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A Flemish ebony cabinet (Kunstkast) with painted panels after Veronese and Fetti, Antwerp, circa 1650
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A Flemish ebony cabinet (Kunstkast) with painted panels after Veronese and Fetti, Antwerp, circa 1650
JUMP TO LOT

Details & Cataloguing

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A Flemish ebony cabinet (Kunstkast) with painted panels after Veronese and Fetti, Antwerp, circa 1650
the inside doors and the drawer fronts all inset with painted wood panels of events from the Old and New Testament, including Christ and the Centurion on the lid and The Return of the Prodigal Son and The Parable of the Feast on the inside of the doors; the drawers with ivory handles, the central portico with a pair of doors inset with painted figures of Hope and Faith en brunaille, flanked by tortoiseshell columns, opening to reveal an ebony and bone paved enclosure with mirrored walls at an angle set off by two carved green and parcel-gilt terms, one male and one female with entwined dolphin tails, with a drawer below and a bone inlaid slide, two main panels with marks MV and MD/B, on a later ebonised stand
165cm. high, 110cm. wide; 5ft. 5in., 3ft. 7 1/4 in.
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Provenance

Probably commissioned by Georges Villiers, 2nd Duke of Buckingham (1628-1687);
Possibly acquired by George Ramsay, 8th Earl of Dalhousie (1730-1787);
Colstoun House, Haddington, East Lothian, Scotland;
Thence by descent until sold by the Executors of the late Colin Broun Lindsay (1926-1989), Sotheby's London, Important Continental Furniture, 14 June 1991, lot 17;
With Chaucer Fine Arts, London;
European Private Collection.

Exhibited

Preferirei di no' Cinque stanze tra arte e depressione, 29 April - 3 July 1994, Venice, Museo Correr, ill. in ex. cat. p.86.
The Fascinating Faces of Flanders Through Art and Society, 20 June - 25 October 1998, Lisbon, Centro Cultural de Belém.
The Fascinating Faces of Flanders Through Art and Society, 21 November - 21 February 1999, Antwerp, Hessenhuis, .

Literature

M. Riccardi-Cubitt, 'The Duke of Buckingham's "cabinet d'amateur": An aesthetic, religious and political statement', The British Art Journal, Vol. 1, No. 2 (Spring 2000), pp. 77-86.
M. Riccardi-Cubitt, 'Theatrum Mundi', The Antique Collector, Vol. 64, No. 8, 1993, pp.62-66, ill.
M. Riccardi-Cubitt, The Art of the Cabinet, Thames and Hudson ed., London, 1992, p.62, cat. no. 31, ill., p.82 ill., p.176.
A. Scarpa Sonino, Cabinet d'Amateur, Milan, 1992, p. 11, ill.
Country Life, September 1993, p.89.


Catalogue Note

The present cabinet, commissioned as a personal memento, is a unique and precious record of three historical collections, that of D'Aarschoft, the Gonzaga and George Villiers, 1st Duke of Buckingham. The panels, which have retained their freshness of colour and richness of pigment radiantly glowing against the dark ebony, reflect with brilliance and virtuosity the Mannerist movement, and are outstanding 17th century copies of paintings by Paolo Veronese (1528-1588), Domenico Fetti (1589-1623) and Maarten Van Heemskerck (1498-1574), making it one of the most important examples of a Flemish painted cabinet ever recorded.

The Duke of Buckingham, Charles I and the Whitehall Circle

The 1st Duke of Buckingham (1592-1628) was the son of Sir George Villiers of Brooksby, and Mary Beaumont, later Duchess of Buckingham (fig.2). The Duke of Buckingham was the favourite of James I who commented on their relationship: 'Christ had his John and I have my George'.[1] By 1618, Villiers was created Marquess of Buckingham and was appointed Lord High Admiral of England. In 1623 he was created both Earl of Coventry and Duke of Buckingham, and in this year he became the Ambassador to Spain. Buckingham accompanied Prince Charles (later Charles I) to Madrid in 1623, in an attempt to arrange a marriage between the Prince and the Infanta Maria, sister of Philip IV of Spain. It was during this journey that Buckingham transferred most of his loyalty from King James to Prince Charles, and Charles came to rely heavily on Buckingham's advice and support. At the accession of King Charles I in 1625, Buckingham became Gentleman of the Bedchamber, Chief Commissioner for War and General of the Fleet and the Army. Assassinated by navel officer John Felton on the 23rd August 1628, he was buried in the Henry VII Chapel at Westminster Abbey.

