Luxury Design, Past & Present
Antique Italian Baroque Painted Two Drawer Chest, circa 1750. The softly undulating facade of this chest that stands upon cabriole legs showcases a unique combination of profile along with a delicately painted finish to create a uniquely refined appearance. Please enlarge all the photographs to see exactly how this chest was designed to be seen from a full 180 degree span. The easiest way to appreciate this aspect is to focus on the angle of the four legs. Notice how each gently curved leg was placed at a fourty five degree angle to the top ensuring that the full profile of the leg is visible from all directions. The slender elegance of each leg is enhanced by the curve of the cabriole that ends in a claw grasping a pearl. This motif was quite familiar to the upper classes throughout Europe in the late seventeenth and early eighteenth centuries as it was often seen on the lavish porcelain from China imported at great expense for aristocratic collections. The legend of the dragon that roamed the heavens while grasping the pearl of knowledge was associated with the Imperial family of China. The front of the chest as well with its gentle curves also has a name associated with the aristocratic sport of archery called "arbalette" named after a particular type of bow. The cabinet making skill required to assemble a chest like this was rare as this level of workmanship was extremely time consuming. In order to be successful all of the separate elements had to be carefully balanced to achieve the correct combination of scale and proportion as seen here. Another clue to the age of the chest lies in the placement and of the two drawers. The two drawers are not separated by a horizontal support bar but instead flow seamlessly from top to bottom. The more familiar term is known as "sans traverse", French for without a traverse. This was a difficult technique as it required more internal ingenuity to achieve and so the "sans traverse" cabinet making method was reserved for the highest quality pieces. After the construction of the chest was complete the painted design had to be planned and executed. In the early eighteenth century outdoor activities including hunting parties and festive gatherings of nobles were common pursuits and the depiction of such activities were the subject of paintings, engravings and prints. On this chest two such scenes are painted with the uppermost being a hunting party while the lower scene is more festive with mixed company. The celebration of good fortune and the happiness of leisure is quite apparent in both scenes and reflects the idyllic life enjoyed by the upper class. The additional painted decoration seen on the corners uses natural organic motifs from nature as a reminder of warmer days to come while shivering in the depths of winter in northern Italy. Of course during this time there was no such thing as Italy but rather a collection of duchies including Parma, Naples and the Veneto among others. The modern entity of Italy did not arrive until the 1860's. Because this chest was made when only firelight and candle light provided illumination at night the predominant colour is quite light with all of the edges enhanced with gilding. The reflective quality of the painted surface was essential in a dark room and this chest possesses a lightness of scale that remains enchanting. In a modern interior, whether contemporary or traditional, this chest will add a note of refined European sensibility that remains as potent today as it was over two hundred and fifty years ago.