Eger (Chub), mid-17th century

Art history can be quite powerless sometimes! This immaculate and refined cabinet, made from various different woods, does not have an artist’s name attached, only the description “master with ornamental background”. At first glance this information seems quite lacking, and a collector might be more likely to focus on the additional sentence, “Eger, mid-17th century”. This city at the gates of Bohemia was once, 40 years ago, a centre of exquisite intarsia production. Adam Eck (1604-1664) worked here, and he invented – so it is thought – the extremely complicated, and therefore fascinating, technique of relief intarsia. He was often visited in his workshop by military rulers and princes who were enthusiastic about art; even the emperor, the highest authority in the Habsburgs‘ territories was a recipient of his work. The anonymous “master with ornamental background” who produced this work is likely to have been one of his followers, and his trademark seems to have been extensive painting of the intarsia. The stylistic nature of the relief intarsia, the horizontal ovals of the draw reliefs and the arches of the end pictures on the inside of the wing doors and middle niche door are very clear indicators of this master’s hand. There are other examples of his work in Prague and in Skokloster, a castle in Sweden. One of the previous owners of this piece of furniture was Johann Gottlieb Korn in Wroclaw, which we can see from a note attached to the underside of one of the drawers.

Cabinet: Master with ornamental background, Chub, mid-17th century.
Relief intarsia of different woods, carved, stained in places; richly decorated with intarsia all round and inside; the decoration includes scenes come from the Old and New Testament, allegories and landscapes; square cabinet with elevated base containing a drawer; middle section includes 2 doors, 10 drawers inside, a central compartment with door, interior relief intarsia showing the Apostles: top with raised central section, closable lid; rippled moulding, gilded and engraved brass fittings; 2 keys; 80 x 63.5 x 37.5 cm
EUR 30,000-60,000

Whatever the artist’s name was, the cabinet is a masterpiece of furniture making, with numerous drawers and secret compartments, and with images that make it possible to read like a vital and lively book. The scenes have been chosen from the Old and New Testaments which share the same theme and convey a clear message. The scenes are framed by representations of Christian virtues and the seasons, intended to symbolise the enduring nature of Christian values, in contrast to the fleetingness of earthly pleasures. The other reliefs on the top show cherubs riding fantastic sea creatures, similar to those found on the bases of cabinets from the same workshop, for example in Freiburg, Frankfurt and Prague. These can only be seen as decorative additions.

Opening the doors, drawers and the hinged top provides a continuation to each story, intended to aid contemplation and offer an endless supply of associations. A cabinet is never just bought in order to be put in a corner and forgotten, such furniture is a conversation piece and a marker of a rich cultural heritage.

This cabinet will be offered for sale on the 25th April 2017 as part of the “Antiques” auction at im Kinsky

Text: Marianne Hussl-Hörmann with excerpts from the catalogue by Jochen Voigt, Professor of Design at the Zwickau University of Applied Sciences, restores antiques in his own studio in Chemnitz and has written numerous scholarly works relating to art.