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Circle of Pierre Golle (c. 1620-84)

Cabinet-on-stand mid-seventeenth century

Ebony veneer, ivory | 235.3 x 218.0 x 69.0 cm (whole object) | RCIN 35309

Queen's Drawing Room, Windsor Castle

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  • Ebony-veneered cabinet in two stages. Below the rectangular cornice are two drawers above two doors which are divided into compartments by fluted pilasters and incorporate figures in niches, Mélinte in the centre, Ariane, his wife, on the (viewing) right and his sister Epicharis on the (viewing) left (see below for identification of these personalities). Carved overall in low relief with nymphs, putti etc, in the frieze and with narrative scenes on the doors, some copied from illustrations of early seventeenth century novels. At either end a central relief carving is set within engraved foliate surrounds. The lower stage is fitted with three drawers carved with mythological figures and incorporating two aprons on the front is supported on two spirally turned columns below Ionic capitals, the pillars on the front elaborately carved with putti, birds and foliage. The whole rests on a rectangular platform supported in twelve bun feet. The two principal doors which are elaborately engraved on the inside with floral motifs each centred on an allegorical scene, on the left an angel presenting the Dauphin to a figure emblematic of France, with Anne of Austria in her accouchement (confinement to bed before and after giving birth), and on the right door the figure of France presenting the Dauphin (future Louis XIV) as a baby to his father, Louis XIII.

    The cabinet is fitted with twelve drawers framing a double door enriched with spiraling Corinthian pillars carved with foliage and putti. The drawer fronts carved with pastoral scenes. Below the drawers are three slides inlaid for games (backgammon, draughts, etc.). The drawers are veneered on the inside and the centre drawer of the bottom register is fitted with a secret compartment. The inner set of doors opens to reveal an architectural conceit, veneered with exotic woods and engraved ivory and fitted with spirally turned gilt bronze columns and plaques of figures in relief. The doors on the inner compartment are richly veneered in marquetry and the panels around the recessed stage are fitted with watercolours of Roman ruins, signed and dated J.-L. Clérisseau, Rome 1763. Formerly with label inscribed 'A cabinet for 225 Long Gallery, Sketch 100 removed to I' (noted in Laking, The Furniture of Windsor Castle, 1906, p. 4. 

    Cabinets of this type - veneered all over with ebony and elaborately carved in low relief - were among the grandest pieces of furniture made in Paris in the first half of the seventeenth century. The French word to describe cabinet-making - ébénisterie (ebony work) - derives from precisely this use of costly ebony veneers, and on the best examples, such as this one, perhaps by Pierre Gole (c.1620-84), great elaboration and sophistication of cabinet-making techniques were perfected. Even the insides of the drawers are veneered and inlaid with elaborate geometric designs, and among the interior fittings are chess and backgammon boards and a number of concealed drawers.

    The carved decoration is partly based on the engraved illustrations of two popular early seventeenth-century French novels, L'Ariane (1632) by Jean Desmarets de Saint Sorlin and L'Endymion (1624) by Jean Ogier Gombauld. Among the additional scenes portrayed are two which include the infant Louis XIV, his parents Louis XIII and Anne of Austria, and Cardinal Richelieu. How and when this seemingly royal cabinet came to England is not known: perhaps it was a gift from Louis XIV to his first cousin Charles II; alternatively it might have come via Louis XIV's childless sister-in-law. Liselotte, Duchess of Orléans, to her Hanoverian cousins. It was certainly in George III's collection at St James's Palace - the feet were replaced in 1765 by the cabinet-maker John Bradburn (TNA LC 9/313). A set of gouaches of classical ruins by C.-L. Clérisseau (1721-1820) was added to the interior at a later date, either for George III or George IV.

