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The Kimbolton Cabinet

  • Object:


  • Place of origin:

    London, England (made)
    [Firenze], Italy (<i>pietra dura</i> plaques, made)
    Birmingham, England (mounts, made)

  • Date:

    1771-1776 (made)

  • Artist/Maker:

    Robert Adam, born 1728 - died 1792 (designer)
    Cappelli, Baccio (<i>pietra dura</i> plaques, maker)
    Matthew Boulton, born 1728 - died 1809 (mounts, maker)
    Ince (maker)

  • Materials and Techniques:

    Mahogany and oak, with marquetry in satinwood and rosewood, <i>pietra dura</i> plaques and ormolu (gilt-bronze) mounts

  • Credit Line:

    Purchase funded by the Vallentin Bequest

  • Museum number:


  • Gallery location:

    British Galleries, room 118e, case 4

Object Type
Cabinets were usually fitted with many drawers and used to store small curiosities. However, the inside of the Kimbolton Cabinet is an empty space with a door at each side. It was used purely for show and to display a series of pietra dura plaques on the outside. Although the marquetry and inlay are so lavish, the gilt-bronze mounts by Matthew Boulton cost even more than the actual cabinet.

Materials & Techniques
The pietra dura plaques include a selection of different marbles and hardstones. The first stage in preparing this work would have been to make a full-size working drawing. Paper cut-outs, traced from the drawing, were then glued to selected slices of stone. The stone pieces were placed in a vice and cut with a bow-saw, then placed face down on a flat surface. A single piece of slate was stuck to the back of the design to form a support when it was turned over. Finally, the front of the plaque was rubbed smooth with fine abrasives. This type of work had been a speciality of Florence since the 16th century.

Kimbolton Castle was first built in 1525. It was remodelled by Sir John Vanbrugh (1664-1726), the playwright and architect of Blenheim Palace, between 1707 and 1710. Robert Adam, in addition to this cabinet, designed the gatehouse and entrance screen for the castle in 1764-1765.

Physical description

Cabinet of mahogany and oak with marquetry in satinwood and rosewood, designed to display eleven Florentine pietra dura panels made by Baccio Cappelli in 1709. It has ormolu mounts. It is so designed that the panels appear to suggest drawer and cupboard fronts, although the only real doors are the two in the angled ends.

Place of Origin

London, England (made)
[Firenze], Italy (pietra dura plaques, made)
Birmingham, England (mounts, made)


1771-1776 (made)


Robert Adam, born 1728 - died 1792 (designer)
Cappelli, Baccio (pietra dura plaques, maker)
Matthew Boulton, born 1728 - died 1809 (mounts, maker)
Ince (maker)

Materials and Techniques

Mahogany and oak, with marquetry in satinwood and rosewood, pietra dura plaques and ormolu (gilt-bronze) mounts

Marks and inscriptions

'Baccio Cappelli fecit anno 1709 Fiorenza'


Height: 189 cm, Width: 182 cm, Depth: 36.5 cm

Object history note

Designed by Robert Adam (born in Kirkcaldy, Fife, 1728, died in London, 1792). Commissioned by Elizabeth, Duchess of Manchester (1730-1832), for Kimbolton Castle, Huntingdonshire. Cabinet made in London by the firm of John Mayhew and William Ince; mounts made in Birmingham by Matthew Boulton (born in Soho, Birmingham, 1728, died there in 1809). In a 1790 inventory of Kimbolton Castle, the cabinet was placed in the state bedroom, described as a 'cabinet of inlaid marbles, mounted in Ormolu, very fine'.

Sold by the Duke of Manchester, Kimbolton Castle house sale, Knight Frank & Rutley, 18–21 July 1949, lot 314. Sold to the V&A by John Bly, Tring, 23 August 1949.

Descriptive line

Kimbolton cabinet, designed by Robert Adam for Kimbolton Castle in Cambridgeshire, 1771-1775.

