This chest is a
refreshing example of adoption of the Gothic style for items in everyday
use. While chests (or trunks) were the
very first category of furniture, developed by early Europeans to safeguard
possessions in a portable container, they have proved enduring and useful down
the centuries although losing their handles in the 19th century when
portability was no longer a priority.
In this example we see the sturdiness of its French heritage in being made of solid oak. The elaborate tracery or fenestrage
celebrates its design origins dating back to medieval times when such patterns
were found in architecture and in decorative items such as benches (developed
from chests by adding a back).
Unlike most of the Gothic style chests we have had, the four panels of tracery on the front of
this chest are identical. However, they
still invite scrutiny and reward the viewer who admires them in detail. Based on a tall, elliptical shape, the
outline of the tracery encases a four-pointed design whose eight arms form the
frame of smaller mouchettes (elliptical shapes, each filled with two
lobes). Unlike most examples of tracery
on chests, there is no top or bottom to these designs. If one were to draw a horizontal line through
the central flower and fold the design in half along it, the two halves would
be identical. The main design of each
half is the graceful “S” curve or ogive, characteristic of designs during the
“Flamboyant Gothic” of the late Middle Ages in Northern France.
Particularly interesting are the pilasters separating the panels and the virtuosic carving
they involve. Dividing the two panels at
the center is a pilaster sporting carved crocketing of a type seen more
commonly on Gothic spires. Between the
two outermost panels are pilasters with a vertical, wavy pattern of overlapping
leaves evoking the stylized three-lobed plant (or possibly a fleur-de-lys) bordering
the lid of the chest.
chest as one that was likely a commission or destined for a specific location,
the end-pieces are carved (unlike mass-produced furniture where the sides were
typically blank). Intricate linen-fold
patterns have been carved and enhance the Gothic feeling of this piece.
Overall, this chest has a lovely patina in a lightish oak hue with the top somewhat lighter
(perhaps due to ultraviolet). While
there are several marks on the top, as shown in the photos below, they add
character to a piece that is old but well-preserved.