    The identification of the scenes was made in 1956 by Th. Lunsingh Scheurleer and published in 'Novels in Ebony', The Journal of the Warburg and Courtauld Institutes, vol. 19, no. 3/4, July-December 1956, pp. 259-268. There a detailed explanation of the scenography was given. The exterior panels are entirely derived from L'Ariane, and the visual source for the panels identified as derived from Abraham Bosse's engravings after Claude Vignon used in the 1639 edition of Desmarets' book. Lunsingh Scheurleer recounts the main action of the novel:
    'Desmarets' novel opens in the streets of Rome, where at night two young Sicilians are attacked by armed men. Amongst these there appears to be no less a person than the Emperor Nero himself. The two strangers moderate their counter-attack, thus giving the assailants an occasion to withdraw. The Sicilians are covered with wounds and faint. When their deeply-moved servants make ready to bear them home, two richly dressed ladies enter the scene. These ladies are the sisters Camille and Emilie; the Sicilians, the chief characters of the novel, are Mélinte and his friend Palamède, Camille's lover. The left-hand panel of our cabinet illustrates this episode; the fainting heroes lie outstretched before the hosue of the beautiful sisters, who approach the friends by the light of torches carried by children.
    Camille and Emilie take care of the Sicilians, who after some time are visited by Palamède's father, his sister, the beautiful Ariane and her servant Epicharis. Marcelin, who often takes part in Nero's indulgences, falls in love with Ariane, who, loving Mélinte, rejects him. Marcelin tries to win her with cunning. He arranges a "coup de théâtre" in the Temple of Diana. When Ariane takes a ritual bath in the purification room the ceiling opens and Marcelin appears, accompanied by the goddess Diana and preceded by amorini. This scene, which is soon discovered to have been enacted by the dishonest Marcelin, is depicted on the rectangular relief under the main scene of the left-hand door. Ariane from her bath looks in astonishment at Marcelin, sustained by Diana. Cupids are shooting arrows; Epicharis looks on from behind a curtain. 
    Marcelin's efforts remaining utterly fruitless, he then resolves to take the chaste beuaty by force. Here Desmarets inserts a chapter worthy of a modern Wild-West picture. Marcelin boasts of Ariane's beauty to Nero and proposes setting fire to the house where the Sicilians live, to kill Mélinte and Palamède and to rape Ariane. Nero, who likes nothing better than these "inventions furieuses," approves of Marcelin's plan. But unfortunately for them Mélinte never fails - however difficult the situation - to find a way out. He mounts 'le plus fort et le plus viste de ses chevaux', advises his friends to choose horses too, takes Ariane in his arms and leaves the burning house at full gallop. One blow of his sword suffices to cut off the arm of the soldier who tries to seize his rein. Thus he saves his beloved Ariane "au travers des hommes armez & des flammes, qui devoraient déjà toutes les maisons voisines". This act of heroism is shown on the right door.  
    After many more adventures the time seems to have come for the marriage of Ariane and Mélinte. But again fate turns against the lovers. Emilie still loves Mélinte ardently, but has never found any sign of attachment on his side. Driven by jealousy and anger, she urges the Romans to capture Mélinte and Palamède again. Epicharis, disguised in man's clothes, tries to arrange for the escape of the friends but is recognised by the Romans. This scene appears on the left base of the cabinet. In the centre of the base is shown in the next episode: Mélinte in prison and being visited by the furious Emilie, who wants to kill him with a dagger. Emilie comes under the spell of Mélinte's words and again all ends well this time. 
    Mélinte accomplishes a new act of bravery when he defeats the Scythians. As he had attacked with the order of the commanding officer, he is condemned to die by the hand of a priest. As this cruel act is about to be performed, the priest recognises Mélinte as his son, and refuses to kill him. The relief on the right-hand door illustrates this scene. Finally Mélinte becoems king of Thessaly, and Ariane his queen. Palamède, appointed Governor of Sicily, marries the brave Epicharis, who has turned out to be Mélinte's sister.  These are the scenes depicted on the exterior of the ebony cabinet.
    The pictorial panels on the inside of the doors, also carved in low relief, depict scenes of the birth of the Dauphin, the future Louis XIV, as desribed above and derived from prints made following his birth in 1638.
    The remainder of the low relief scenes on the cabinet consist of scenes drawn from the story of Endymion. In most cases these are drawn from prints by C. de Passe, L. Gautier and J. Picart reproduced in Gombauld's L'Endymion, first published in 1624. It may have enjoyed popular success comparable to L'Ariane. This source again was also identified by Lunsingh Scheurleer. A cabinet in the Victoria & Albert Museum, acquired in 1856, known as the Endymin cabinet, features panels with scenes derived from the same source as those on this, the Windsor cabinet, but (according to Lunsingh Scheurleer) seem to have been carved by a different hand. Confusingly, only some of the scenes from Gombauld's novel appear on the Windsor cabinet: more appear on the V&A cabinet, suggesting that there was no clear narrative programme behind the selection of panels.
