The European Decorative Arts Company's collection of Objets d'Art comprises of fine items that represent a variety of ideas, materials, and techniques in the applied arts from the 17th century through the 19th century, including examples of Russian Imperial porcelain, Trapani coral, Limoges enamel, and micromosaics, and works by Froment Meurice and Jacob Petit.

 

For the reasons of craftsmanship, rarity, quality and authorship, these are considered Objets d'Art (objects of art), items of luxury that are meant to provide nothing more than a feast for the eyes of their possessor.

 

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Tulip-Decorated Collector’s Cabinet from Hamilton Palace, Circa 1675


Maker(s): 
Date: Circa 1675
Materials/Techniques:    Ebonised and gilded wood, 35 enamel-on-copper plaques and blue enamel pilasters
Dimensions:
Origin: Probably Flemish
Inventory #: 512
Inscription:
Affixed label to reverse Hamilton Palace No. 1285
57 × 39 × 24 cm

Other:



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This cabinet was in the legendary collection of the Dukes of Hamilton, whose magnificent collection of works of art from their Palace in Scotland was dispersed in a series of sales beginning in the 1880’s thru 1919. Hamilton Palace, in South Lanarkshire, (see fig.5) was arguably the largest and most important non-royal residence in the United Kingdom but sadly was demolished in 1921 because, among other reasons, the cost of its upkeep was prohibitive. The auction of its several thousand art and objects contents lasted 17 days and many important pieces are today in the permanent collections of the world’s leading museums. It has been suggested that this cabinet may actually have been acquired by the celebrated collector, William Beckford (1760-1844), who collected many similar 17th century cabinets and possibly entered Hamilton Palace when Beckford’s younger Daughter, Susan Euphemia, who inherited the bulk of Beckford’s collection, married the 10th Duke of Hamilton in 1810.

This cabinet, lot 1285, was listed as follows: A small cabinet, of ebony, of architectural design, with ten drawers, inlaid with plaques of enamel in flowers and colours and with gilt mounting.1

Small, easily portable cabinets of this type, with handles to the sides, were made throughout the 17th century in Augsburg, Antwerp and to a lesser degree in Amsterdam. Also called ‘collectors cabinets’, they were typically designed in an architectural form and fitted with many drawers and compartments to store away valuable items such as jewelry or exotic materials, and further decorated with a variety of materials from small oil paintings to ivory, pietre-dure, marquetry and enamels. This example may very well have been based, however loosely, on an actual 16th or 17th century building, as the overall design brings to mind the very distinctive guild structures that today can be found in Antwerp, Amsterdam and Haarlem. The designer of this cabinet was also clearly familiar with innovative ornamental styles of the period as the surface of the cabinet is interspersed with small gilt-wood carvings in the auricular or lobate style of ornament, which has its roots in Dutch Mannerist engravings and manifested itself primarily in silver-work.

The cabinet is fitted with 13 large and small drawers to the front and sides and stands on four bun feet. The lower, larger drawer is fitted with its original lock. The most interesting feature of this cabinet are the 35 enamel plaques which are colorfully decorated with the most famous flower of Holland - the tulip. In the early 17th century, the Dutch became obsessed with the tulip flower and it became absurdly expensive to own. This obsession eventually led to a devastating crash in their real value and fortunes were lost by speculators. Inevitably, the tulip was represented as a decorative motif in the visual arts and we find it in objects - ceramics, textiles, paintings, furniture - as a recurrent theme, allowing those who could not afford this luxury item to atleast appreciate images of them. 



Many thanks to Dr. Godfrey Evans, Principal Curator of European Applied Art, National Museums Scotland, for the thorough arhival research he conducted on my behalf, and to Daniëlle O. Kisluk- Grosheide, Curator, Metropolitan Museum of Art, New York, for her suggestions and advice in describing this cabinet.


Provenance:

1 The Dukes of Hamilton, Hamilton Palace, Scotland, Sold, Christie, Manson & Woods, July 1882, cat. no. 1285, p. 159 (listed in catalogue but not illustrated).

H. Samuels (purchased at Christie’s sale for £30 9s)

 

Related literature:

Internet source: Virtual Hamilton Palace Trust, Vhpt.org.