- Place of origin:
Antwerp, Belgium (made)
- Materials and Techniques:
Veneered with marquetry of tortoiseshell, ebony and ivory, with composition including chips of mother-of-pearl, on an oak carcase, with lacquered brass mounts
- Museum number:
W.8:1 to 24-1965
- Gallery location:
This cabinet-on-stand has for a long time formed part of a with a table that is also in the V&A (W.7-1965). Such pairings of a table with a cabinet were common in the 17th century, although these two pieces may have been brought together at a later date. They are decorated with a technique known as lacque incrusté (inlaid lacquer) that imitates Asian lacquer, reflecting Antwerp’s close trading links with East Asia.
In this technique the piece of furniture was veneered in ebony, that was then incised and filled with a composition made up with shellac and various colouring agents. In certain areas the surface might be scattered, while soft, with chips of marble or mother-of-pearl, then polished to imitate namban lacquer, which was made in Japan for the export market. The cabinet is also veneered with plaques of turtle-shell, set against a red ground.
The two pieces came from the collection of the Earls of Craven at Combe Abbey, Warwickshire. They may have been bought in Antwerp by the 1st Earl of Craven (1606-1697). He was a close friend and supporter of Elizabeth of Bohemia (1596-1662), the sister of Charles I (1600-1649) and was with her in exile in the Southern Netherlands between 1649 and 1660. It is also possible that she gave or bequeathed one or both of the pieces to him.
Cabinet on stand, veneered with ebony on a carcase of oak, with the stand in ebonized wood (probably pearwood). The cabinet shows two banks of five drawers to each side of an architectural doorcase (aedicule) that incorporates an upper and lower drawer hidden by the overall design, the double doors opening to show eight drawer fronts with similar decoration, the lowest two fronting a single drawer. The cabinet is ornamented with coloured composition ornament of the type known as laque incrusté, with veneers and inlays of turtle shell set against red composition and with ivory and ebony stringing, ebony mouldings and mounts of brass, now gilded but originally lacquered.
The cabinet is rectangular, the front drawers not enclosed with doors, and showing no evidence of the removal of doors. The sides are veneered with two panels of square ornament against an ebony-veneered ground. Each square centres on an octagonal panel of red-backed turtle shell, outlined with triple stringing and surrounded by four spandrel panels, all these separated and surrounded by bandings of laque incrusté scattered with chips of mother-of-pearl, in imitation of 16th-century Japanese lacquer, inlaid with small chips of mother-of-pearl. The spandrels are inlaid with coloured composition, with patterns of scrolling foliage and flower heads.
The front of the cabinet is set with two banks of five drawers flanking a central aedicule or doorcase with double doors. Two additional drawer are disguised in the ornament above and below the doors, which open to show a further double bank of drawers (eight drawer fronts, the two lowest fronting a single drawer).
The outer drawers are set into a frame that is veneered on its front face with turtle shell set against red composition. Each drawer front is framed in ebony ripple moulding and set with ebony veneer, inlaid with coloured composition, the panels framed with inlaid composition strewn with chips of mother-of-pearl and outlined with triple stringings of ivory and ebony. The centre of each drawer front is set with a cabochon (deep, rounded plaque) of jelotung wood, veneered with turtle shell set against a red ground, and framed with a gilt-brass mount in the form of a laurel wreath.
The centre of the cabinet shows two doors, between three Ionic columns, a low balustrade joining the columns at the base, above a plinth that shows three scrolling consoles supporting the columns. Above the doors the columns support a broken pediment. The whole is veneered in ebony and in turtle shell set against red composition, with mounts of gilt brass. Large cabochons are set in the centre of each door, and smaller ones in the panels below the consoles, and in the centre of the broken pediment. Only those on the two doors, the drawer below them, and on the frieze, are original; the others are replacements.
