.1791-1923; Hollstein's German Engravings, Etchings and Woodcuts 1400-1700, vol. LXIV Virgil Solis part II, no. 331]
Michael Bath suggests that the 'OTHO' figure represents the Holy Roman emperor Otto I (912 -973. The female figure is probably Queen Adelaide of Italy, who married Otto I and initiated the imperial Ottonian dynasty in the West. She had been successively daughter, daughter-in-law, and wife of the last three kings of Italy, before herself inheriting the throne, prior to her marriage, in 951, to Otto.

It appears that both double panels formed part of a larger framework (probably a tall cupboard door -one of a pair- with 8 similar panels held on several staple hinges). At some point before 1895 both double panels were sawn out of the framework, rebates were cut on the edges which exposed tenons and mortices, strap hinges and a lock/receiver plate were added so that they functioned as small cupboard doors with the roundel panels turned on their sides.

One (if not both) of the pairs of panels was displayed in room 3 in the years before 1950. 798-1895 was displayed in gallery 48 probably from about 1969 to the mid-1980s.

Descriptive line

Carved oak door. French, first half of 16th century

Bibliographic References (Citation, Note/Abstract, NAL no)

Michael E. Bath, 'Sixteenth-Century Romayne Heads: Engravings by Virgil Solis copied on four panels in the Victoria and Albert Museum', in IN NOCTE CONSILIUM, Studies in Emblematics in Honor of Pedro F. Campa (Verlag Valentin Koerner, Baden-Baden, 2011), pp.275-290

Labels and date

Panels, possibly from a cupboard
About 1540–1600

Probably northern France
Oak, carved

Museum no. 798-1895

These panels are carved ‘in the solid’ from 2.5cm oak board. The carver based the profile heads on engravings about the size of a medal, but added depth and personality. The lively border figures were probably adapted from other prints, requiring invention and drawing skills. The deep borders were cut by a different technique, using a moulding plane. [01/12/2012]

Production Note

Northern France/ Loire






Furniture; Household objects; Woodwork; Renaissance (French)


Furniture and Woodwork Collection

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