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  • Place of origin:

    Paris (box with marquetry panels, made)
    London (legs, probably, made)

  • Date:

    1695-1710 (made)
    1840-80 (made)

  • Artist/Maker:


  • Materials and Techniques:

    Oak and walnut, veneered with ebony inlaid turtleshell, brass, mother-of-pearl, tin, copper and horn, with mastic highlighting engraving, and gilt-brass mounts

  • Credit Line:

    Bequeathed by John Jones

  • Museum number:

    1022:1 to 6-1882

  • Gallery location:

    Europe 1600-1815, Room 5, The Friends of the V&A Gallery, case CA7 []

This box was one of the many pieces of French decorative art bequeathed to the V&A by John Jones in 1882. Jones made his fortune as a military tailor, kitting out the armies of the British Empire. He was also an avid collector of French furniture and porcelain, particularly of items made between about 1660 and 1800.

This box stood under a table in his dining room at 105 Piccadilly, which was decorated with the same marquetry of turtleshell with other materials such as brass, copper or pewter and mother-of-pearl. Jones greatly admired this difficult and decorative form of veneering furniture, known as boulle marquetry after the French cabinetmaker André-Charles Boulle. It had first become fashionable just before 1700 and this box was probably made around that time, although the gilt brass legs were added in the middle of the 19th century, possibly not long before Jones bought it.

Physical description

Box or casket of oak and walnut veneered with ebony inlaid with turtleshell, tin, brass, copper, horn and mother-of-pearl. All inlays with engraved decoration filled with black mastic (possibly originally blue); the upper and lower edges of the box are set with gilt-bronze mounts. When acquired by the Museum the box was raised on cast, gilt-bronze legs, assumed to have been added in the nineteenth century. These legs were removed in 2014.

The box is rectangular, with a concave edge to the hinged lid. The lid shows a marquetry panel of symmetrical scrolls and small grotesque figures and birds, centreing on the figure of Minerva (with an owl at her feet) in a pink headdress and armour, part of which she holds in her right hand, with a long spear held in her left, standing on a trellised dais. The panel is framed with a flat gilt-brass border chased with acanthus leaf decoration. The concave edges of the lid are set wtih boulle marquetry panels showing symmetrical scrolls with grotesque figures and animals, the corners set with flat, chased, gilt-brass leaf-shapes giving the appearance of mounts. The front and side panels are similarly decorated with symmetrical scrolling patterns with sphinxes, grotesque figures and animals, all in boulle marquetry. The top and bottom edges of the box are set with gilt-brass mouldings, with repeating formal floral motifs. The whole box is raised on small, tapering gilt-brass legs in the form of inverted balusters, with cast and chased decoration.

The inside of the box is lined with padded pink watered silk, possibly originally crimson. The front panel of the box can hinge down. A button hidden beneath the silk releases a secret compartment beneath the apparent base of the box.

Place of Origin

Paris (box with marquetry panels, made)
London (legs, probably, made)


1695-1710 (made)
1840-80 (made)



Materials and Techniques

Oak and walnut, veneered with ebony inlaid turtleshell, brass, mother-of-pearl, tin, copper and horn, with mastic highlighting engraving, and gilt-brass mounts


Height: 32 cm, Width: 51 cm, Depth: 41.5 cm, Height: 17.2 cm Height without legs

Object history note

This box entered the V&A as part of the John Jones collection, bequeathed in 1882. Its provenance before entering Mr Jones' collection is not known.

Historical context note

This box's unusual combination of a fall-front with a secret drawer in the base suggest that it was designed as a secure writing box. Writing boxes held writing materials such as pens, ink, sponges and pounce. The drawer at the base of this box could have held documents, the whole box locks to prevent it being opened by anyone other than its owner.

Descriptive line

Box or casket; carcase of oak and walnut, veneered ebony inlaid with turtleshell, brass, mother-of-pearl, tin, copper and horn, Paris, France, ca.1695-1710, with 19th century legs.

Labels and date


Box, incorporating French marquetry of about 1690-1719, in tortisehell, brass, mother-of-pearl, pewter, copper, and horn backed with pigments; re-mounted, probably in England about 1850-70, on an oak carcase, with new gilt-bronze mounts and feet.

The marquetry is in the style of Jean Bérain (1637-1711), a French royal architect and ornamental designer. Typical features are terms (figures merging at the waist into tapered pedestals), surrounded by band-work and acanthus leaves, classical and chinoiserie figures, and animals and masks. The panels were probably made up into the box shortly before it was acquired by the collector John Jones (c. 1800-1882). Such re-modelling did not deter nineteenth-century collectors.

Jones Collection

FRENCH (Paris); the marquetry about 1700, the box re-constructed in the 19th century Boulle marquetry with brass, mother-of-pearl and tortoise shell backed with various pigments; gilt bronze mounts.

The date of re-construction is unknown. The panels of marquetry fit this box well, indicating that the original is likely to have been the same size. In the 19th century the box was fitted with tall gilt bronze feet, which are now held in store. It has been recently suggested that the marquetry relates to that on the bureau of the Elector of Bavaria (Musée du louvre, Paris, 1715-20) and a group of related pieces including the bureau shown nearby (372-1901). Bernard van Risamburgh I (c. 1660-1738) has been suggested as the maker of this group.

Jones Collection

Box of oak with gilt bronze mounts, probably English mid-nineteenth century, incorporating French marquetry of about 1690-1710, in tortoiseshell, brass, mother-of-pear, pewter, copper and horn backed with pigments.

The marquetry panels have Bérainesque decorations, so named after Jean Bérain (1637-1711) a French royal architect and ornamental designer who developed this style. Typically it features terms (human, animal or mythical figures merging at the waist into tapered pedestals) sometimes supporting canopies, surrounded by band-work and acanthus leaves graced by classical and chinoiserie figures animals and masks.

The re-modelling of earlier panels may have been done in England or France shortly before the box was acquired by John Jones (c. 1800-1882), the great collector of French eighteenth century decorative arts who bequeathed his fine collections to the museum. There is no record of whether or not he was aware of such re-modellings of items he collected but such work was accepted by collectors at the time.

No. 122-1882
Jones Collection
[Label text by Peter Thornton]
FRENCH (Paris); 1700

Boulle-work marquetry with brass, mother-of-pearl, and tortoiseshell backed with various pigments, with brass mouldings.

This must originally have had small stud-feet. A hidden drawer underneath presumably once held a dressing-mirror.

Jones Collection [ca. 1980]


Oak; Walnut; Ebony; Turtle shell; Tin; Brass; Copper; Horn; Mother of pearl; Mastic; Gilt-brass; Silk; Leather


Cabinet-making; Veneering; Boulle marquetry; Casting; Chasing; Flat chasing; Gilding

Subjects depicted

Arabesques; Scrolls; Grotesques


Containers; Woodwork; Medieval and renaissance


Furniture and Woodwork Collection

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