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Antique Cabinets - Item 3100
Gothic Dressoir Cabinet

Item 3100 - Gothic Style Dressoir

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Item 3100 Gothic Dressoir Cabinet with Fenestrage or Tracery
Dimensions Width 56, Height 60, Depth 20½ (in inches)
Wood Solid walnut
Country France
Date Circa 1870

This Gothic dressoir pays homage to the pinnacle of Gothic furniture design displaying the intricately carved patterns known as fenestrage, inspired by the shapes and detailing of stained glass windows in Gothic cathedrals of Northern France.  When coupled with the patina of this dressoir, displaying the richness and fine grain of magnificent, old growth walnut, the result is dazzling.  The inspiration for this particular dressoir can be traced to examples such as one from the late 15th century in the Collection Bresset in France, a photograph of which is found on page 58 of Jacqueline Boccador's book on furniture of the Middle Ages and Renaissance. 
We expect that this dressoir was custom made for a 19th century French collector who wished to evoke the highly refined and intricate carving of the master craftsmen of the late 15th century as the flamboyant Gothic style went out in a blaze of glory (see, for example, the 15th century cabinet on offer from Huntington Antiques at Stow-on-the-Wold in the Cotswolds, England*).  At that time, it was rare to find a dressoir with fenestrage made of walnut rather than oak, since walnut was rare and its use in furniture reserved for the wealthiest clientele whose tastes were turning more to Renaissance style cabinets.  See, for example, items 1013 and 1031.  For more about the history of gothic dressoirs, see item 9205.   
Like the dressoir in the Collection Bresset, this cabinet is hexagonal in shape with two doors opening on an interior space and two drawers below (known as layettes since they are designed without drawer pulls).  That this hexagonal design was popular in Northern Europe in the 15th century is borne out by its prominence in paintings such as Rogier van der Weyden's "Magdalen Reading" in the National Gallery in London.  It demonstrates a further advance in the design of dressoirs, distancing them from their ancestors which were boxy-looking chests on platforms.  Although smaller than other dressoirs in our collection (such as items 9204 and 9205), this one is also less rustic in that it is made of walnut rather than oak and therefore the carving of the fenestrage can be more precise and intricate. 
The front of the cabinet has two doors on either side of a central post with a wrought iron sliding-pin closure, which locks with a key, and wrought iron hinges stretching across the tops and bottoms of the doors.  The sliding-pin closures are particularly interesting because the knobs bear the likeness of a man's head with a long beard - possibly the likeness of the original owner or his master cabinetmaker.  Each of these doors has a large rounded arch into which the fenestrage patterns of smaller, pointed arches and flowers are  carved.  The rounded arch design then becomes the half-moon shape making up the design for the layette drawers below the central doors and repeated on the angled panels at the same level as the drawers.  Similarly, the rounded arch containing the fenestrage forms the decoration for the angled panels on either side of the sides of the central doors.  This repeated use of the rounded arch to frame decorative panels, rather than the typical pointed arch of the gothic style, is unusual and perhaps looks  forward in time to the Renaissance style or backward to the Romanesque. 
Linen-fold or plis de serviette patterns, a staple on the menu of design elements for gothic furniture, are used vertically on the panels on either side and to the rear of the angled panels and at the back of the pot-board (the shelf forming the bottom of the dressoir).  They are used horizontally at the level of the drawers to the rear of the angled panels.  Overall, the dressoir is perfectly proportioned and beautifully executed, reflecting the supreme artistry of its craftsman and acknowledging its magnificent forebears.  It is evident that this dressoir was lovingly cared for and protected over the last century and will delight its owners for many more.



Boccador, Jacqueline, Le Mobilier Français du Moyen Age à la Renaissance, Editions d'Art Monelle Hayot (Saint-Just-en-Chaussée, 1988); Etude Tajan, Haute Epoque (Catalogue for Sale at Auction on September 24, 2003 at the Hôtel Drouot, Paris); Thirion, Jacques, Le Mobilier du Moyen Age et de la Renaissance en France (Editions Faton, Dijon, 1998)


While originally designed for use in the main area where guests were entertained, this dressoir would work well in a living room or dining room to store serving items and to display ceramics or silver on the pot-board.

side panel


top base

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