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Court cupboard

Court cupboard

  • Place of origin:

    England, Great Britain (made)

  • Date:

    ca. 1580 (made)
    1950 (altered)

  • Artist/Maker:

    Unknown (production)

  • Materials and Techniques:

    Carved oak

  • Credit Line:

    Gift of Brigadier W. E. Clark CMG, DSO through The Art Fund

  • Museum number:

    W.20:1 to 4-1958

  • Gallery location:

    British Galleries, Bromley-by-Bow Room, room 58, case WN, shelf EXP

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Object Type
This cupboard belongs to a group of court cupboards. They are essentially a series of tiered tables, in each of which is a drawer. The decoration borrows from classical and late Renaissance ornament, which spread to England through French, German and Flemish engravings.

Ownership & Use
Court cupboards were placed in the hall or dining parlour in the late 16th and early 17th centuries. They often housed eating and drinking vessels. Although they were connected with eating, some were placed in bedrooms where they provided shelf space for other domestic equipment. The name 'court cupboard' derives from court, the French word for 'short', perhaps meaning that the cupboard was short in stature.

Brigadier William Ellis Clark gave the V&A more than 80 pieces of furniture between 1946 and 1968. He lived at Elmstead Place, Chislehurst, Kent, and collected all periods of English furniture. It was displayed according to dates and timbers - oak and walnut in a large oak-panelled room, mahogany in the dining room.

Physical description

Constructed of two tiers, supported by Ionic columns at the front and rectangular uprights at the back, the fronts of the latter fluted with intervening panels of diced ornament. Diamond ornaments are placed immediately above the capitals of the upper columns and below the base of the lower columns. The base is covered with strapwork and medallions, containing flowers,alternating with diamond ornaments.
[Drawer, upper frieze] The top drawer comes out of the uppermost tier. The front is carved with low relief strapwork and applied with diamond ornaments and rosettes.
[Drawer, lower frieze] The lower drawer comes out of the middle tier, there being no drawers in the bottom tier. The front is bulbous and consists of a guilloche frieze, decorated with tudor-roses and various other flowers.

Place of Origin

England, Great Britain (made)


ca. 1580 (made)
1950 (altered)


Unknown (production)

Materials and Techniques

Carved oak


Height: 116.8 cm, Width: 122 cm, Depth: 39.8 cm
[Drawer, upper frieze] Height: 9.7 cm, Width: 98.8 cm, Depth: 35.3 cm
[Drawer, lower frieze] Height: 10.4 cm, Width: 99.4 cm, Depth: 37 cm

Object history note

A cupboard, as its name implies, was originally a shelved structure for the display of silver and other pieces, rather than a closed piece of furniture for storage. It would have been covered with cloths of decorative textile and linen damask, similar to these reproduction cloths. The lower one is of dornix, a cloth of linen, wool and sometimes (as here) gold thread.

Historical significance: The court cupboard originally served as a series of tiered tables, on which the owner of the household displayed his plate. By the mid to late 16th century, shelves were introduced to the tiers, thus enabling storage. The decoration of this court cupboard borrows from classical and mannerist ornament, which spread to England through French, German and Flemish engravings.

Descriptive line

Carved oak court cupboard. English, early 17th century.

Labels and date


Carved oak.
English; early 17th century.
Given by Brigadier W.E.Clark, C.M.G., D.S.O.,
Through the National Art-Collections Fund.

The Ionic columns which act as supports are unusually plain compared to the bulbous columns and carved animals generally used. [1968]
ENGLISH; about 1620.

W.20 - 1958 gift of Brigadier W.E.Clark CMG DSO, through the National Art Collections Funds.

A cupboard was originally a shelved structure for the display of plate, rather than for storage. [1989]






Furniture; Woodwork; British Galleries

Collection code


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