The present cabinet-on-stand, of carved ebony profusely decorated with flowers and foliage, is probably that recorded in the newly-built Tribune - part of the 10th Duke’s new north front of Hamilton Palace constructed between circa 1824 and 1831 - in 1835 and later in circa 1851 when it was described as “A fine antique solid Ebony cabinet covered all over the outside on spiral turned legs with two doors and a drawer and drawers inside. 4.5 high, 2.9 wide". It was likely the cabinet sold in the first major dispersal of the collection of the Dukes of Hamilton in 1882 when it was erroneously catalogued as "An Old Italian Ebony Cabinet, with folding doors, enclosing drawers, and on a stand, with drawer and stretcher, carved all over with flowers and foliage mounted with metal gilt – 2ft. 8½ in. by 1 ft. 9 in., 4 ft. 5 in. high" (see Christie's London, The Collection of Pictures, Works of art and Decorative Objects, The Property of his Grace the Duke of Hamilton, K.T., 17-19 June 1882, lot 178). This was a common misconception held by European collectors of the day who ascribed much of the ebony furniture made in South Asia to European workshops of the 16th and 17th century. In addition to its corresponding dimensions, the presence of patches on the present cabinet, where later mounts and handles would have formerly been positioned, make it highly likely this cabinet and that listed in the 1882 sale catalogue are one and the same.
Hamilton Palace, a great treasure house in Lanarkshire, Scotland, held one of Europe’s most important art collections. The 10th Duke was a passionate collector of art and many of the items he acquired for Hamilton Palace are now in museums and galleries around the world. Amongst a kaleidoscope of objects, the Duke acquired an extensive group of ebony furniture which included a fabled suite of ebony bedroom furniture, incorporating 17th century elements from the Coromandel Coast and were supplied by John Webb of Bond Street in 1826 and 1828. The group was for his ‘Ebony Room’ at the Palace. It is possible that the present cabinet was an acquisition by the Duke during the period of collecting. He married Susan Euphemia Beckford, daughter of William Thomas Beckford, on 26 April 1810 and would no doubt have been influenced by Beckford’s remarkable collection of ebony furniture at Fonthill Abbey. A tester bed, cradle and other components were sold from Hamilton Palace at Christie’s, 14 November 1919, lots 467-470 and there were also pair of 17th century chairs from the same region sold in an earlier sale of property from Hamilton Palace, Christie’s London, 18 June 1882, lot 169. For details on the 10th Duke’s ebony furniture see Amin Jaffer, Furniture From British India and Ceylon, London, 2001, p. 141-142.
The present cabinet features 'shallow-relief' carving which relates to a set of seat furniture most probably acquired by Thomas, 1st Viscount Weymouth for Longleat, 1640–1714 (see Christie's London, 17 November 1988, lot 77) and a pair of side chairs ensuite with a settee (which feature similar elongated spiral twist supports) at Cotehele, Cornwall, these are dated to 1640 and illustrated by Amin Jaffer, Furniture from British India and Ceylon, London, 2001, p.133. Jan Veendal, Furniture from Indonesia, Sri Lanka and India, Delft, 1985, p.21-45, discusses this flattened, almost incised, relief carving and he illustrates a number of chairs and chair-backs which share much with the cabinet here, also see a cabinet from the Coromandel Coast now in the Museum Sejarah, Jakarta, Indonesia (Jan Veendal, op. cit., p.39) for comparison. For a further cabinet which has similar shallow relief carving mounted with silver-metal hinges, hasps and lock-plate which could be as early as 1650 see that in the collection of the Gemeentemuseum Den Haag, (accession number OHO-1967-0001 / inv. no. 0540200).
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