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  • Place of origin:

    England (made)

  • Date:

    ca. 1688 (made)

  • Artist/Maker:


  • Materials and Techniques:

    Cabinet of pine and oak, with japanned decoration; stand of silvered pinewood, with a yellow glaze of gum resin; engraved brass

  • Museum number:

    W.29:1 to 14-1912

  • Gallery location:

    British Galleries, Room 56c, case 3 []

Object Type
The cabinet is fitted with drawers, although their handles are later 18th-century replacements. The original external hinges are different in character from the corner mounts and central lock plates, which are pierced and engraved with Chinoiserie designs. The form of the stand with the coarsely carved caryatid figures is typical of English late-17th-century carving.

Materials & Making
The scale and drawing of this cabinet's japanning is na‹ve, suggesting that it pre-dates 1688, when the most common source book for this type of decoration appeared. Published in Oxford by John Stalker and George Parker as A Treatise of Japanning and Varnishing, this book was intended to assist amateur decorators as well as professional cabinet-makers.

The cabinet belonged to Robert Weymiss Symonds (1889-1958), an architect and designer of furniture and interiors. Symonds was also an outstanding furniture historian who published extensively; his first articles appeared in 1922. He advised a number of important collectors. This acquisition, which was made by the V&A when Symonds was just 22, demonstrates his early interest in English furniture.

Physical description

Cabinet of black lacquer on wood with brass mounts, on carved and silvered stand. The cabinet is enclosed in front with two doors, each mounted with five brass hinges, lock-plates and angle pieces of openwork and engraved brass, the cabinet having eight similar angle pieces, and two edge plates. The decoration on the doors consists of flowers, figures and geese in gold lacquer and coloured, gilt and silvered composition in relief, the sides being similarly decorated with houses and trees. The interior of the doors and the fronts of the eleven drawers are decorated in the same manner. The stand, which is covered with silver leaf, has four cabriole legs carved with terminal figures of cherubs and terminating with bold acanthus scrolls. The front and sides of the stand are carved with the heads of cherubs and birds and foliage of openwork. The handles of the drawers are not original.

Place of Origin

England (made)


ca. 1688 (made)



Materials and Techniques

Cabinet of pine and oak, with japanned decoration; stand of silvered pinewood, with a yellow glaze of gum resin; engraved brass


Height: 159 cm

Object history note

This object was formerly the property of Rev. J. Dene of Horwood House, Bideford. It was purchased by the V&A for £450 in 1912 from Robert Weymiss Symonds (b.1890), an architect and designer of furniture and interiors.
Condition on acqusition "Portions of raised composition missing from the outside of the doors. Silvering worn on stand."

Historical context note

This piece shows the experimental character of early attempts at imitation of oriental lacquer. The greens employed are of a viridian tone, never repleated on later examples. The stand is carved in the florid baroque manner of ca.1675.

Comparable objects
Japanned cabinet on stand (1675-1700), at Chastleton House (National Trust), in Adam Bowett, English Furniture 1660-1714, (Woodbridge, 2002), plate 5:16, p.156
Stand supporting a cabinet at Parham House (green ante-room, 2002)
Charles II black japanned cabinet on a carved silvered stand, Bonhams London 'Fine English Furniture and Works of Art', 12/03/2014, Lot No. 202
Cabinet on stand, Christie's, 04/12/1984, Lot No. 156

Descriptive line

Cabinet on stand, pine and oak, Japanned, England, ca.1688

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

Honour, H. Chinoiserie: The Vision of Cathay(London: John Murray)
p.53; p253; pl.30
CESCINSKY, Herbert & Ernest Gribble: Early English Furniture & Woodwork. Vol. II. (London, 1922), pp.348-9; dated to about 1670-80
E. Alfred Jones M.A., F.R, Hist.S., Some Old English Furniture Makers, part 1, in Connoisseur May1920 (vol. LVII), p.23-27, ill. p.23
Dictionary of English Furniture (Country Life 1924-7, 2nd rev. ed. 1954, 3 vols. See entry for Desks p.205
Fred Roe, Old Oak Furniture (London, 1908), p.194
Charles Tracy, English Medieval Furniture and Woodwork (London, 1988), no. 314

