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The Van Mekeren Cabinet

  • Object:

    Cabinet on stand

  • Place of origin:

    Amsterdam (made)

  • Date:

    1690-1710 (made)

  • Artist/Maker:

    Mekeren, Jan van (maker)

  • Materials and Techniques:

    Veneered with walnut, on a carcase of oak, with floral marquetry of holly, barberry, pear, sycamore, olive wood, padouk and other woods (some stained); handles of lacquered brass

  • Museum number:

    W.5:1 to 14-1986

  • Gallery location:

    Europe 1600-1815, Room 7, The Sheikha Amna Bint Mohammed Al Thani Gallery, case PL6 []

The maker of this cabinet, Jan van Mekeren (1658-1733), concentrated all his skills on the marquetry decoration of its outer panels. The interior is fitted with quite simple, useful shelves and drawers, in contrast to the elaborate drawers and cupboards found in some earlier cabinets. The quality of floral marquetry produced at this time in Amsterdam rivalled all but the finest work produced in Paris. It attempted to imitate flower paintings, which were then very fashionable. The small sections of veneer were originally stained in naturalistic colours, though this colouring has faded over time. The cabinet-maker dipped some pieces in hot sand in order that the scorching would give the effect of shading. Fine details were added by means of lines cut into the wood with a fine saw.

Physical description

Cabinet on stand, with two doors decorated with marquetry of walnut, holly, sycamore, barberry, pear (some originally stained), olive wood, padouk and other tropical woods, on an oak carcase. The woods have been identified by eye, not by microscopic analysis. The main panels show elaborate floral designs. The cabinet has two drawers in the stand; within the cupboard are two shelves, with two drawers below the lower one, and three drawers in the stand of the cupboard.

Design
The Cupboard
The upper, cupboard, section shows two doors, set between a deep plinth and a cresting section with a frieze of similar depth. The plinth and cresting frieze are veneered in walnut, cross-banded in walnut and set with floral marquetry in various woods (some stained), showing bunches of tulips, daffodils, anemones, roses and other flowers, tied with ribbon bows. On the plinth these are strung from several trompe l’oeil rings. A vertical board with similar marquetry appears to separate the two doors but is in fact attached to the leading edge of the right-hand door. In the centre of this board, a sliding, horizontal section, covers the keyhole and the veneer pattern continues over this.
The two doors are each framed with a deep cross-banding of walnut, separated by a boxwood stringing from the central marquetry panel, veneered in walnut, inlaid with marquetry showing a baroque vase filled with flowers standing on the corner of a table (olive wood) with trompe l’oeil carving on its cornice and frieze. The marquetry, in holly, barberry, pear, and sycamore (much of it originally stained), includes tulips, lilies, crown imperials, hollyhocks, turk’s head lilied, carnations, guelder rose, poppies, peonies and a sunflower. The panels also include butterflies (several varieties) and birds (finches, which were popular cage birds at the time). The two doors show the plinths in mirror image but the details of the vases and flowers are each separately drawn. The design of the flowers is taken from contemporary engravings such as those engraved by N. de Poilly after Jean-Baptiste Monnoyer.
The sides, veneered in walnut, are each set with an oval panel of marquetry framed in boxwood stringing. These show a gadrooned vase containing a similar variety of flowers to those shown on the doors, the vase set on a corniced shelf supported by baroque female figure, with their lower half as scrolling acanthus.
Inside the cupboard is relatively plain, the oak of the carcase simply varnished. The front faces of the uprights and the main shelf are veneered in walnut, the drawer fronts in a tropical hardwood of light colour with orange-red markings, apparently padouk. The insides of the doors are veneered with a geometric design, centreing on an eight-pointed star, in the same wood, against a ground of walnut.
The Stand
The stand shows a single frieze drawer, the front decorated with floral marquetry, raised on four tapering legs of square section, with a waisted section on each just below the frieze. The base-blocks of the legs are joined by a double-Y-shaped stretcher of broad, flat, rectangular section, the central element of this serpentine in plan, with branches at each end of double S-scrolls.
The visible faces of the legs, base-blocks, stretcher and drawer are veneered in walnut, cross-banded in walnut and inlaid with trails of naturalistic flowers including tulips, daffodils, anenomes, lilies and scabious. The quality of the marquetry on the stand is not as high as on the cupboard section. On the legs and stretchers there are simply trails of flowers. On the frieze drawer the flowers are tied in bunches to a serpentine ribbon that is tied in bows to trompe l’oeil rings at six points across the width. The marquetry at this point also includes roses and carnations. The side rails of the frieze each show a single bunch of flowers tied with ribbon.