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

Baker, Malcolm and Richardson, Brenda, eds. A Grand Design : The Art of the Victoria and Albert Museum. London: V&A Publications, 1997. 431 p., ill. ISBN 1851773088.
The Kimbolton Cabinet was given a key place in the history of English furniture in the 1920s, status that has been reinforced by its prominent position in the Museum since its acquisition in 1949. It was made for the duchess of Manchester for Kimbolton Castle, Northamptonshire, to display eleven Florentine pietre dure (hard stone inlay) panels made by Baccio Cappelli in 1709. It is not known how these marble panels, depicting romantic seascape and mountainous pastoral scenes, came into the possession of the duchess, but they were the type of souvenir frequently bought by young Englishmen while on the grand tour of Europe. The duchess commissioned the architect Robert Adam to design the cabinet; a related Adam design in the Soane Museum is dated 1771 and inscribed "Design of a Cabinet for Her Grace The Duchess of Manchester." The cabinet was made by one of the largest cabinetmaking firms of the eighteenth century, Ince and Mayhew, with fine ormolu (gilt-brass) mounts by the Birmingham metal manufacturers Boulton and Fothergill. The panels are arranged to suggest drawer and cupboard fronts, although the only real doors are the two in the angled ends.
The panels were the main focus of interest when the cabinet appeared in the 1857 Manchester "Art Treasures" exhibition, alongside other furniture inlaid with marble and semiprecious stones. Described then as a "monument of labour and materials misapplied," it was seen very differently in 1924 when Adam's eminence as a designer had been recognised and the cabinet was featured as one of the few colour plates in Macquoid and Edwards's Dictionary of English Furniture. Illustration in the Dictionary became for many pieces of furniture a form of certification, and the V&A was not alone among museums in accepting this as a primary criterion for purchase. In 1949 Edwards, by then keeper of the furniture and woodwork collection, purchased the cabinet, and it was placed with other furniture by Adam (including cat. 149) in the newly created English Primary Galleries.

Lit. Macquoid and Edwards, 1924, p. 171; Boynton, 1966; Goodison, 1974, pp. 133-5, plates 52-62

Macquoid, Percy, and Ralph Edwards, The Dictionary of English Furniture, 3 vols (1924-27), Vol. I (1924), plate facing p. 170
Edwards, Raph, The Dictionary of English Furniture, 2nd end, 3 vols (1954), Vol. I, plate VI facing p. 190
Boynton, Lindsay (ed.), 'An Ince and Mayhew correspondence', Furniture History, Vol. 2 (1966), pp. 23-36.
Ramond, Pierre. La Marqueterie. Paris, Editions Vial, 1981, p. 48 Ramond, Pierre. Marquetry. 1st ed. published in English by Taunton Press, 1989. Revised edition, Paris, Editions Vial, 2002, p. 48
Jervis, Simon Swynfen and Dodd, Dudley, Roman Splendour, English Arcadia. London, PhilipWilson/The National Trust, 2015, p. 16, fig. 18
Adamson G., “The Labor of Division: Cabinetmaking and the Production of Knowledge”, in Cook H.J. – Meyers A.R.W. – Smith P.H. (eds.), Ways of Making and Knowing: The Material Culture of Empirical Knowledge (Ann Arbor: 2014) 243–279, fig. 17

Exhibition History

Precious: Objects and Changing Values (The Millennium Galleries, Sheffield 02/04/2001-24/06/2001)
A Grand Design - The Art of the Victoria and Albert Museum (V&A 12/10/1999-16/01/2000)
Matthew Boulton:Selling What all the World Desires (Birmingham Museum and Art Gallery 01/01/2005-27/09/2009)

Labels and date

ENGLISH; about 1775
Satinwood, pietre dure panels and ormolu mounts

Designed by Robert Adam for Elizabeth, Duchess of Manchester in 1771 to display eleven panels signed Baccio Cappelli fecit anno 1709 Fiorenza. The cabinet was made by Ince and Mayhew and the ormolu by Matthew Boulton. The cabinet was designed solely as a vehicle for displaying the marble panels: it has little practical function, having no drawers, and access to the interior is only through doors in the angled ends. [pre October 2000]
British Galleries:
This cabinet has no practical function but was designed solely for the display of 'pietra dura' (Italian hard-stone) panels. Such architectural cabinets had been made since the 17th century. In its design Robert Adam used the most up-to-date Neo-classical ornament. This included unusual flat pilaster capitals of a type recorded by Adam on an ancient Roman temple he had visited in Split, Croatia. [27/03/2003]

Production Note

hardstone panels dated 1709

Subjects depicted

Figures; Trees; Castles; Buildings; Ruins; Boats; Landscapes (representations); Scrolls (motifs); Vases; Ships; Hills; Harbours; Seascapes; Arches; Lighthouses; Urns; Classicism; Columns (architectural elements); Capitals


British Galleries; Furniture; Woodwork; Scotland

Collection code


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