Description: A SOUTH GERMAN METAL-MOUNTED FRUITWOOD MARQUETRY AND PARQUETRY CABINET
AUGSBURG, LATE 16TH CENTURY
Decorated à quatre faces, the rectangular top with a central panel of stylised scrolling foliage and strapwork within a geometric border, the corners with strapwork shields, above a hinged fall-front inlaid with an architectural capriccio, the reverse with stylised foliate and strapwork scrolls within a geometric border, enclosing variously sized drawers, each similarly decorated with architectural scenes, arranged around a central door enclosing a similarly decorated cupboard, on later turned feet
18½ in. (47 cm.) high; 27½ in. (70 cm.) wide; 16 in. (41 cm.) deep
Notes: COMPARATIVE LITERATURE
L. Möller, Der Wrangelschrank und die verwandten süddeutschen Intarsienmöbel des 16. Jahrhunderts , Berlin 1956.
D. Alfter, Die Geschichte des Augsburger Kabinettschranks , Augsburg 1986, pp. 10-28, figs. 8-22.
R. Baarsen, 17th-century cabinets , Rijksmuseum Amsterdam 2000, pp. 3-9, figs. 5-11.
This cabinet, decorated on all sides with elaborate pictorial marquetry, is a beautiful example of a type produced in Augsburg at the end of the 16th century. Intended to serve both as a writing desk as well as storage for precious belongings and confidential papers, the contemporary term for it was 'Schreibtisch' (writing table). Mostly fitted with carrying handles at the sides it could easily be taken on travels. The intricate and elaborate marquetry immediately marked it as a fashionable luxury item, reflecting on the taste and the status of its owner wherever he took it. Indeed, cabinets of this kind may be said to be the earliest kind of international luxury furniture made in fairly large quantities anywhere in Europe.
From the middle of the 16th century, Augsburg had witnessed an extraordinary ascendency as a centre of furniture production for the international market, a new phenomenon at the time. In particular, the development of marquetry contributed to this prominent position, favoured by the ready availability of a large variety of indigenous woods and the invention of improved types of saws and other equipment. Augsburg marquetry of the time almost invariably depicts ruins, as on the present cabinet. Already in 1567, a collection of prints by Lorenz Stöer with perspective views of ruins combined with strapwork was published in this city, particularly influential was his ' den Schreiner in eingelegter Arbeit dienstlich ' (useful for the furniture-makers in inlaid work). These ruins may have had a significance as vanitas-symbols, but seem mainly to have been favoured for the display of virtuosity. On the present cabinet the marquetry is particularly accomplished, although it is distinguishable by the lack of any human figures or animal representation. The cabinet shares its proportions and interior disposition with a number of similar pieces. This, together with the highly skilled marquetry, points to these pieces all being made at a great centre of production, and the suggestion expressed in the early literature that many of these pieces originated in lesser centres in Southern Germany and Tirol (see Möller, op. cit. , 1956), has in recent years given way to the opinion that the large majority were actually produced in Augsburg itself.
16th century marquetry of this kind remained popular in later ages and was frequently adapted to new uses. Thus, in Holland one such cabinet was encased as early as the second half of the 17th century in a fashionable new piece of furniture (see Baarsen, op. cit. , figs. 9-10) and panels taken from another such piece were re-employed on a chest of drawers probably made in Turin in the middle of the 18th century, now at Waddesdon Manor (see G. de Bellaigue, The James A. de Rothschild collection at Waddesdon Manor: Furniture, Clocks and Gilt Bronzes , Fribourg, 1974, No. 119).
Artist or Maker: AUGSBURG, LATE 16TH CENTURY