Construction
The carcase wood is of quarter-sawn oak throughout, including the drawer linings.
Cupboard
The cupboard is designed to take apart for moving. The cresting is made as a separate section and is held in place with four turned oak pegs with spade like ends (two at each side) that locate through the side of the cresting into tenons cut in the ends of the two boards forming each side of the cupboard. When removed, the doors can be lifted off their pin hinges.
The cresting is built as a dovetailed box, open at top and bottom. The cornice moulding is mitred at the corners and glued and pinned so that its upper edge sits above the side and back and provides a housing for the top of the cupboard. This is composed of two laterally set boards of oak, butt-jointed and nailed down to the rails forming the cresting.
The sides of the cupboard are each made of 2 vertical boards, butt-jointed and cut on their outer edges with a tongue that runs in a groove cut in the square-sectioned back and front uprights. The boards forming the carcase are at least 2 cm thick. The front and back uprights on each side are joined at the level of the lowest drawers by a cross-rail, presumably tenoned into them. The jointing of the side panels with the thick (4 cm) baseboard is unclear but they may be attached with loose tenons. The baseboard is faced with deeper boards on the sides and front to provide the base of the cupboard section.
The two doors are constructed as a frame, the front and back surfaces faced with vertical boards of oak, on which the veneer is laid. It is likely that small blocks are set at points between the front and back vertical board, to prevent the boards warping. This is an alternative to the cleating of doors, and appears to have been generally used in Amsterdam.
The two shallow drawers are not dovetailed, but the sides are tenoned into the drawer front which extends outwards at one side, and the backs nailed on. The bottoms consists of two boards (laterally grained) which meet at a tongue and groove joint; the bottoms are nailed up all round. The sides of the drawers are each cut on the outside with a squared lateral recess that engages with the drawer runner.
The three small drawers (which lack side recesses and simply run on their bottoms) are dovetailed at the front, the backs nailed to the sides; the bottoms consists of two boards (laterally grained) which meet at a tongue and groove joint; the bottoms are nailed up all round.
Stand
The four legs of the stand are tenoned up into the underside of the frieze compartment and joined by a double-Y-shaped stretcher, composed of five sections, the central one serpentine in plan and tapering in plan at each end (the marquetry following this). The four S-shaped branches of the stretcher are lap-jointed to the central section. The outer ends of each branch are cut as square extensions that form the central layer of the carcase of the blocks at the base of the legs. It is presumed that the circular tenons that attach the turned, globular feet, serve to hold all three layers of the blocks in place.
In the frieze section of the stand the sides and back rails are jointed with dovetails. This is reinforced with vertically set rectangular blocks glued within each corner. At the front, these form the carcase of the frieze blocks above the front legs. The joining of these with the front ends of the side rails is hidden but it is possible that the side rails are simply glued to the outer faces of the blocks. The upper edge of the frieze section is finished on the front and sides with a triangular-sectioned cornice moulding (possibly a later addition), glued and pinned on. At each side, on the interior, a narrow board is set horizontally between the front and back blocks (presumably tenoned into them), the inner edges providing runners for the drawer.
The single, large, frieze drawer is of dovetailed construction (x2) at the front (the back is nailed to the sides), the base of two laterally grained boards, (butt jointed, not tongue and grooved), set in rebates cut in the sides and front and nailed up to the underside of the back. The centre of the base boards is cut at the front with a recess that provide a handle. The sides of the drawers are each cut on the outside with a squared lateral recess that engages with the drawer runner.
Approximately one third of the way up the cupboard the carcase is strengthened by a shelf, approximately 3 cm deep, with an overhanging front facing 4 cm deep. This presumably runs in grooves in the sides of the cupboard. The upper compartment is further divided horizontally by an oak shelf that runs only have the depth of the cupboard, from the back.
Repairs and restorations
Small sections of oak have been glued to the underside of the frieze drawer to reinforce the joint between the boards.
The left (PR) back foot has been replaced.
The cornice to the stand section may be a replacement.
The marquetry show a number of repairs, where the boards of the carcase have shrunk.

