The Borghese- Windsor Cabinet, Rome, about 1620. Cabinet: 178 cm high (including statuette) x 126 cm wide x 54 cm deep, Stand: 84 cm high x 153.5 cm wide x 65.5 cm deep. Ebony; statuettes in gilded bronze and silver; hard stones include lapis lazuli, jaspers, agates, carnelians, amethyst; ebony and ivory (removed) for the central niche. Photo Courtesy of Sotheby’s Paris.
The Borghese-Windsor Cabinet
Roman, about 1620
“The Borghese-Windsor cabinet is one of the finest examples of Italian pietre dure cabinets known. Works of this quality, craftsmanship, and historical significance are almost all in museums and princely private collections, so the opportunity to acquire one of the most renowned examples for the Getty is too good to pass up,” said Timothy Potts, director of the J. Paul Getty Museum. “The Getty Museum’s strong collection of Roman Baroque paintings and sculpture is now greatly enhanced by the addition of a major piece of furniture from the period. This unique and imposing piece will stand out even among our renowned collection of French furniture.”
The ornate cabinet is one of the most significant pietre dure pieces of furniture produced in Rome in the early 17th century. At about six feet tall, the cabinet is architectural in appearance, evoking a church façade. Brilliantly colored and technically superb, it was intended as a prominent display cabinet, as was often found in the finest palaces and castles in Europe at the time. In excellent condition, the cabinet is made of ebony decorated with gilded bronze and silver statuettes and inlaid pietre dure (hard stones), including lapis lazuli, jaspers, agates, camelians, and amethyst. It features an intriguing array of compartments and secret drawers for housing prized family possessions. In addition, the cabinet still sits on the elegant Neoclassical ébénisterie stand created for it in the 1820s and attributed to cabinet maker Alexandre Louis Bellangé (French, 1759-1827). With its shape following that of the cabinet, a mirrored backdrop, and its twenty-four fluted columns with gilt bronze foliated scrolls, this veneered ebony stand beautifully complements the cabinet it supports.
“This spectacular Roman cabinet is a masterpiece,” said Anne-Lise Desmas, head of sculpture and decorative arts at the Getty Museum. “It reflects the highest standards of craftsmanship and material of its time. Its imposing size and noble proportions, the refinement of its decoration, with the sumptuous chromatic pattern of the pietre dure stonework and the elegant classical-style statuettes are rarely matched in contemporaneous furniture.”
That the inlaid stones in the Borghese-Windsor Cabinet are exclusively of the hardest siliceous types is an indication of the extraordinary craftsmanship of the work. Particularly expensive and difficult to cut, such hard stones define the quality and rareness of the cabinets they decorate, and consequently echo the high rank of its patron, in this case an eminent pope.
Made for Pope Paul V Borghese, whose coat-of-arms in gilded bronze adorns the central pediment, it was acquired from Prince Camillo Borghese by the famous London art dealer Edward Holmes Baldock in the early 1820s, who most likely commissioned the pedestal on which it still stands. Baldock sold the cabinet to King George IV in 1827. It remained in the Royal collection (Windsor Castle, Buckingham Palace, Malborough House) until 1959, when it was sold at auction with the collection of Queen Mary, and acquired by the father of businessman-collector Robert de Balkany, who kept it in his Hôtel Feuquières at rue de Varenne in Paris.
At the Getty, it will join the Museum’s highly significant Italian Baroque paintings and sculpture, including the marble bust of Pope Paul V commissioned from the great Baroque artist Gian Lorenzo Bernini (Italian, 1598-1680).
The Borghese-Windsor cabinet will go on view at the Getty Museum at the Getty Center in Los Angeles after a period of study and analysis.
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