This is one of the most remarkable Gothic cabinets we have ever encountered, in terms of overall design, artistry of execution and conditionof preservation. It is a cornucopia of Gothic design, including features borrowed from architecture such as spires, columns and the tiered structure. But it also includes favorites from the world of painting and sculpture such as the five knights in niches forming the central portion of the cabinet, the central knight on horseback, and the animated figure of a man (head and shoulders), peering over the top of the cabinet.
This figure is mounted separately and therefore the cabinet can be displayed with or without it. His role or purpose remains an enigma — could he be one of the knights without his armor? It is unlikely that a 19th century craftsman would indulge himself in the conceit of putting himself in his masterpiece, but perhaps it is the person who commissioned the piece? A bit menacing, a bit playful — either way, this figure beckons us to imagine his role and to marvel at the virtuosity of the carving. Each of the knights wears a different uniform and has a slightly different stance, reminiscent of the saints flanking the doors of Gothic cathedrals or even the Renaissance church of Orsanmichele in Florence whose outer walls include niches populated with sculpted figures.
The late Gothic into early Renaissance influence is also seen in the portraits on either side of the central drawer which are in profile and in the shape of medallions. Perhaps these were meant to depict the persons who commissioned the piece. Particularly interesting and Gothic are the dragons at either side of the top, crouched as if poised to pounce on the figure peering over the top. Above the central door, with the knight on horseback is the traditional Gothic element of the small, hooded head with prominent features, seen on other pieces such as the Gothic bench 5202.
Uniting the entire piece are linen-fold panels plis-de-serviette in the top and bottom as well as forming the side panels. All of these aspects and especially the mixture of Gothic and Renaissance elements mean that it can also fall into the classification used by the French for 19th century furniture in Gothic Revival or Renaissance Revival styles Henri II. For sheer exuberance of decoration, this piece is incomparable and a reminder of why the antiques business is one of constant discovery and endless appreciation for the work of master craftsmen.
Ader-Tajan, Collection Bruno Perrier Haute Epoque (Catalog for Sale at Auction on April 6, 1992 at the Hôtel Drouot, Paris); Boccador, Jacqueline, Le Mobilier Français du Moyen Age à la Renaissance (Editions d'Art Monelle Hayot, Saint-Just-en-Chaussée, 1988); Thirion, Jacques, Le Mobilier du Moyen Age et de la Renaissance en France (Editions Faton, Dijon, 1998)
This cabinet, whether displayed with or without the figure poised atop it, would be the center of attention in any room. Because of the exuberance of decoration, it would also blend well with pieces described as Louis XIII or even Victorian.