Help Save This Cabinet for the Nation!

April 1, 2014

As you will have seen if you’ve visited the Silver Galleries lately, we have just launched an urgent new appeal trying to raise the £534,000 needed to save this incredibly rare and important medal cabinet from export.

Medal cabinet in the Egyptian taste

The cabinet was made in around 1810, for someone in the circle of the Emperor Napoleon. Stunning in its design and execution, it has mounts signed by Martin Guillaume Biennais, official goldsmith to the Imperial family. Biennais is known for having combined fine, figured veneers with sophisticated silver mounts, and it is possible that he made this cabinet in its entirety.

Medal cabinet in the Egyptian taste (detail)

The cabinet is one of the best examples of the fashion for Egypt that pervaded Europe in the early 19th century. This fashion was triggered by Napoleon’s military expedition to Egypt, launched in 1798. While the campaign was militarily unsuccessful, it was used very effectively as propaganda for Napoleon’s Empire, triggering a widespread fashion for all things Egyptian.

In its overall form, the cabinet’s design is very closely modelled on one of the plates from Baron Dominique Vivant-Denon’s famous account of Napoleon’s campaign, Voyage dans le Basse et la Haute Égypte, pendant les Campagnes du Général Bonaparte (Paris, 1802).

Plate 80 from Baron Dominique Vivant-Denon

While the overall form of the cabinet uses the spare, elegant language of the early 19th-century Egyptian style, it is also filled with extraordinarily intricate details.

Inside its front door, which opens when the eye of this ureaus (a stylised Egyptian cobra) is pushed in, 41 mahogany medal drawers are mounted with individual silver scarabs. Each of these scarabs has one hinged wing which flips forward to form a drawer pull.

Medal cabinet in the Egyptian taste

The cabinet is currently on display in the Whiteley Silver Galleries. If we manage to acquire it, it will be one of the star exhibits in our newly-developed Europe 1600-1800 Galleries, opening in December of this year. We only have until July to raise the funds needed to buy the cabinet.

Please help us with a donation!

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