cabinet is a pleasing reminder that decorative styles did not change from
Medieval to Renaissance with the flip of a switch. In the 16th century, French craftsmen continued to employ
medieval elements in what was otherwise a Renaissance piece of furniture, especially when
adopting the Italian design vocabulary used by the craftsmen who came north
with the future Queen of France, Catherine de' Medici of Florence.
In this decidedly Renaissance Revival style piece of cabinetry, a bit of the medieval remains in the
form of the side panels in the plis-de-serviette or linen-fold design. Such panels, in richly varying versions of
the linen-fold, were used to ornament the sides of cabinets, the fronts and
sides of chests, and the backs of pot-boards of traditional Gothic dressoirs.
Renaissance elements are in full bloom on the front of this cabinet. Gone are the Gothic superstition that
nothing could be completely identical to anything else, in favor of a more
humanist delight in creating the same thing again and again. Here, the first and third panels, from the
left, are identical to the second and fourth.
These panels reflect the affection of Renaissance artisans for elements of classic
Greco-Roman design, known to them from casts and drawings used in workshops and
adapted for more modern religious symbolism.
The cherub (angel's head with wings) below swirling vegetation
culminating in a dolphin's head is intriguing.
In Italian Renaissance art, the dolphin was a symbol of salvation, and
was particularly popular with Carlo Crivelli, who adopted the motif for
armrests on the throne of the Virgin Mary in several of his paintings. In his "Mary Magdalene," now in the
Rijksmuseum, he used a frieze of alternating cherubs' heads and dolphins.
With a nod to modern uses, this cabinet has a
hole at the base in the back, as shown in the photo, below. We speculate that at one time the cabinet
might have housed stereo equipment to play the intensely expressive madrigals
of Carlo Gesualdo that evoke, in musical terms, the Italian style decoration
gracing this cabinet.
Jacqueline, Le Mobilier Français du Moyen Age à la Renaissance, Editions d'Art
Monelle Hayot (Saint-Just-en-Chaussée, 1988); Lightbown, R. W., Carlo Crivelli
(Yale University Press, 2004); Thirion, Jacques, Le Mobilier du Moyen Age et de
la Renaissance en France (Editions Faton, Dijon, 1998); Wilk, Christopher,
Western Furniture 1350 to the Present Day (Cross River Press, New York, 1996)