'DESK or CUPBOARD for books. Carved on the back and sides with two rows of Gothic arcading enriched with tracery Within a slightly moulded framework; the front is plain with the exception of two carved lions’ masks at the upper corners. The framed sloping top opens on hinges, and the interior is fitted with a cupboard with a hinged lid. The lower part of the desk is missing. The lock plate and the book ledge are post-medieval (PL.114a, b & c).
Oak. Last quarter of 14th century
97x 83.8x 54.6cm
Mus. No. 143-1898
This an extremely rare example of a medieval desk-cum-book cupboard. It is without doubt authentic and English, It is a great pity that it has lost the lower part of its panelling and its base. Two decorative features point strongly to England. The trefoil tracery in the super-arches of the back panel is stilted in the characteristically early Perpendicular Way (compare stall-ends at Lincoln Cathedral, See Fig.39). This same trait could also be found on a fragment of panelling from the York Minster choir- stalls in the Roe collection (illustrated in Roe 1910, PL.xvI) [sic] where the tracery pattern is sexfoil. The date of the construction of the York stalls is about 1390 (Francis Bond, Wood Carvings in English Churches: I. Stalls and Tabernacle Work and II. Bishops’ Thrones and Chancel Chairs, London, 1910, p.58). The treatment of the lions’ masks on the front of the desk is another parallel with Lincoln, in particular the same treatment of the hair in whorls and ear shape (Pics. 56a & b). The Lincoln stalls must have been manufactured in about 1370 (See CAT.67). The placing of these masks is reminiscent of the use of this motif on choir-stalls on the standards underneath the capping (compare Chichester Cathedral)'.

Helena Hayward, (Ed.), World Furniture. (London, 1965), p.34, fig. 85
H. Clifford Smith, Catalogue of English Furniture & Woodwork. Vol.II. - Late Tudor and Early Stuart (London 1930), cat. 320. plate 48

Books chests and desks of this kind (armariola), with lids set at an angle on which books might be laid whilst being read, are often represented in illuminated MSS, with St. Jerome or other Doctors of the Church, scribes at work, etc. Compare Laborde, 'Les MSS. à Peintures de la Cité de Dieu de St. Augustin,' 1909, pl. XCVII (1473), etc. A rare example of medieval domestic furniture.
William H. Lewer and J. Charles Wall, The Church Chests of Essex (London, 1913), p.17, illustrated in a line drawing on p.18

'Similar receptacles for books may often be seen in ancient pictures of the studies of medieval scribes and limners...another of the fifteenth century in the Victoria and Albert Museum has a framed lid set at an angle on which books might be laid whilst being read.'
DIETRICH, Gerhard: Schreibmöbel von Mittelalter zur Moderne. (Munich, 1986).
Oliver Brackett (revised by H. Clifford Smith), English furniture illustrated. (Spring Books, London, nd). [Originally published under the title of An encyclopaedia of English furniture, London : E. Benn, 1927]

Labels and date

British Galleries:
This cabinet has been painted, or 'japanned', in imitation of lacquer from Japan and China. Japanned cabinets on European gilt stands such as this one were very fashionable after about 1670 throughout northern and central Europe. They were often placed in a room decorated in oriental style and containing a collection of Eastern porcelain. [27/03/2003]
Black lacquer on a carved and silvered stand.
English; about 1675. [1968]
Japanned beech cabinet on a carved and silvered stand.
English; about 1675

The cabinet shows the experimental character of early attempts in this country to imitate imported oriental lacquer, although it should be noted that the exterior has undergone considerable later restoration. The stand is strongly influenced by Dutch examples. [06/1989]


Pine; Oak; Brass


Japanning; Lacquering; Gilding; Engraving; Glazing

Subjects depicted

Cherubs; Houses




Furniture and Woodwork Collection

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