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  • Place of origin:

    Venice (Potentially, made)

  • Date:

    1600-1640 (made)

  • Artist/Maker:


  • Materials and Techniques:

    Fruitwood frame, gold and silver leaf backed panels, coloured glazes and paint.

  • Museum number:


  • Gallery location:

    Furniture, Room 133, The Dr Susan Weber Gallery, case BY4, shelf EXP []

Physical description

Summary Description:
Octagonal box with raised cover set with panels of glass painted and etched with arabesque designs through gold and silver leaf raised on fllat turned feet. The interior is fitted with several compartments with gold edges and painted with a floral design in bright colours. One compartment is lidded.

Exterior: The box is composed of a framework of mouldings enclosing the verre eglomise panels. Those on the lid are shaped. The panels are symmetrically placed and are decorated on opposing sides with the same decoration. This arabesque ornament includes baskets of flowers, dolphins, fanciful birds, peacocks, snails, monkeys, rabbits, cornucopia, seerpents and flanking urns. The gold ground gives the whole decoration an effect of contre partie boulle work in its use of similar motifs, though here they are more detailed. The red areas can be read as appearing to imitate tortoiseshell and the blue urns imply hard stones.These effects have been achieved by using coloured silver foil behind the translucent glazes.
Interior: The inside is fitted with a grid of nine small compartments with two slots for papers surrounding a larger central well with a lift-off lid, which gives access to a shallow well covering the whole base of the box. The interior is stained dark red with gilded edges and the lid with gilded decoration of a bird and foliage. The lid is centrally placed with a red silk lifting tassle. The underside of the lid is decorated with stylised red, blue, orange and mauve flowers including tulips, turkshead lilies, chrysanthemums and gold leaves on a stained red paper ground. The centre of the lid is set with a square frame of gilded moulding which may have contained a mirror.

Decoration: Gold leaf has been applied to the whole of each glass panel, probably using gelatin dissolved in water. The shapes of the ornament have then been scribed onto the leaf. Because of the fragility of the leaf this is unlikely to have been done freehand though what method was used is uncertain.Translucent glazes have then been applied over the top to add colour. A silver leaf or foil has then been applied on top of the pigment to enhance the colour and achieve a foil like appearnce. The two silver pools of water seen on two of the panels would have had the pool shapes taken out of the gold leaf and then the pattern scribed through the silver leaf and inked in on the silver to define the outlines.

The box is built up of poplar or birch boards approximately 1cm thick with the octagonal base set within the sides and the bottom of the sides are nailed to it from underneath. Each glass panel is framed in moulded ebonised wood, attached to the board by pins and glue. The top is a thin fillet of wood mitred at the corners and stuck on.
The inner compartments appear to have been constructed and fitted in the process of making the box. The base of the compartments is composed of three boards; one butt jointed crosswise between the other two and the joints reinforced with a fillet underneath. This structure is set into rebates in the sides of the box as are the vertical divisions. The lid is made of a single board, angled at the front corners to fit the profile of the box. The lid is attached with two cranked iron hinges attached with nails. The lid is composed of two broad boards running accross the sides forming a frame with two narrower boards running at top and bottom of the lid. These are lap jointed. The central raised octagon is built up over the inner edges of these boards behind the gilded central frame, with boards of poplar or bich mitred together and supporting a flat octagonal panel.
The framing of the glass panels of the lid are framed and constructed in the same way as the body of the box with overhanging moulding on the lower edge of the lid.
There is a metal hasp for a lock set into the top middle to the underside of the lid and evidence of a filled recess on the inside of the front of the box which indicates a lock might have been considered and abandoned.
The box rests on eight small flat turned feet.

Place of Origin

Venice (Potentially, made)


1600-1640 (made)



Materials and Techniques

Fruitwood frame, gold and silver leaf backed panels, coloured glazes and paint.

Marks and inscriptions

Circular label on underside of lid. Printed in red with Dept. of Science Museum around centeral image of a crown, No. then inscribed in ink 7414-1860.
7414-1860 painyted on in white to the right of the label.


Height: 25 cm, Width: 45 cm, Depth: 32.5 cm

Object history note

Purchased for 2l 8s.

Acquired originally as Italian 16th century in 1860. Date revised by Oliver Brackett 23.10.08 to Italian first half of 17th century.

