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  • Place of origin:

    Paris (The cabinet was made in Paris, made)
    Japan (The lacquer panels are Japanese, made)

  • Date:

    ca. 1820 (made)
    ca. 1630-40 (made)

  • Credit Line:

    Bequeathed by John Jones

  • Museum number:


  • Gallery location:

    In Storage

This cabinet is a very fine example of early 19th-century French furniture design. Decorated with Japanese lacquer panels of exceptionally high quality, its design very cleverly combines the raised golds and blacks of the lacquer with glinting borders of French boulle marquetry. Since first developed as a technique in the late 17th century, boulle marquetry (which involves the inlaying of pewter and brass into turtleshell) has been used to reference and replicate the shimmering colours and surfaces of Asian lacquer. This cabinet highlights the ongoing fascination with both boulle and lacquer in European 19th-century furniture. As the lacquer panels are believed to have originally formed part of a large lacquer chest, it also demonstrates the way in which European cabinetmakers would cut down and reuse elements of other objects in their work.

Physical description

Low cabinet with a single door, enclosing two shelves. The cabinet fitted with brass spiral feet, each front corner inset with a column of ebonised wood and brass. Gilded brass mounts run around the frieze, the cabinet is topped with a marble slab.

The case is oak veneered with ebony; the inside of the door veneered with satinwood and purplewood. Three panels of lacquer are mounted on the outside of the cabinet - one large panel on the outside face of the door and a smaller panel on either side of the case. Each lacquer panel is set inside a boulle marquetry border of pewter and brass inlaid on a turtleshell ground. The lacquer on the door is of exceptional quality and was executed using takamaki-e ('raised sprinkled picture') and other complex techniques involving the lavish use of gold, silver and other materials.

Two of the stiles are stamped 'Vitel'.

The lacquer panels have been removed from the cabinet for conservation reasons.

Place of Origin

Paris (The cabinet was made in Paris, made)
Japan (The lacquer panels are Japanese, made)


ca. 1820 (made)
ca. 1630-40 (made)

Marks and inscriptions

Stamped 'Vitel' on the top of the stiles


Height: 95 cm, Width: 86.5 cm, Depth: 50 cm

Object history note

This cabinet was given to the Museum in 1882 as part of a large and important bequest by John Jones. It is significant not only as an example of early 19th-century French cabinet-making, but also because of the exceptional quality of its lacquer panels. The panels have, since the 1970s, been associated with a wider group of 17th-century Japanese lacquer, known as 'the superlative group'. Also included in this group are two large lacquer chests - the V&A's 'Mazarin Chest' (Museum number: 414-1882) and the so-called 'Lawrence Chest', acquired by the Rijksmuseum in 2013 (Museum number: AK-RAK-2013-3-1).

The 'superlative group' represents the highest quality in 17th-century Japanese export lacquer. Similarities between the decoration on the two large chests, and that on this cabinet's lacquer door panel, has lead to the belief that all three groups of panels may have been produced in the same workshop. The panels on this cabinet have been cut down at some point, and it is believed that they originally formed part of a third chest.

Descriptive line

Small cabinet, mounted with three panels of lacquer inside boulle marquetry borders. The cabinet French, about 1820. The lacquer Japanese, probably 1630-1640

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

Hutt, Julia, ‘How many “Mazarin chests” were there?’ in Shayne Rivers, Rupert Faulkner and Boris Pretzel, East Asian lacquer : material culture, science and conservation. London: Archetype Publications in association with the V&A, 2011, pp. 10-25.


Oak; Ebony; Satinwood; Purplewood; Brass; Turtleshell; Lacquer


Marquetry; Lacquer; Technique; Cabinet-making


Furniture and Woodwork Collection

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