Around the mid-sixteenth century French furnishing evolves in its conception and ornamentation. The start of major architectural projects – such as Fontainebleau castle – gives a new drive to artists. New formulas, smart and creative, are developed and then broadcasted through engravings. In addition, Italian artists working on French sites introduce local artists to the antic taste.
The lower body stands on a moulded plinth. The two symmetrical door-leaves are adorned with carved panels depicting knights dressed à l’antique. They carry banners inflated by the wind. On the background can be seen walls and domes of a Medieval city amidst vegetation. An inscription identifies the man as Tiberius. Flower and fruit garlands hanging from a conch enrich the lateral and central posts.
The belt opens with two drawers framed by three acanthus leaves modillions. On each drawer is delicately carved sea horses emerging from the sea centred by a cringing mask. Its wide opened mouth acts as the drawer’s handle.
The upper body is isolated from the lower body thanks to an overlapping tablet. The door-leaves panels use again the knights’ motif. Riding prancing horses the two knights now hold spears. They are accompanied by two armed soldiers seated on bushes. On the background is figured a man standing on the serrated wall and waving at them. A boat sails away on the calm ocean. The lateral and central posts are not ornated.
A frieze tops the upper body. Two sea horses with long and twisted bodies frame a winged putto head. Two other putti heads flank the frieze.
The cabinet is completed by an sea-horses inhabited pediment disrupted by a central aedicula. The columned aedicula is flanked by foliated serpentine chimaeras. The central figure could represent Neptune. He is depicted with an imposing mane while his nudity is hidden by the floating draperies.
The lateral sides are enriched by rose and quill motifs.
This richly and originally adorned cabinet presents a strong structure and illustrates perfectly the late 16th century production influenced by Italy, Fontainebleau and antiquity.
This cabinet also expresses the patron’s taste for antic history, a major source of inspiration from the late 16th century onward. Through Greek authors such as Herodotus or Roman ones such as Livy are glorified models of heroism and polical grandeur. The Flemish Maerten de Vos and other printmakers drew inspiration from these texts and produced engravings later used by cabinet-makers to adorn their productions.
During the late 16th century Ninus (founder of Assyrian empire), Cyrus (founder of Persian empire), Alexander the Great and Julius Caesar are the most represented. Those four men evoke the biblical theme of the Four Empires highlighting the frailty of human conquests.
While our cabinet-maker did not represent the Four Empires he undoubtedly draw inspiration from the same sources. Thus he has depicted on the lower body door-leaves the Roman emperor Tiberius, famous for his military skills and his numerous victories.
The cabinet-maker’s very precise and talented chisel has delivered to us an extraordinary cabinet where equestrian figures, marine animals and ornamental motifs mingle together in an elegant manner.
THIRION Jacques, Le Mobilier du Moyen Age et de la Renaissance en France, Edition Faton, 1998