    Gombauld's novel opens with a lunar eclipse in the town of Heraclée, the townsfolk ascending Mount Lathmos playing simple intruments to serenade the moon. The spandrels of the outer doors showing figures playing instruments are drawn from the print depicting this scene: thus the separated figures are no longer assembled as part of the Endymion narrative.  When the moon shines once more, all retire except Pyzandre, who hears Endymion lamenting his fate.  Endymion recounts his adventures. A Priestess foretold him that the goddess Diana would play a part in his life, looking up at the nigh sky, he sees the goddess of the Moon, Diana, in her chariot drawn by dragon-like mythical creatures (called 'Draco'). One day she appeared before him on earth: the left inner door shows Endymion kneeling before Diana. Endymion becomes infactuated with the goddess and dreams of her, but he is left frustrated, unsatisfied and seeks the help of Ismene, who provides him with a magic drink: the right inner door shows Endymion with Ismene.  Endymion sets out in search of the godess, passing bizarre creatures and disfigured men. He reaches Diana, who is surrounded by her attendant nymphs, whereupon the goddess of the hunt, Diana, draws her bow and shoots arrows provided to her by Cupid at Endymion. The arrows pierce him, and he drifts off into ecstasy. he is later found in this dreamlike state by a nymph. Endymion is revived and continues on his way, later resting below a myrtle tree. At daybreak, a lady appears and asks him to cut a branch of myrtle, but after he has done this, he is set upon by attackers and is taken prisoner and brought back to the myrtle tree. The tree, it transpires, was a lost girl Diophanie, who had been changed into a myrtle. Hermodan, Diophanie's lover, hears this and kneels and embraces the tree. A servant tells of the story of the lovers: a rich shepherd's daughter, Diophanie refused to marry Hermodan, although she loved him but instead is duped by Apollo, who has taken the form of humble Hermodan. Diophanie and Hermodan are depicted on the right-hand end panel of the Windsor cabinet. Diophanie sacrifices an ox (this scene is on the left-hand end of the Windsor cabinet) and is promptly turned into a myrtle tree. Returning to captured Endymion, he is chosen to be sacrificed to Diana and in preparation purified in a river (seen on the left drawer below inner doors, and other parts of the scene depicted in the print published in Gombauld can be seen in the drawers above the inner doors). Diana returns from the hunt, seen by Endymion who is allowed to visit the woods; another scene shows Endymion witnessing Diana tied by her nymphs. The lady who asked Endymion to cut a branch of myrtle is Sthenobée, niece of the priest who is to sacrifice Endymion: they fall in love. Sthenobée continues, reluctantly, with preparations for Endymion's sacrifice. She places a wreath on his head (seen on the inside of the left inner door). The sacrificial cortège containing Endymion winds its way to a clearing in the woods, where the sacrifice will take place. Sthenobée stands in an azure chariot drawn by stags with silvered antlers, accompanied by twelve virgins and preceded by men leading bulls and girls with baskets of fruit and flowers. The scene of Endymion's sacrifice is depicted on the inside of the right-hand inner door: Endymion kneels, the priest receives the knife from Sthenobée, who herself dies moments later bitten by a serpent. The priest announces that the oracles have said that Endymion must die by his own hand, he kills himself. Endymion wakes and it appears to have been a dream. 


    First recorded at St James's Palace in 1765. Recorded in May 1825 in the Coffee Room at Buckingham Palace; probably delivered by Morel & Seddon to Windsor, 4 October 1827.

    Lunsingh Scheurleer, writing in 1956, suggested the possibility that the cabinet was supplied for Anne of Austria. This suggestion was made on account of the close association of Gombauld (author of L'Endymion) and Desmarets (author of L'Ariane) with Anne of Austria, and the Queen's interest in literature generally. The iconographic programme across the cabinet is mixed and does not illuminate a specific subject or theme. However, the panels depicting the presentation of the Dauphin as a baby are suggestive of a patron in the court of Louis XIII.

    The interior is fitted with five small framed and glazed gouache painted paper panels. These panels were temporarily removed for conservation during restoration of the cabinet in January 1984 at which point each gouache was allocated an individual RL (Royal Library) number. 

  • Medium and techniques

    Ebony veneer, ivory


    235.3 x 218.0 x 69.0 cm (whole object)