Descriptive line

Wood, octagonal casket; Venice (?); 1600-1640

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

Ancient and Modern Furniture & Woodwork in the South Kensington Museum, described with an introduction by John Hungerford Pollen, (London, 1874), p. 36

'Box. Wood, octagonal form with raised cover ; set with panels of glass painted with arabesque designs on gold ground, the interior of the cover painted with flowers in gold and colours. Italian. Early 18th century. H. 9 5/8 in., L. 17 ½ in., W. 13 in. Bought, 2l. 8s.
The interior is fitted as a workbox. This is a specimen of painting on glass, or rather of opaque painting transferred to glass. This kind of decoration is attracting attention from its having fallen into desuetude, and the specimens we possess assume an interest from the splendid results that some of the finer paintings in this manner have attained. A very rare and elaborate painting on glass is at the present under exhibition in the Loan Collection at South Kensington. This is a pax with relics, or receptacles that have formerly held them. It is of the cinque-cento period, set in fine Italian goldsmith's work. In that instance the painting, which represents the Nativity, is executed on the glass itself with transparent colours, which appear to have undergone heat, and to be in some way enamelled on. An Annunciation occupies two tiny round panels in the base, and these have both translucent colours and gold hatching. The figures are scarcely an inch high, and are finished with the utmost delicacy, and by an accomplished artist. The extraordinary sharpness and excellence of the arabesque goldsmith's work, in which these paintings are set, part of it of solid gold, combine to heighten the value we should put on this particular example. Another painting on glass of the Venetian school hangs in the Museum (No. 653. '7o). In that instance the painting is in opaque colours, laid on with varnish, and transferred to the back of the piece of glass, behind which it is protected by varnishes. This workbox, then, is a specimen of this latter description of work, inartistic, but interesting as a specimen of the work applied to the decoration of objects of daily use, and with certain peculiarities.
In the Garde Meuble, or State Repository, for furniture in Paris, there is (or was till 1868) a specimen of this decoration applied to a cabinet made to hold the jewels of Queen Marie Antoinette. The cabinet, or press, stands on legs. The two side compartments are faced with panels of glass, painted on the back with arabesques and Cupids, the figures executed by miniature painters of the day. The inside opens by mechanical action, so as to furnish secret receptacles. In the sack of the Tuileries, in '93, this jewel press became (as was natural) an object of very special curiosity to the persons employed in the pillage, who, being unable to get at the secret of its opening, forced it in by violence from the back. It was for some time the property of one of the unfortunate queen's ladies-in-waiting. Four years ago it had been ordered for repair, but the method of decoration had passed out of use, and, for the time, no workman could be found to repair it. What has become of this piece of furniture we are unable to say. The transfer of pictures to glass was practised in England in the time of Anne and the early Georges. Such pictures were commonly of Apollo and the Muses, or other conventional, classic, or national compositions. They are of no artistic merit, but curious, imparting a singular depth and richness to the colours employed ; the outer glazed surface acting as a varnish, as well as a protection from atmosphere and dust.
There is a certain difference in the decoration of this workbox from ordinary work of the kind. The glass being first gilt, then scratched off for such designs as are required—birds, &c. These are tinted, and foil placed behind them as well. According to the distance of the foil, or certain crumples imparted to it, the colour is varied in depth and brilliancy. We see the same kind of gaudy resource applied to some of the advertisements hung up in our railway-stations and refreshment-rooms. Of course, this is a still further departure from the skill or fancy of the artist than ordinary transfers to glass.
Potichomanie is the transfer, by the cutting out, of designs drawn or printed on paper. These designs are made to adhere, paper and all, to the inside of cups and vases of glass. A thick coat of white or tinted white oil paint is then laid over the whole inside. This covers all the parts of the vase not occupied by the designs, and forms what looks like opaque white china, the glass only acting as glaze.
Déchalcomanie is practised by varnishing the glass or porcelain, applying printed designs, and washing off the paper. In this case the design is actually transferred, the colour adhering to the varnish, while the paper comes away.
Firescreens of white wood, highly polished, to which engravings were transferred, the whole being then varnished, were much in use thirty years since. This work formed one of the amusements of ladies, though these modern showy varieties of a similar accomplishment seem to have taken the place of a simple and natural application of varnish work.'

Labels and date

Original Label
Box, wood, octagonal form with raised cover; set with panels of glass painted with arabesque designs on gold ground, the interior of the cover painted with flowers in gold and colours. Italian 16th century.

Oliver Brackett Label
Workbox of wood set with glass panels decorated with designs etched through gold leaf under glass and painted in translucent colours, with metal foil at the back; the inside of the lid is painted with flloral designs. Italian; first half of 17th century [23.10.1908]
About 1625–50

Possibly Italy (Venice)
Fruitwood and stained poplar or birch
Panels: verre églomisé

Museum no. 7414-1860

Here the verre églomisé decoration was created on the back of the 25 glass panels before they were mounted on the box. The craftsman applied gold leaf to the glass and scraped the design into it. Still working from the back, he then painted it with translucent colour glazes and added silver leaf to enhance the colours.

Production Note

Possibly Venetian; about 1600-1650




Verre églomisé


Containers; Woodwork; Medieval and renaissance


Furniture and Woodwork Collection

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