The outer columns open with the doors, and the central one with the right-hand door. They open with gilt-iron parliament hinges that allow full access to the drawers inside. The inside of the doors are veneered with two square panels each, similar to those on the sides of the cabinet, but with the central panel of turtle shell shaped as squares with arched sides, rather than as octagons.
The inner banks of drawers are set within a frame veneered on the front edge with a tropical hardwood, possibly snakewood. The drawers are decorated in a similar manner to the outer drawers but with an inlaid central panel in the form of an elongated octagon of turtle shell set against red, outlined with triple stringing of ivory and ebony. They are set centrally with gilt-brass goats’ head, with circular ring handles hanging from their mouths. The outer mouldings to these drawers are plain runs of ebony moulding rather than ripple moulding.
The stand is of stained pearwood, with decorative veneers and inlay. The six legs (4 on the front, 2 at the back) each show a double baluster above and below a square block, with a second square block at the level of the low stretchers, under which are tall, oval, turned feet. The legs are stained in a blotchy pattern to imitate turtle shell and are set on the square blocks with cast-brass mounts in the form of flattened rose heads, these also showing on the sides of the upper blocks.
The frieze shows three panels along the front and one on each side, separated by upright rectangular blocks that are continuations of the legs and project slightly forward of the panels. These are veneered with a panel of turtle shell set against red composition, these panels outlined with a triple stringing of ivory and ebony and an outer frame of ebony veneer. The panels on the front of the frieze are veneered in ebony that is incised and inlaid with coloured composition at either end, in a design of foliage and flower heads derived from East Asian design. In the centre, the ebony is mounted with an oval cabochon (deep, rounded plaque) of wood veneered in turtle shell on a red ground, surrounded by a gilt-brass mount in the form of a wreath. The two side panels are similar, except that the centres are set with an elongated octagon of inlaid turtle shell, over a red ground, outlined with triple stringing of ivory and ebony. The five apron panels between the legs, under the frieze panels, are roughly triangular in shape with curved and scrolling outlines. Their decoration follows that of the frieze panels, but they are each set centrally with a gilt-brass mask and below each hangs a gilt-brass pendant in the form of a cluster of leaves.
The top surface of the plain, rectangular-sectioned stretchers is veneered with ebony and similarly inlaid with coloured composition.
The cabinet, of softwood, is constructed as a dovetailed box, with additional mouldings pinned on the front and sides at the top and base. Two vertical boards divide the body of the cabinet into three. These are tenoned into the top and base of the box. The dust boards are fitted between these or between these and the sides of the cabinet, running in recesses cut in the boards or the sides. They were inserted from the back before the backboard was set in place. The outer case, the uprights and the dust boards are all faced on the front edge with oak.
The back is of pine, made up of three horizontal boards, nailed into recesses cut in the sides and base of the carcase. A narrow fillet of wood has been added at the top of the back. Both the back and the top of the cabinet have been painted black, presumably when restoration was undertaken in the nineteenth century.
The nest or frame for the inner drawers was constructed as a separate box, of softwood, probably dove-tailed and with a single, central upright tenoned into the top and bottom and dust-boards added from the back in the same way as the main carcase. It is slightly less deep than the cabinet and there is a gap of approximately 5 cm between it and the back of the carcase, which is visible once the drawers are removed (there being no backboard to the nest). This may be because such things were made in large numbers and simply fitted into the next cabinet needing them.
The drawers are all in walnut, stained to look like purpleheart, the stain rather unevenly applied and missing in places. They are dovetailed, the framing mouldings pinned to the front face after veneering and decoration had taken place. The bases are glued up into a recess on all four sides.
The back and front rails of the frieze show small, rectangular recesses at either end on the inside. Similar recesses are on the underside of the back and front stretchers. These were clearly originally for the nuts for captured bolts and one of these remains under the front stretcher at the left (PR) end. The turtle-shell veneers on the blocks above the legs at each end of the stand show filled, circular recesses, indicating the existence at one time of holes for bolts. This system of assembly would allow the stand to be disassembled for packing into two end pieces, a front panel and two back rails, which could be packed flat against one side of the cabinet. The individual panels are jointed with mortise and tenon joints and the frame is now probably now held together with dowels.