The key
The key is of steel, with flattened bow and complex bit. It is possible that it is the original.

Place of Origin

Amsterdam (made)

Date

1690-1710 (made)

Artist/maker

Mekeren, Jan van (maker)

Materials and Techniques

Veneered with walnut, on a carcase of oak, with floral marquetry of holly, barberry, pear, sycamore, olive wood, padouk and other woods (some stained); handles of lacquered brass

Dimensions

Height: 2060 mm, Width: 1722 mm maximum, Depth: 640 mm maximum

Object history note

Purchased 1985 from L.P.M. van Aalst, Havermarkt 1a-1b, 4811 WG BREDA, Netherlands (Registered File 85/2419, in Nominal File Van Aalst, MA/1/A3). No earlier history recorded.

There are other cabinets with marquetry attributed to Van Mekeren in British Collections, including one at Charlecote Park, Warwickshire, in the collections of the National Trust.

Historical context note

Such cabinets, magnificently decorated on the outside, were usually rather plain inside, the shelves being designed to hold piles of household linen, particularly high quality linen damask tablecloths and napkins. High quality linen was greatly valued and it was common for rich women, on the occasion of their marriage, to take with them to their new home, a large supply of such linen, sometimes with the cabinet or cupboard to house it.

Descriptive line

Cabinet on stand, the upper section with two doors, with floral marquetry on an oak carcase. The cabinet has two drawers in the stand; within the cupboard are two shelves, with two drawers below the lower one, and three drawers in the base of the cupboard.

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

Wilk, Christopher, ed. . Western Furniture 1350 to the Present Day. London: Victoria and Albert Museum, 1996. 230p., ill. ISBN 085667463X., pp. 75-76
pp.78-9
Moore, Andrew, Flower power: the meaning of flowers in art, London, 2003
Baarsen, Reinier, 'Mix and Match Marquetry', in Country Life, 12 October, 1988, vol. CLXXXII, no. 41, pp. 224-227. The V&A cabinet is discussed on p. 226
Baarsen, Reinier, Furniture in Holland's Golden Age (Rijksmuseum, Amsterdam, 2007), pp. 184-199
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.1-2

Labels and date

Cabinet on stand
1690–1710
By the 1640s the cabinet on a stand was an
established type of luxury furniture. This cabinet
has a simple form, but its appeal lies in the complex
marquetry panels, inspired by contemporary
flower paintings. The maker exploited the natural
colours of some woods and stained others to create
polychrome effects. To make the flowers appear
realistic he created definition and shading using
hot-sand scorching and engraving.
Dutch Republic, now the
Netherlands (Amsterdam)
Probably by
Jan van Mekeren
Oak veneered with
olive wood and walnut;
marquetry in holly,
barberry, sycamore and
tropical woods
Museum no. W.5-1986 [november 2015]
CABINET
Attributed to Jan van Mekeren (about 1658-1733)
Amsterdam: about 1690
W.5-1986

Van Mekeren was recognised as one of the best cabinet-makers in Amsterdam, specialised in floral marquetry. This cabinet may be the pair to a similar piece in the Rijksmuseum, Amsterdam. Two further cabinets attributed to Van Mekeren are at Amerongen Castle, near Utrecht, and there is another at Charlecote Park, Warwickshire, a property of the National Trust. [1986]

Materials

Oak; Walnut; Olive wood; Holly; Barberry; Pearwood; Sycamore

Techniques

Cabinet-making; Veneering; Marquetry; Cabinet making; Veneering; Marquetry

Subjects depicted

Flowers

Categories

Access to Images; Images Online; Furniture; Marquetry

Collection

Furniture and Woodwork Collection

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