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 Antique Cabinets - Item 4174
Gothic Cabinet with Battle Scenes

Item 4174-gothic-cabinet

(scroll down for additional photos  -- difficulties of photographing with flash have accounted for the variation in hues, but the photo above most accurately reflects the color)
 

Item 4174

Gothic Cabinet with Battle Scenes

Dimensions

Width 42, Height 83, Depth 20 (in inches)

Wood

Solid walnut

Country

France

Date

Circa 1890

Description

Where to start in describing this cabinet, that seems to involve a castle full of medieval pageantry in one piece of furniture?  In overall design it is a dressoir or buffet cabinet with storage spaces in the top part and an open pot-board at the bottom.  But that is where the similarity to the classic 15th century cabinet ends and the 19th century designer's creativity takes flight.
The prominence of battle scenes in the central panels of the top two levels, the armed men standing guard at the sides of the panels, and the castle turrets at the top lead us to believe that some well-known conflict is being depicted.
  We're just not sure which of countless battles, mêlées, sieges, skirmishes and raids this one might be.  And the practice of memorializing such scenes did not begin with medieval times but rather harks back to the complex, intertwining scenes carved into marble sarcophagi in Roman times.
The uppermost panel depicts two knights, both on horseback and on foot, attacking a castle defended by other figures on the left who seem to be standing around and waiting for something to happen.
  The scene, in bas relief, is vivid and action-packed, at least on the right side.  A knight, his helmet topped by a fleur-de-lys and with the visor up, seated atop his  valiant charger, sword raised, presses toward the castle whose defenders stand waiting and watching with their pikes poised to attack.  The scene is framed within a broad ogive arch topped by a flame or flamme signifying the flamboyant style of Gothic decoration.  Above the arch are repeating tall, slim lancet arches.
The lower panel, framed by a rounded arch, depicts the clash of knights -- one still atop his steed while the other has been thrown from the saddle and engages in combat at the ground level.
  The expressions on the knights' faces, complete with mustaches and unobscured by visors for their pointed helmets, are particularly vivid.  Even their horses, rearing up and poised for battle, are magnificently carved and expressive of their noble role in this chivalric drama.  Separating this central panel from the standing figures, in niches on each side, are magnificently carved, crocketed pilasters reminiscent of ornamentation on Gothic cathedrals.
Moving from the realistic to the fantasy world, at the base of the central part of the cabinet, are two drawers.  Each displays intricately carved griffins on either side of a central quatrefoil containing the elaborate drawer pull.
  Between the two drawers is a panel containing a head wearing a rounded cap and a stand-up collar within an intricately carved niche.  At each end are tightly crouched figures symbolizing the poigné or fist so often seen at corners of Renaissance cabinets and tables.  Again, the carving is intricate and the faces highly expressive, as if reflecting on the battle scenes above them.
Topping the cabinet is a panel of tracery, with a small, intricately carved face in the center.  Above it is open-work tracery with a standing figure in a small niche as the central focus below a large crown.
  Magnificent, elongated fleur-de-lys at the front and rear corners provide the ultimate flourishes atop this remarkable piece.  At the front corners of the top, intricately carved turrets reinforce the notion of a castle under siege and a cabinet functioning as a fortress preserving the magnificent art work carved upon it and the treasures stored within it.
The base or pot-board is classic - plis-de-serviette panels at the back reinforcing the overall Gothic feel of this cabinet.
From top to bottom, this cabinet is a tour-de-force of Gothic design, magnificent old-growth walnut, and a great story of brave men and horses doing battle at the dawn of modern history.
 

Reference

Ader-Tajan, Collection Bruno Perrier Haute Epoque (Catalog for Sale at Auction on April 6, 1992 at the Hôtel Drouot, Paris); Boccador, Jacqueline, Le Mobilier Français du Moyen Age à la Renaissance, Editions d'Art Monelle Hayot (Saint-Just-en-Chaussée, 1988); Robards, Brooks, The Medieval Knight at War (Brompton, Greenwich, 1997); 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).
 

Uses

 This cabinet is meant to be the center of attention, preferably with specialty lighting, so its magnificence and the intricacy of its details can be admired most fully.
 

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