This exceptionally rare table cabinet takes a special place in the history of European furniture and remained unrecorded until now. The marquetry was created by South German craftsmen in the second half of the 16th century, the glory years of the German Renaissance, probably in the city of Nuremberg.
It is suspected that the interior of this cabinet plus the marquetry on the outer doors originally was part of another cabinet of an earlier model. It is well possible that the original cabinet was of slightly different shape, for example with or without a fall front. The photos seem to indicate that the interior and/or the drawers have been re-used and fitted into the present carcass. The exact date of this alteration is unknown.
The interior of this cabinet is a new addition to a very limited group of pieces which feature polyhedral marquetry. The use of this spectacular marquetry appears to have been a short-lived phenomenon and can be found on only 9 pieces. These include: a games board formerly in Archduke Ferdinand's legendary Kunstkammer at Ambras (Kunsthistorisches Museum, inv. no. 3792); a miniature table cabinet from the collection of Albrecht VII, Archduke of Austria (1559-1621) in the Metropolitan Museum of Art, New York (inv. no. 48.59.2); a larger cabinet (inv. no. A1451, Museum für Angewandte Kunst, Cologne); a lectern (Museum für Angewandte Kunst, Frankfurt), and an identical one in a private German collection (ill. in Hoos, 1989, p. 2233). On July 5 2017 a casket on stand was sold at Sotheby’s London. Further, two games boxes are known, one in a private collection, the other with Galerie J. Kugel, Paris. The panels of the present piece are the latest addition to this group.
Condition based upon the available photos: overall good with restorations and alterations to the carcass, some backs of the drawers have been restored as well, minor part missing: knob of interior drawer.
Provenance: according to the seller this cabinet derives from a Sicilian private collection.
The inside of the cabinet’s doors and the fronts of the drawers feature geometrical imagery: the many different polyhedra not only point to their creators’ advanced knowledge of perspective but also to the superior education of the client. The humanist fascination with polyhedra as a representation of the universe originates from artists such as Piero della Francesca, Filippo Brunelleschi, and Albrecht Dürer, who fashioned the principle "Ars sine Scientia nihil est". The idea that nature could be understood through mathematics greatly influenced the theory and practice of art and these ideas were widespread thanks to the new far-reaching printed media. Key publications included Augustin Hirschvogel’s Geometria (Nuremberg, 1543); Hans Lencker’s Perspectiva Literaria (Nuremberg, 1567); Lorenz Stoer’s Geometria et Perspectiva (Augsburg, 1567); and especially Wenzel Jamnitzer’s Perspectiva Corporum Regularium (Nuremberg, 1568) see image 42.
In Nuremberg, local artists such as cabinet-makers and goldsmiths were in close contact with sculptors and printmakers, who often supplied them with patterns and models. Wenzel Jamnitzer (1507-1585), the goldsmith and printmaker in etching active in Nuremberg and at the service of Emperors Maximilian II and Rudolf II, had divided his greatly influential work in five parts, paying homage to the ancient belief that the five platonic bodies should be relatable to the four elements of nature and that the universe has a dodecahedron form (cf. Hoos, 1989, p. 2234). The tetrahedron thus corresponded to Fire; the hexahedron to Earth; the icosahedron to Water; the octahedron to Air.
Moreover, the learned man of the time would have been aware of the additional 'correspondence' established in ancient times between these elements and the four temperaments. Some of the cabinet geometric forms were known from Greek times, others were devised during the early Renaissance and some appear to be contemporary inventions. This is the subject of a seminal study by Hildegard Hoos, who, in 1989, scrutinized the complex representations of a similarly inlaid writing slope or Pultkästchen in the Museum für Angewandte Kunst, Frankfurt an Main, see image 36 and 37. The polyhedral arrangement on these pieces, Hoos suggests, would stand for the divine creation itself, its regularities defying constant change.
Image 32-33: Miniature Collectors cabinet, possibly Nuremberg © Metropolitan Museum of Art, New York
Image 34-35: Games board, Nuremberg © Kunsthistorisches Museum Wien
Image 36-37: Pultkästchen, Nuremberg © Museum Angewandte kunst, Frankfurt am Main
Image 38-40: Table cabinet in the Museum für Angewandte Kunst, Cologne © Rheinisches Bildarchiv
Image 39: Detail of door of the table cabinet in the Museum für Angewandte Kunst, Cologne © Rheinisches Bildarchiv
Image 41: Casket on stand, Sold Sotheby’s London, july 5, 2017, lot 14.
Image 42: Wenzel Jamnitzer, Perspectiva Corporum, 1568 © Bibliodyssey.blogspot.com
- Un "Cabinet Kunstkammer" sud-allemand probablement Nuremberg - l'intérieur avec marqueterie polyédrique
- Bois d’ébène, Chêne, différents types de bois, y compris Fruitwood - rosaces, charnières et poignées probablement en argent, Frêne, Ivoire, Noyer
- Période estimée
- Marqueterie: seconde moitié du XVIe siècle - Cabinet: XVIIe siècle avec d'éventuelles modifications ultérieures
- Pays d’origine
- Excellent état, à peine utilisé avec des signes minimes d'usure
- 76×90×45 cm