M. Markley Antiques
Antique Cabinets - Item 3097
Cabinet with Knight and Lady in Terra Cotta
down for additional photos -- owing to the difficulties of photographing
the terra cotta and the walnut,
the photo above most accurately
represents the color)
||Renaissance Cabinet with Knight and Lady in Terra Cotta
||Width 40, Height 74, Depth 18½ (in inches)
||Solid walnut with inset of terra cotta fired ceramic
We have dubbed this the "chivalry
cabinet" -- the only one of its kind we have ever seen and an enchanting
example of the furniture maker's art.
The arresting focal point of this antique cabinet is the rendition in terra cotta
fired ceramic of a knight and lady forming the door of the central,
enclosed space. It is enigmatic and
raises more questions than it answers.
For example, was the firing of the ceramic inset a one-off? Was the cabinet designed for it or vice
versa? Was it inspired by medieval
notions of knightly valor and feminine virtue or was it intended to commemorate
a contemporary marriage? Why ceramic
and not a wood carving or a metal casting?
While we can't answer any of these questions, we can highlight the
beauty of the ceramic inset and appreciate its allegorical origins.
The knight strikes a valiant pose with his
left foot and the sword in his left hand atop a slain lion, as if he has
vanquished it to protect the demure looking damsel whose hands are
folded primly and whose gaze is down-cast.
Peeking out from below her skirt appears to be the head of a dog or is
it a baby lion? The background is
filled with tiny fleur-de-lis, reinforcing the medieval French origins of this
cabinet and perhaps a symbolic victory over the British lion? The ceramic inset takes advantage of another
medieval custom by being placed within an architectural frame of two arches,
similar to the way 14th and 15th century painters incorporated their frames
into the drama of the Biblical scenes they depicted. This leads us to assume that the cabinet was designed around the
ceramic inset, which may have had a life of its own preceding its incorporation
into the cabinet.
As to the cabinet
itself, it is hand-carved from a rich, fine-grained walnut whose light color perfectly
complements the ceramic inset. The
cabinet's basic shape and proportions made up of two-tiers with an open bottom
and a central drawer below the enclosed space, evoke the designs of the 16th
century master, Jacques Androuet du Cerceau.
In this respect it is also enigmatic in that other decorative elements
reflect more of a Renaissance than a Medieval style. For example, the drawer has a central masque or grotesque from
whose chin the drawer pull hangs. The
other decoration on the drawer is dominated by trompe l'il drapery and
tassels, themes common in 16th century French furniture. Below the drawer is a curved design of
scrollwork and intricately carved leaves.
It was not uncommon in the 16th century to mix design elements from what
we think of as Renaissance and Gothic periods, even though later art historians
have come to view them as incompatible. The same can be said of French
Gothic Revival and Renaissance Revival whose blend of
stylistic elements is commonly referred to as Henri
Therefore, we expect that whoever commissioned this cabinet did so out
of reverence for the medieval chivalry depicted in the ceramic inset to be
housed in an understated Renaissance style framework. The slim balusters acting as vertical supports and framing the
spaces of the top and bottom tiers of this cabinet add a grace and refinement
enhancing the prominence of the ceramic inset.
Perhaps the only unfortunate characteristic is that unlike most tall
cabinets made during the 19th century in France, this one does not come apart.
Collection Bruno Perrier Haute Epoque (Catalog for Sale at Auction on April 6,
1992 at the Hotel Drouot, Paris); Thirion, Jacques, Le Mobilier du Moyen Age et
de la Renaissance en France (Editions Faton, Dijon, 1998); Viollet-le-Duc,
Eugène, Le Mobilier Médiéval (Georges Bernage, editor) (Editions Heimdal, 2003)
piece would make a lovely addition to a home, commemorating a marriage or a
wedding anniversary. It works well in
an entryway, living room, dining room or any other room where the mystery and
nobility of a subject shrouded in the mists of history is lent prominence.