This two-bodied cabinet shows harmonious proportions and opens with four door-leaves and two drawers in the belt.
Mother-of-pearl and ivory inlays draw an elegant network of lines and scrolls inhabited by birds, figures, fantastical creatures, masks, and medallions displaying the profiles of kings and helmeted soldiers.
The lower body stands on a low moulded base. A frieze presents delicate scrolls springing out of the mouth of a mask with ram horns. They are accompanied by flowers and putti.
On the lateral and the central jambs ivory lines structure the composition as frames and cartouches. Stems spread around three superimposed mother-of-pearl medallions engraved with the profiles of men and wincing masks.
The decor of both door-leaves on the lower body are centred by a mask around which symmetrical scrolls spread in foliated stems with flowers and animals. The presence of those creatures animates the composition. The panels comprise a moulded frame enriched with a flowery frieze.
The belt’s three drawers are divided by three consoles showing a heeled profile. They are adorned with vegetal motifs surrounding a mask while the drawers present the same decor as on the rest of the cabinet.
Each door-leaf of the upper-body is centred with a mother-of-pearl medallion meticulously carved with the profile of a helmeted soldier. A lush decor of supple foliated stems fills the panels. Ivory lines trace loops and scrolls.
On the elongated surface of the entablature the frieze runs symmetrically on both sides of the central mother-of-pearl medallion showing a crowned king. The decor is more complex than on the rest of the cabinet. Amongst the foliated and flowered stems are playing fantastical creatures and birds. Two reclining female figures frame the central medallion.
Mother-of-pearl scrolls also adorn the sides of the cabinet. They spread in concentric circles around an oval ivory medallion. In the lower part appears a naked winged young man, perhaps Cupid, a divinity associated with love, while on the upper part, the man wearing an armour and leaning on his spear could be Mars, the Roman god of war. Those compositions are more airy and rigorous in their geometrical aspect.
The top is inlaid with masks in its angles.
With its exceptional quality of mother-of-pearl and ivory inlays this cabinet is an excellent example of the virtuosity of this craftsmanship characteristic of the Loire valley.
Indeed, the structure displaying a rigorous architecture as well as the quality of the blond walnut wood locate the conception of this cabinet in the Loire region around 1570-1580. The preciosity and elegance of its compositions pay tribute to highly skilled ornamentalist, especially in the refinement and finesse of the mother-of-pearl and ivory inlays.
It is through the intervention of Italian artists, welcomed at the court of Fontainebleau by King François I (1494-1547), that the scroll motif became particularly popular in French art. Its decorative value is particularly adapted to the ornamental fashion developed by the School of Fontainebleau. However, it is adapted to the local taste, loosing its botanical abstraction and being associated with animals and figures.
The curves and volutes of the scroll decor graciously soften the architectural rigour of this cabinet typical of the second half of the 16th century.
The blond hue of the walnut wood, the sumptuosity of the decor, the luxury of the materials allow us to attribute the commission of this cabinet to a high ranking patron. Indeed, such pieces were undeniably destined to the elite.
This cabinet is also a precious testimony of the know-how of cabinetmakers and ornamentalists of the late 16th century.
With its important dimensions, its lavish inlaid decor, and its perfect condition this cabinet truly is an exceptional piece.