11323 A RARE POLYCHROME AND PARCEL-GILT HANGING WALL CABINET WITH FLORAL AND EXOTIC BIRD DECORATION Probably Netherlands. Late 17th or early 18th Century. Measurements: Height: 49″ (124.4 cm); Width: 33″ (83.8 cm); Depth: 17 1/4″ (43.8 cm).

The molded breakfront cornice surmounted by a carved giltwood shell and water spray motif, above a single four-pane glazed cabinet door, enclosing three shaped shelves. The sides of the cabinet also glazed. The polychrome decoration to the exterior and interior painted with flowers and birds. The whole raised on four turned compressed bun feet and two rear block feet.

The cabinet is a rare survival of late 17th or early 18th century North European painted furniture in a near perfect state of preservation. The paint work is almost entirely unrestored and it retains its original glazing, shelves and feet. The shelves are notable for their elegant concave shaping and perhaps were employed to display precious Chinese porcelain or Delftware.

The robustly conceived late Baroque shell-form giltwood and acanthine crest and bulbous feet reinforces the view that it is of a Netherlandish origin, created for a wealthy sophisticated interior.

The cabinet’s painted motifs owe a particular debt to Netherlandish Golden Age still life painting, and flower painting in particular, where colorful and brightly lit arrangements stand out from dark, sometimes almost black, backgrounds. Artists typically portrayed bouquets of the imagination, which never could have existed in reality. Such floral ensembles included flowers from different countries, different continents, and flowers blooming in different seasons. Furthermore, some blooms depicted were of such high caliber that they would not have been cut for temporary display in a vase. Identifiable flowers on the present cabinet include ranunculus, daffodils, tulips, jasmine, and anemone.  The birds depicted are possibly fantastical evocations of tropical fowl.

The Dutch prized flowers and flower painting; both the subject matter and the paintings themselves reflected a culture that “[emphasized the] home and personal possessions, commerce, trade, learning…For many courtly collectors and wealthy merchants, a flower picture was part of a private domain that included a garden with rare specimens (which occasionally cost more than the paintings of them.)”1 This admiration extended beyond the Netherlands as the publication of botanicals spread throughout Europe. One of the most well-known was Hortus Floridus by Crispijn de Passe the Younger (1594–circa 1670), a Dutch publisher and printmaker, who produced prints for the English market.

The decoration on the cabinet is particularly related to an item of furniture of confirmed Dutch origin, being an oval miniature table from the famous Dolls’ House of Petronella Oortman of circa 1690 – circa 1710. The table shares in its design content an exotic bird (red parrot) ‘en profile’ surrounded by flowers of a very similar style and palette to the cabinet (figure 1). In his book Furniture in Holland’s Golden Age, the preeminent Dutch scholar and Senior Curator of Furniture  at the Rijksmuseum,  Dr. Reinier Baarsen  says of the Oortman table that “its stand and rim of its top are painted in gold on a black ground, directly referring to Far Eastern lacquer; the top itself has a black ground as well; but its decoration of a parrot within a wreath of flowers is purely western- an example of the orientalizing mixing of styles known as Chinoiserie.”2 In this context the cabinet becomes an ideal vehicle for the display of Chinese or Delftware porcelain.

1. Liedtke, Walter. “Still-Life Painting in Northern Europe, 1600–1800.” In Heilbrunn Timeline of Art History. New York: The Metropolitan Museum of Art, 2000–. http://www.metmuseum.org/toah/hd/nstl/hd_nstl.htm (October 2003)
2. Baarsen, Reinier. Furniture in Holland’s Golden Age. Amsterdam: Rijksmuseum. 2007. 205.

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