Medici cabinet

Unknown, Maker

This is one of the pieces of furniture in our collection. It was made in Italy in circa 1760.
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Object Detail

About the Work
Created in Italy towards the end of the prominent Medici family’s rule, this is a rare object to find in New Zealand. It is a prime example of Italian Renaissance craftsmanship from this era, which flourished under the patronage of the Medicis.
The cabinet's walnut veneer is delicately inlayed with ivory floral designs and a family crest. It also has a rather intriguing upper central frieze, which depicts the silhouettes of classical ivory figures in a procession or ceremony. However time, the New Zealand environment and well meaning but misdirected attempts to ‘fix’ the secretaire‘s ailing condition, left this work in need of some professional care.
In 2008 the Sarjeant Gallery received funding from the New Zealand Lottery Grants Board to undertake remedial conservation on some of our key collection items. Remedial conservation is very specialist work and could be described as the alchemy of chemistry and art history. It is not about ‘fixing’, but stabilising an artwork, revealing its true story.
We may never know how or why this cabinet came to be in New Zealand, and it would take a rather focussed research trip to Italy to decipher the symbolism used in this piece of furniture. However, part of the story of our secretaire may have been revealed during its conservation when conservator Detlef Klein discovered a group of faded pencil signatures on the inner base of the top drawer. What do these commemorate? Are they related to the intriguing ceremony, or the curious family crest? Bringing these pieces together is like solving a mystery, and we can make an educated guess that perhaps, this secretaire was originally made as a wedding gift.
2150 x 585 x 1170mm
Italian walnut with ivory inlay
Glass fronted cabinet with shelves at top, angled hinged panel at centre, 2 drawers below. Varnished wood with ivory decorative inlay. Dancing cupids at centre of hinged panel, rest of decoration is mainly flowers, vines and birds.
Credit Line
Collection of the Sarjeant Gallery Te Whare o Rehua Whanganui. Bequeathed by Mrs W. J. Caccia- Birch, Marton, 1927
Collection Type
Permanent collection
Acquisition Date
27 May 2003



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