The side panel of the frieze at the right (PL) was clearly originally made as the front of a drawer (with the recess for the lock and the keyhole visible on the inside), but there is no evidence within the stand for a support for a drawer, so this piece of wood must simply have been re-used from stock. The left (PR) side of the stand has been re-faced on the inside with an additional piece of wood so it is not possible to see whether it has a similar construction.
Repairs and Restorations
This piece has undergone substantial repair and restoration and it is not possible to be certain what changes were made when, before those made when the cabinet entered the Museum collections.
The use of heavy black paint on the top and back of the cabinet suggests work in the middle of the nineteenth century. This is also the most likely date for the placement of the fan-shaped gilt-brass mounts, of Régence design, that were put on the outer drawers (these are now stored separately, within the cabinet. They were replaced by cabochons of turtle shell over wood after 1965, by conservation staff at the Museum. The design was based on cabochons customary on such cabinets and on those on the doors, the two drawer panels below them and on the frieze, which may be original.
When mounts are removed, in nearly every case, multiple pin or screw holes are revealed, often not lining up with the mounts currently in place. This is hard to explain, especially in the case of complex, shaped mounts, that would be difficult to replace, but it nonetheless remains difficult to decide which mounts do date from the seventeenth century.
A gallery on top of the cabinet was said in 1965 not to be original, and was removed. This appears not to have survived, although a coat of arms in boulle marquetry, that may have been a central cresting on this gallery, does survive and is kept in one of the drawers of the cabinet.
The colouring of the inside of drawers to look like purpleheart may have been done to imitate the purpleheart veneers that line the drawers of the table (V&A W.7-1965) which has been associated with this cabinet and may have been with it at Combe Abbey since an associated cabinet and table were listed in the 1769 inventory, in the Green Damask Bedchamber.
Place of Origin
Antwerp, Belgium (made)
Materials and Techniques
Veneered with marquetry of tortoiseshell, ebony and ivory, with composition including chips of mother-of-pearl, on an oak carcase, with lacquered brass mounts
Height: 1674 mm cabinet on stand, Width: 1412 mm cabinet on stand, Depth: 456 mm cabinet on stand
[Cabinet] Height: 882 mm cabinet, Width: 1355 mm cabinet, Depth: 456 mm cabinet
[Stand] Height: 792 mm stand, Width: 1412 mm stand, Depth: 492 mm
Object history note
Possibly bought by William Craven, 1st Earl of Craven (1608-1697), who left England after the execution of Charles I in 1649 to join the court of Elizabeth of Bohemia (1596-1662), sister of Charles I and widow of Frederick V, Elector Palatine and King of Bohemia (1596-1632). He returned to Britain after the restoration of the monarchy in 1660 and planned to build a large palace at Hamstead Marshall, Berkshire, for the widowed queen. After she died in 1662 he continued to build the house as a memorial to her. This cabinet and its related table (W.7-1965) may well have been intended for that house, which was designed by the Dutch-born architect Sir Balthasar Gerbier (1592-1663) as a miniature version of her old home at Heidelburg Castle in Germany and took thirty years to construct. It should be noted, however, that the table and the cabinet are not a set, the workmanship and materials of the table being of higher quality than those of the cabinet, and it is always possible that one or other were acquired by the family later, supporting a sense of family history. Or it just may be that two pieces, of differing quality, were purchased. Both would have been highly fashionable objects when Hamstead Marshall was planned. The house was burnt to the ground in 1718 and it is not know what survives, which may argue for their having been always in the possession of the Craven family. The table has an inscription in English, dated 1766. Both pieces show signs of restoration, that on the cabinet probably dating from the early 19th century (with a new gallery and coat of arms added), which could suggest purchase at that time, although it is equally possible that it was restored by the family then. The interior of the drawers on the cabinet are stained a deep purple, which may have been intended to match the veneers of purpleheart that line the drawers of the table.
