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Antique Chests - Item 3224
Gothic Chest

Gothic Style Chest

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Item 3224 Gothic Chest in Walnut
Dimensions Width 61, Height 27, Depth 24 (in inches)
Wood Solid walnut on a base of fir
Country France or Italy
Date Circa 1780
Description

This chest represents one of those delightful but rare surprises in the antiques business - a piece that proves more interesting upon restoration than at the moment of purchase.  At first we believed it was a 19th century copy of Haute Epoque chests and that its darkly painted finish was merely an attempt to make it look older.  But upon closer examination, we found that the chest dated from an earlier time due to the characteristics of its joinery and the one-inch thick panels used in making it.  Upon removing the dark brown paint we found magnificent, old-growth walnut which is finely grained and richly colored and so we simply finished the chest in the traditional method known as ciré patiné.  It became clear that the base of the chest was a later addition in fir, however it complements the basic design by elevating the chest and lending drama with its massive, sculpted moulding gently tapering inward toward the body of the chest.  We also discovered that at one time the front panels of the chest had been gold-leafed.   The front panel is a particularly interesting design combining both Gothic and Renaissance elements just as European craftsmen of the 15th centuries clung to and integrated these two strikingly different stylistic vocabularies while giving the lie to the notion that the Renaissance supplanted Gothic in one fell swoop.   Subdivided into five panels, the front of the chest reflects the Gothic in the intricate fenestrage design between the central and outside panels containing Renaissance or Roman style arches.  The fenestrage is particularly captivating in that a closer look reveals the stylized shape of an owl, perhaps acknowledging the wisdom of the chest's original owner.  However, it is in the three broad arches that the true mystery of this chest abounds.  If, as we believe, it was either made in northern Italy or in southern France by itinerant Italian craftsmen, it is likely that the arches were destined to bear additional decoration.  The arches remind us in general of Florence, and in particular of Brunelleschi's design for San Lorenzo and of Fra Filippo Lippi's painting of the Annunciation which is found in that church and uses similar arches to frame the dramatic scene.  It is tempting to speculate that at one time this chest had either a painted or intarsia scene of an idealized city or a landscape employing the deep perspective made possible by the "rediscovery" of the tools for depicting three-dimensional space on a two-dimensional surface.  Even without such scenes, the architectural detail of these arches still beckon the viewer into the imaginary world of their hand-hewn elegance, more so now that the magnificence of the walnut has been restored to its original depth and hue.  The chest appears to have had some repairs done long ago, including the insertion of a rectangular piece, only barely visible, in the panel containing the arch on the right of the front.  The panel forming the cross-member or left end of the chest has a cigarette burn which is somewhat concealable but causes us to wonder what sort of callous perpetrator would inflict such a lasting wound on  a beautiful piece of furniture.  Overall, however, the chest is now in fine shape, promising years of additional enjoyment.

Reference

Antiquités et Objets D'Art 10, Le Mobilier Italien (Editions Fabri, Paris, 1990); Gairaud, Yves, Le Guidargus du Meuble Régional (Les Editions de l'Amateur, Paris, 1990); Wilk, Christopher, Western Furniture 1350 to the Present Day (Cross River Press, New York, 1996)

Uses

As with all chests, this one is susceptible to a wide variety of locations such as the foot of a bed, under a window, in an entryway, or against a wall in virtually any room of a home or office.  It is particularly suited to the addition of a cushion for seating, since its structure is so solid.  Because of the additional height including the base, yet its relatively narrow depth, this chest is ideal for placement behind a couch or settee.  Mixing antique and modern, the sturdiness of this chest would make it a wonderful platform for a wide-screen TV.

 
Fenestrage
 
arch
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