Medal Cabinet by Dominique Vivant Denon

Created around 1810, this cabinet is a stunning example of the Egyptian style that was popular in Europe and North America in the first decades of the 19th century.


Details

Medium:
Oak, veneered with amboynas (or thuya), with mahogany drawers and engraved silver mounts
Dimensions:
88.5 x 52.1 x 31.9 cm
Art Fund grant:
£150,000 ( Total: £534,000; Export stopped)
Acquired in:
2014
Vendor:
H Blairman & Sons Ltd

While the client for the cabinet is unknown, the quality of its design, materials and workmanship suggest that it must have been made for someone in the circle of Emperor Napoleon – possibly Napoleon himself. The attribution of the cabinet is the subject of ongoing research, but the lockplate is signed by Martin-Guillaume Biennais, the greatest goldsmith of the Napoleonic period, and it is likely that the cabinet was made entirely in or for Biennais's workshop. The upper section of the cabinet is based on a drawing of a ruined Egyptian temple pylon by the French artist Dominique-Vivant Denon, while a second drawing by the architect Charles Percier is marked 'for Biennais'. As well as its unrivalled craftsmanship, the cabinet holds some ingenious secrets. To open the cabinet, the user first has to press the eye of one of the cobras on the face, revealing a keyhole. After unlocking the door, the cabinet opens to reveal 41 narrow drawers, individually decorated with a silver scarab-like design. Each drawer is opened by lifting the right wing of its scarab, allowing the drawer to slide open.

Artists include

Provenance

Believed to have been acquired for Gatton Park, Surrey, 1830s; Burton Hall,1888, Lincolnshire; South Carlton,1958; sold at Sotheby’s, 2013. An Art Loss Register search has been carried out.

Venue details

V&A (Victoria and Albert Museum) Cromwell Road, London London SW7 2RL 020 7942 2000 www.vam.ac.uk

Entry details

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