The pieces were later at Combe Abbey, Warwickshire, which the Crave family owned from until 1923, The cabinet is illustrated in a photograph of the East Cloister taken ca. 1909 by Country Life (see Michael Hall, The English Country House from the Archives of Country Life. London, 1994). The photos certainly show a house with a collection that had been added to throughout the 17th, 18th and 19th centuries. The inventory of Combe in 1739 lists both a cabinet and a table in ebony (in the Nursery and Closetts, and in the Great Parlour respectively) but the description is not close enough to identify these. A duo of cabinet and table 'inlaid wit Tortishell, Pearl, Ivery, & Ornamented with Brass' are listed in the 1769 inventory, in the Green Damask Bedchamber.
Sold Sotheby's, London, 20 November 1964, lot 148.
Purchased by the Museum from J.A. Lewis & Son, 136 Brompton Road, SW3 (Registered File 64/3176, on nominal file MA/1/L1298 Lewis, James & Son).
The cabinet required considerable conservation after it came to the Museum, including the replacement of 19th-century mounts with the raised oval cabochons in turtle shell, following 17th-century practice. Oval mounts to attach these were made by Sperring & Best. Details of the conservation are on departmental files.
Historical context note
De Kesel and Dhont suggest that the turtle-shell used in the Netherlands was mostly imported from the West Indies, and sold in Spanish and Portuguese ports. Onto the reverse of the veneer, a (vermillion) paper or parchment backing was glued on. Glue was applied to the base and the veneer pressed down using sand-filled heated cushions. Finally, the turtle-shell was polished. Glues were made from boiling the hides, ears and sinews of hares, rabbits and beavers. Fish glue is mentioned for gluing copper onto ebony. Ox-horn seems to have been explored as a substitute. The pigments were traditional ones (azurite blue, vermillion red, orpiment yellow, green earth). The black was probably carbon black.
Chastang says that in the 17th century the turtle-shell for furniture probably came from loggerhead (caretta caretta) and hawksbill (Chelone imbricata) turtles (whose shell is thicker than the green turtle, chelone mydas). They were found in the warm seas around Africa, Asia and America, in particular around the Caribbean Islands, Madagascar, Inonesia and the Seychelles – where they were hunted for their meat. Plates were removed from the upper body, and the underside or plastron (which are flatter), by boiling the bony carapace of the turtle. The plates, once removed, were flattened using hot salt water and pressure, and made smooth and even for use in furniture making by scraping and sanding. Pieces of turtle-shell can also be welded together using moisture, heat and pressure. Turtle-shell is good for decorative use because it is thermoplastic: it can be shaped when softened and will hold its shape once it re-hardens.
See Wilfried De Kesel and Greet Dhont, Flemish 17th century Lacquer Cabinets (Oostkamp, 2012)
Yannick Chastang, Paintings in Wood, French Marquetry Furniture. (London, 2001)
A cabinet-on-stand veneered in ebony and ornamented with laque incrusté (inlaid ornament filled with tinted shellac, imitating Japanese lacquer) and with plaques of turtle shell set against a red ground; with mounts of lacquered brass. The cabinet, on an open stand with turned legs, shows double doors set between banks of drawers. Antwerp, Southern Netherlands, ca. 1650-1660
Bibliographic References (Citation, Note/Abstract, NAL no)
Wilk, Christopher, ed. Western Furniture 1350 to the Present Day. London: Victoria and Albert Museum, 1996. 230 pp., ill., ISBN 085667463X, pp.64-65
De Kesel, Wilfried and Dhont, Greet. Flemish 17th Century Lacquer Cabinets. Oostkamp, Stichting Kunstboek bvba, 2012. 96 pp. illus. ISBN 978-90-5856-373-6, pp. 52-53.