The Duke of Buckingham married Katherine Manners, daughter of the wealthy 6th Earl of Rutland who was part of the Whitehall Circle, a group of art connoisseurs, collectors, and patrons closely associated with King Charles I. The group also included Thomas Howard, the Earl of Arundel and James Hamilton, 1st Duke of Hamilton and together they introduced the taste for the Italian Old Masters to England. With an admiration for the Caravagesques painters, the Venetian and the Bolognese Schools, it is not surprising that the inventory of the Duke’s collection in 1635 lists 22 Titians, 21 Bassanos (father and son), 17 Tintorettos, 16 Veroneses, 16 Fettis, 10 Palmas, 3 Bonifazios, 2 Correggios and 1 Giorgione.[2]

The Duke’s political and diplomatic activities increasingly became a vehicle to further his ambition as an art collector, with his collection mainly established at York House. He was advised by Sir Balthasar Gerbier, Baron d’Ouvilly (1592-1667) diplomat, middleman and architect who summed up Buckingham’s career as a collector by stating: ‘Sometime when I am contemplating the treasures of rarities which your Excellency has in so short a time amassed, I cannot but feel astonishment in the midst of my joy. For out of all the amateurs and Princes and Kings, there is not one who has collected in forty years as many pictures as your Excellency has in five.’ [3]

The painted panels as part of the Duke’s collection

All the panels in this cabinet are copies of paintings that were once in the collection of the Duke of Buckingham. Listed in the inventory of York House dated from 1635[4], the original paintings by Domenico Fetti were probably those acquired from the collection of Vincenzo Gonzaga, Duke of Mantua by Davis Nys and Nicolas Lanier on behalf of Charles I and Buckingham in 1627/28.[5] The pictures by Veronese and Maarten van Heemskerck are listed in the inventory of Charles de Croy, Duke of Aarschot’s collection, dating from 1613 and were acquired by Buckingham in Antwerp in 1619. [6] The subsequent history of these pictures is recorded as by descent to George Villiers, 2nd Duke of Buckingham (1628-1687) who sold a large part of his father’s collection in 1649 while in exile in Antwerp (fig.1). Indeed, the 215 pictures were acquired by the Archduke Leopold Wilhelm on behalf of his brother the Emperor Ferdinand III, who divided the pictures between the Imperial Collections in Prague and Vienna.[7]

Tantalisingly, despite the exceptional quality of these, it has not yet been possible to ascribe the authorship of the cabinet panels, which were certainly painted in the second quarter of the 17th century.

Buckingham’s collection was essentially sequestered by the Parliament between 1644 and October 1647. In 1647, he evidently took the opportunity provided by the revocation of the sequestration order against him to plan for an uncertain future by sending abroad, in February 1648, much of his collection of paintings, agates and small castings and carvings. They arrived in Amsterdam and were then moved to Antwerp in the middle of 1648. On 7 July 1648, his property was again sequestered. Buckingham’s financial advisers realized that some of his property would have to be sold, and the Duke accepted this in June 1648. A letter dated 28 September 1648, from Peter Roberts, one of the 2nd Duke's confidential servants to another servant, William Aylesbury who was in Antwerp, interestingly suggests that Aylesbury had recently had some paintings from the Buckingham collection copied in miniature. [8]

However, nothing else happened until April 1649 when the pictures were pawned to John and Lionel Coram and Thomas Woulters. Although a draft of the pawn agreement introduces Thomas Woulters, all subsequent records refer to Frans Wouters (1612-1650), a pupil of Rubens, the Dean of the Antwerp Guild of St. Luke in 1649-50, and who had been employed as an artist at the court of Charles I from 1637 to 1641.

The painted panels are in the spirit of Flemish painters such as David Teniers the Younger (1610-1690), appointed in 1651 as court painter to the great collector and patron, Archduke Leopold Wilhelm, Governor of the Spanish Netherlands, who bought the original paintings. Amongst the breadth of cabinets with painted panels produced towards the middle of the 17th century, the Flemish cabinet held in the Rubenshuis collections is another important example (Rubenshuis, Antwerp, inv. no. RH.M.166). Presenting a highly similar structure to the current cabinet, the panels painted by Victor Wolfvoet the Younger, circa 1640, are direct copies of Rubens's paintings illustrating Ovid’s Metamorphoses.

This cabinet was not only practical for storing jewels and other luxurious personal effects in a collector’s studiolo, but also a work of art in its own right, serving as a personal memento and a piece of furniture with a ‘miniature’ collection of important paintings.

The cabinet and possible dating

The panels to this cabinet could have only been painted after all the originals had been acquired by the 1st Duke of Buckingham, therefore after 1627/1628. The master who painted these panels would have had first-hand knowledge of the originals: not only are they faithful in detail to the originals, but importantly, they are not a reversed copy of them (as would be the case with copies after engravings). Since two of the panels bear the marks of Flemish panel makers, this cabinet was most probably produced in Antwerp. The only time when all the paintings where in Antwerp simultaneously, was between 1648-1650.

The iconography of the cabinet

An accomplished master with a painterly technique of high standard is credited with the realization and conception of this cabinet, given the disposition of the panels forming a balanced and homogenous whole, with the lustrous colours of Veronese's panels matching those of Fetti’s.

