Cabinet, end of the 16th beginning of the 17th century

Tuscany, late 16th-early 17th century

Description:

Walnut burl veneer cabinet, the uprights on the front, also in walnut wood, are richly carved: starting from the bottom there is a shelf in the shape of a leafy volute, surmounted by a fish, a dolphin according to the imagination of the time, and again from a grotesque mask. In the upper part there is instead a caryatid, in the left upright, while in the right one a telamon, both with facial features that recall the tradition of grotesque masks.

The band below the top sees the alternation of reserves veneered in briar with small carved dowels: in the lateral ones there are two warrior profiles with helmets on their heads, then there are two dowels with weapons, a shield and a quiver of arrows; in the center, finally, an oval coat of arms, without however any identifying elements. The front is occupied by a large opening flap door veneered in briar also on the inside, concealing a chest of drawers consisting of twelve small drawers and two side doors; they are all decorated with carved briar frames. The wrought iron lock is hidden on the outside, but visible on the inside of the door; it has the characteristic lily shape, echoed in the door hinges.

Dimensions: 61 x 73,5 x 38,5 cm ( 24 x 28,9 x 15.1 in )

Historical-critical analysis:

The cabinet from Tuscany belongs to a less known and widespread type in this geographical area. In fact, the wooden cabinets inlaid with semi-precious stones are more well known, certainly derived from the famous production linked to the tradition of the Opificio delle Pietre Dure. Our cabinet is in fact entirely made of wood and even the decoration is entrusted to this material. The sides, the top, the front door (also on the inside) are entirely veneered in walnut briar; even the front of the drawers and doors inside is briar, worked in solid wood in the case of the frames. This particular cut of the walnut, with a marked and lively vein, has, in fact, a great ornamental effect that enriches the surface of the cabinet.

Also of interest are the uprights and small blocks placed in the band under the top, in carved walnut. The iconographic model to which they refer are the grotesques, an ornamental typology that spread from the end of the fifteenth century, but continued and reused also throughout the sixteenth century and the following century. In particular the masks, monstrous animals, caryatids and telamons with grotesque features had a long survival in the plastic type decoration. Very interesting, in our cabinet, is the physiognomy of the faces of the caryatid and the telamon, highly typed and completely characteristic. Even the warriors, the weapons and the coat of arms in the band below the floor are fully part of the iconographic panorama derived from the grotesques. Certainly these subjects are not found only in the Tuscan production, but also in that of northern Italy: the Bergamo carvings are well known which, albeit in different ways, take up grotesque masks and caryatids.

For our cabinet, as already mentioned at the beginning, it is more difficult to find accurate feedback, even if some echoes can, in our opinion, be recognized in works even several years earlier. These include the lower part of the large lectern in Santa Maria Novella in Florence, built by Baccio d’Agnolo between 1491 and 1496.

Bibliography:

– Mario Tinti, Il mobilio fiorentino, Milano, Bestetti e Tumminelli, 1928. 

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