Kesel, Wilfried de. 'Laques Flamandes du XVIIe Siècle', in Estampille, No. 223, March 1989, pp. 28-39, illustrated on p. 33, its companion table (W.7-1965) illustrated on p. 36-7 and 39.
Simon Jervis, 'A tortoiseshell cabinet and its precursors'. V&A Bulletin No. 4, October 1968, pp. 133-143, illustrated as figs. 1 and 3
Simon Jervis, A Tortoiseshell Cabinet and its Precursors. London: V&A, 1969, reprinted, with revisions, from V&A Bulletin No. 4, October 1968, pp. 133-143, illustrated as figs. 1 and 3
W. G. de Kesel, Vlaams Barok Meubilair in Lak, Dronge, Rectavit Publicaties, 1991, p. 63, illus. 8
James Stuart, 'Letter from London. More Museum Conservation', in Antiques Magazine, N.Y., February 1968, vol. XCIII, no. 2, p. 190
ERic Mercer, The Social History of the Decorative Arts - Furniture. London, 1969, illus. p. 152.
Michael Hall, The English Country House from the Archives of Country Life. London: Mitchell Beazley, 1994, p. 57, the cabinet shown in a view of the East Cloister
Wilk, Christopher, ed. . Western Furniture 1350 to the Present Day. London: Victoria and Albert Museum, 1996. 230p., ill. ISBN 085667463X.
Labels and date
CABINET ON ITS STAND
NETHERLANDS (probably Antwerp); mid-17th century
Marquetry panels of ebony and tortoiseshell, the floral pattern being executed in coloured composition embedded with fragments of mother-of-pearl. Borders of ebony. Brass mounts. Bosses of tortoiseshell backed with red-painted wood. Eight smaller drawers, decorated like the rest, are masked by the central doors.
Cabinets of this kind, in which some comparitively cheap production methods were used (e.g. stamped or cast brass instead of carefully worked gilt bronze), were made in the Netherlands during the 17th century in imitation of the much admired but more exquisite ebony cabinets of Augsburg (see example in Room1), to satisfy a growing demand for showy furniture, notably among the merchant classes of Northern Europe. Such cabinets, often now in poor condition, can still be found in many country houses both in this country and abroad.
In this particular case, a further source of inspiration may have been the well known kind of Italian cabinet set with pietra dura or scagliola panels: for the sections here executed in composition may have been intended to resemble work of that kind. It seems that the Italian ebony cabinets (see a section of such a cabinet in the doorway of Room 2) were also produced under the influence of those from Augsburg.
A principal centre of production for tortoiseshell and ebony cabinets such as this was the city of Antwerp, where the Forchoudt [Forchondt] family were important dealers in this class of furniture: but tortoiseshell cabinets were also made in Amsterdam during the same period.
This cabinet and its accompanying table belonged to the Craven family and may have been acquired by the 1st Earl of Craven when he was living abroad in the 1650s as a companion of the exiled Elizabeth of Bohemia, sister of the then recently executed King Charles I.
CABINET (EN SUITE WITH ADJACENT TABLE)
FLEMISH (Antwerp); about 1650
Ebony veneered on oak with composition of tortoiseshell, ivory and mother-of-pearl ornament, and gilt-bronze mounts
The floral ornament in composition on these two pieces was probably intended as a cheap imitation of scagliola. Similar cabinets were exported all over Europe by the firm of Forshoudt [Forschondt] of Antwerp. The table and cabinet were in the collection of the Earl of Craven and may have been purchased by the 1st Earl when on the Continent in the mid 17th century in the service of Queen Elizabeth of Bohemia. An alteration to the table bears a pencil scribble 'Daniel Ogden is a Whoring Dog and has got the Crankhams 1766', to which Ogden has replied 'Dam the Liers'.
Ivory; Brass; Oak; Mother of pearl; Ebony; Composition; Turtle shell
Floral patterns; Cartouche