Chest is an essential item of Medieval and Renaissance furniture. With its handles it was conceived to be easily moved from one house to another. It would hold linens, dishes or jewellery. Chest was also the ideal wedding present and would enclose the bride’s trousseau.
In the middle of the 16th century chests are decisively transformed, their conception now favouring architecture, sculpture and images.
This oak wood chest shows impressive proportions with a solid frame. Large mullions are assembled with mortise and tenon joints also securing three carved panels.
The facade lower part comprises a high plinth hiding the base of the jambs and acting as feet. It is carved with a frieze of canal motifs topped with palm leaves.
The carved decor spreads over the facade of the chest and underlines its structure. On the mullions appears a vegetal decor including roses and palm leaves executed with rigorous symmetry. They frame three rectangular panels. The central one is enriched with two female sphinxes back to back.
They wear helmets and spread their wings while their body is partially hidden by long leaves. In the centre a female mask is positioned over draperies. The two lateral panels show a similar but not identical decor. Indeed we can notice a few variations in the motifs.
The left hand side panel is adorned with a cut-out leather upon which is depicted two extraordinary ram heads. Their bodies are intertwined with the leather and vegetal motifs in elegant scrolls. A large chou bourguignon stands between both heads. The panel is centred with another ram’s head carved in high relief.
On the right hand side panel the composition is alike. The chou bourguignon has been replaced with a shell and the lower part of the panel is adorned with two large fully bloomed flowers.
The chest is topped with a frieze of geometrical motifs including scrolls, ovals and rectangles.
On the sides, the surface is divided in two moulded rectangular spaces adorned with frame-like scrolls, rectangular cartouches and palm leaves.
The chest closes with a massive original lid that can be locked with a key.
The important and abundant sculpted decor of this chest allows us to locate its conception in the Burgundy region, France. The regular composition is allied to a remarkable imaginative freedom in the execution of the figures. The very rich iconography draws from the art of Fontainebleau as well as Italian art.
The Italian Wars have indeed favoured artistic exchanges and influences between France and the peninsula. The craze for Italian art, particularly during the reign of King François I, and the rediscovery of Antiquity both have an undeniable impact of furniture designs.
Jacques Thirion, Le Mobilier français Moyen Age, Renaissance, Faron, 1999