Chest thumbnail 1
Image of Gallery in South Kensington
On display at V&A South Kensington
Ironwork, Room 114b

Chest

17th century (made)
Artist/Maker
Place of origin

Painted, wrought iron Armada chest with engraved steel lock. Grotesques, flowers, ship and a tree are depicted.


Object details
Categories
Object type
Materials and techniques
Wrought iron, painted, with engraved steel
Brief description
'Armada' Chest, wrought iron, painted; the lock of steel, engraved, German (Nuremberg) 17th century
Physical description
Painted, wrought iron Armada chest with engraved steel lock. Grotesques, flowers, ship and a tree are depicted.
Dimensions
  • Height: 48cm
  • Width: 47cm
  • Length: 91.5cm
dims as published by MC in 1985
Gallery label
'ARMADA CHEST' Wrought iron, painted; the lock of steel, engraved Germany (Nuremberg); 16th century 4211-1856 The name 'Armada Chest' is applied to a distinctive type of coffer, made of wrought iron strengthened with interlaced bands of the same material, of which a large number are in existence. As here, in most examples the lock, often elaborately engraved, occupies the whole of the inside of the lid and generally has eight bolts which catch under the in-turned edges of the sides. There is often an imitation key-hole in front, the real one being concealed in the lid, and sometimes two or more staples for padlocks. Many examples were originally painted but this rarely survives. The term 'Armada Chest' does not seem to have been current before the middle of the 19th century. It presumably originates in the erroneous belief that these chests were designed to hold bullion for the financing of the Spanish Armada, and that they were subequently washed up on our shores from the wrecked ships. The theory is negated by the fact that most examples are considerably later in date than the Armada. The chests were made in all sizes, from a few inches in length, intended for jewellery, to five or six feet in length, suitable for a banker's reserve. They served as the forerunners of the modern commercial steel safe. Large numbers were made in southern Germany, particularly in Nuremberg, from the end of the 16th century until the alst quarter of the 18th century, and exported to all parts of Europe. Their design varies little, and it is rarely possible to date any with precision.(07/1994)
Historical context
The name 'Armada' chest is applied to a distinctive type of coffer, made of wrought iron strengthened with interlaced bands of the same material. A large number of these exists. As here, in most examples the lock, often elaborately engraved, occupies the whole of the inside of the lid and generally has eight bolts which catch under the in-turned edges of the sides. There is often an imitation keyhole in front, the real one being concealed in the lid, and sometimes two or more staples for padlocks. Many were originally painted but the painting rarely survives.



The term 'Armada' chest does not seem to have been current before the 19th century. It presumably originated in the erroneous belief that these coffers were designed to hold bullion for the financing of the Spanish Armada, and that they were subsequently washed up from wrecked ships. The theory is negated by the fact that most examples are considerably later in date than the Armada. The chests vary little in design but were made in all sizes, from a few inches in length intended for jewellery, to five or six feet in length, suitable for a banker's reserve. They served as the forerunners of the modern commercial steel safe. Large numbers were made in Southern Germany, particularly in Nuremberg, from the end of the sixteenth century to the last quarter of the eighteenth, and exported to all parts of Europe.
Subjects depicted
Bibliographic references
  • Campbell, Marian. An Introduction to Ironwork. London: Her Majesty's Stationery Office, 1985. 48 p., ill. ISBN 0112904157p.20
  • The Art Journal. 1869. p. 221.
  • Jenning, C. Early Chests in Wood and Iron. London : Public Record Office, 1974.
Collection
Accession number
4211-1856

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Record createdJune 24, 2009
Record URL
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