Magnificent artistry, exotic materials and a bit of intrigue combine in this Italian Baroque-era cabinet of curiosities. Once a term used to describe entire rooms dedicated to humanity’s insatiable enthusiasm for knowledge and discovery, the form is more recognizably referred to as a “curio cabinet” and held all manner of rare and unusual objects from around the world.
The workmanship of this cabinet-on-stand is quintessentially Baroque with stylistic influences of the Renaissance. The impact of blending exotic ebony wood with gilt bronze figures and fixtures is immediate, with the gilt busts of ancient Roman emperors seemingly keeping a watchful eye on the prized contents within. With delicate gilt bronze inlay outlining the curves of the base, it at once appears out of place with the cabinet above until the double doors open to reveal the very same timber and inlay work, though this time, surrounded by beautifully vibrant hardstones mingling amongst resplendent gilt bronze.
Six golden classical maidens are flanked by gilt bronze and carved lapis lazuli and pierced gilt bronze columns with each woman standing in front of arched doors that open to reveal hidden drawers to hold one’s most precious curiosities. Between are additional drawer compartments mounted in lapis and hardstone plaques set within gilt bronze bezels that provide further storage.
Cabinets of curiosity dating to this early period have survived in the breathtaking condition displayed by the current offering. Even more rare is to find one that has found its way onto the market. Some of the world’s most prestigious museums, which include the Victoria & Albert Museum in London and Amsterdam’s Rijksmuseum, hold similar cabinet-on-stand styled curio cabinets within their collections.
The birth of the cabinet of curiosities can be traced to the Renaissance, which saw not only a renewal in the appreciation for and the flourishing of the arts, but also of scientific discovery. With the advent of the printing press and an explosion of European explorations in the 15th century, the interest in the new, exotic and at this time, the unexplainable, from far-off lands was en vogue and scholars with the means to explore brought back all sorts of unusual relics and disseminated information to the curious back home.
Initially these “cabinets” were actually large rooms filled from floor to ceiling with a wide array of objects, artifacts and art works that fell into four categories: Artificialia (man-made works of art and antiques), Naturalia (natural objects such as shells, stones, etc.), Exotica (exotic animals and plants) and Scientifica (various scientific instruments). Obviously, considering the expense that travel and acquiring such objects entailed, the cabinet of curiosity was a pastime of the wealthy who could afford such pursuits.
The decline of the “entire room” concept of collecting began sometime in the mid-17th century, coinciding with the advent of the museum. For serious scholars and collectors who continued with their passion for rare and unusual objects, actual cabinets were used to house and protect precious artifacts. Hence the term “curio cabinet” came to be.
Italian, circa 1635
43 5/8" wide x 20 3/4" deep x 73 1/4" high