Cubitt writes: ‘The parables fall into two groups. The first reveals that Christ’s new law of compassion replaces the older law. The second group deals with the issue of Good and Evil.’ (M. Riccardi-Cubitt, 2000, p.83) The two landscape scenes, depicting a cottage and a church, according to Cubitt, must refer to the two contrasting Kingdoms, that of Heaven and that of Earth.

The architectural setting of Christ and the Centurion inside the upper-well lid sets the tone and is echoed in the Palladian portico and arcading of the Return of the Prodigal Son and in the patrician facade of  the Parable of the Feast.

The Parable of the Sower of Tares is fittingly paired with Jacob's Dream, which in Christian terms was taken to represent the ascent of the human soul towards Christ. Hagar and Ishmael is paired with the Parable of the Lost Sheep, a parable referring to Salvation.

The next row of panels with Christ and the Samaritan WomanRebecca at the well, the Parable of the Unforgiving Servant and the Parable of the workers at the Vineyard, depict the message of Hope and Redemption and reveal one of the themes of the cabinet, which pertains to dynastic legitimacy, an important message for the 2nd Duke of Buckingham, the successor of a recently created dynastic line.

The stamped initials ‘MV’ and ‘MD/B’

The back of the two main painted panels on the doors bear the stamped initials 'MV' and 'MD/B' respectively (fig.3). 'MV' represents Michiel Vrient or Vrindt, who was registered as a master panel maker with the Antwerp Guild of St Luke in 1615 and again on his death in circa 1636-7. His mark can be found on the back of several of Rubens' paintings (for example, on the Portrait of Helena Fourment and at the back of Van Dyck's Portrait of Cornelis van der Geest, both at the National Gallery, London). 'MD/B' represents Melchior de Bout, who is mentioned in the Antwerp Guild's registration list as a grounder and panel maker in 1625 with his mark recorded on works by Sebastian Stosskopf and Peeter Gysels. In the first instance, these marks confirm that the cabinet was very probably made in Antwerp, the centre for the manufacture of ebony veneered cabinets decorated with oil paintings.

Secondly, they reveal a connection with the famous Flemish painter Sir Peter Paul Rubens (1577-1640), who had been involved with the sale of the Duke of Aarschot’s collection, by helping his friend Nicholas Rockox sell the antique gems and medals from d’Aarschot’s collection. It is possible that he was in some way instrumental in selling to Gerbier, Buckingham’s advisor, the Veronese and Heemskerck paintings. Interestingly,  in 1627, Rubens makes reference to his ‘ancient friendship’ with Gerbier. Buckingham, an admirer and patron of Rubens, met the painter who had executed a superb baroque equestrian portrait of the 1st Duke, subsequently destroyed in a fire in 1649, but for which a modello exists in the Kimbell Art Museum, Fort Worth (AP 1976.08). Rubens' pupil, Van Dyck, later painted the 2nd Duke of Buckingham.

Colstoun Estate and George Ramsey, 8th Earl of Dalhousie

The cabinet found its way to Scotland, to Colstoun, near Haddington, East Lothian, the seat of the Broun family since the 12th century. In 1805, Christian Broun of Colstoun, the only daughter and heiress of Charles Broun of Colstoun, married George Ramsay, 9th Earl of Dalhousie (1770-1838). It is believed that this cabinet was inherited by George from his father, George Ramsey, 8th Earl of Dalhousie, who collected drawings, studied law and was admitted as an Advocate in 1757. He succeeded his brother Charles as the 8th Earl of Dalhousie in 1764. As a result of the death of his maternal cousin, General William Maule, the Earl of Panmure (1700-82), Ramsay inherited the bulk of the Panmure estates, with the remainder given to his second son, William Ramsay (1771 - 1852).

[1] King James I, speech at meeting of the Privy Council (September 1617)

[2] Two inventories of the Duke’s collection exist: one dating from 1635 the other from 1648, recording the collection of pictures which amounted to 330 in 1635.

[3] L-R. Betcherman, ‘The York House Collection and its Keeper’, Apollo, October 1970, pp. 250-59.

[4] R. Davies, ‘An Inventory of the Duke of Buckingham’s pictures…’, Burlington Magazine, X, 1907, pp. 76-82.

[5] D. Sutton, 'British Collecting', Apollo, November 1981, p.8, p.24.

[6] K. Garas, ‘Die Sammlung Buckingham und die kaiserliche Galerie’, Wiener Jahrbuch, Vol. 40, Issue 1., 1987, pp.111–121, correspondence dated 9 April 1992.

[7] J. Brotton, The Sale of the Late King's Goods: Charles I and His Art Collection, Pan Macmillan, 2007, p.207.

[8] P. McEvansoneya, 'Van Dyck and the Duchess of Buckingham's collection', Apollo, December 1994, pp.30-32.

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