Secret Splendour: Hidden World of Baroque Cabinets at Bath's Holburne Museum

By Ben Miller | 06 November 2012
A photo of a tall decadent 18th century cabinet standing on a stool with doors open
Miniature cabinet, German (probably Augsburg) (circa 1700). Printed vellum on pine© Victoria and Albert Museum, London
Exhibition Preview: Secret Splendour: The Hidden World of Baroque Cabinets, The Holburne Museum, Bath, until January 6 2013

Once upon a time, only the privileged few of the 17th century could peek inside the luxury baroque cabinets of wealthy hosts with the most.

Perched on decadent stands, they were made by skilled craftsmen across Europe, China, Japan, India and South America, fashioned in expensive exotic materials destined for Princes, noblemen and diplomats.

A photo of a 17th century cabinet on an elaborate carved white stand with red interior
Cabinet on stand, English (circa 1697). Japanned and silvered wood© Holburne Museum, Bath
Nowadays their mystique only makes them more alluring – hidden in museums or country houses, their original meaning is obscured.

This exhibition includes cabinets from the V&A and Corsham Court, opened to the latter-day masses more than 400 years after their production peaked in the south German city of Augsburg, where a hive of artists and creators designed them.

Three are from the Holburne itself, but their origins lie in Paris, Antwerp, Italy and the Netherlands, or the Asian imports of the East India companies.

Replaced by fashionable furniture during the 18th century, they became collectors’ items during the 19th century, and conjecture around their usage leads to speculation of Wunderkammers and literal cabinets of curiosities for tortoiseshell carvings and hardstones.

Secret hidden drawers and mirrors only heighten the notion of wonder. Hidden stories aside, the rare chance to admire ivory, ebony, painted panels, verre églomisé, marble, marquetry and more is not to be missed.

  • Open 10am-5pm (11am-5pm Sunday and Bank Holidays). Admission £6.50, concessions available. Follow the museum on Twitter @Holburne.

More pictures:

A photo of the elaborate doors to an ancient cabinet showing vases of flowers illustrations
Cabinet, English (circa 1670). Japanned wood© Victoria and Albert Museum, London
A photo of a 17th century cabinet in a series of white boxes with blue intricate details
Table cabinet, German (Augsburg) (circa 1650). Ivory with painted and gilded copper plaques and carnelian© Victoria and Albert Museum, London
An image of various illustrations of 17th century figures within an ornate black cabinet
Cabinet on stand: Prodigal son Cabinet, Flemish (Antwerp) (circa 1650). Ebony with painted panels© Victoria and Albert Museum, London
Table cabinet, Castrucci workshop (Prague) (circa 1610). Ebonised and gilded wood, pietra dura, brass© Victoria and Albert Museum, London
A photo of a 17th century cabinet with black ornate carving and a house illustration
Cabinet on stand: Endymion Cabinet, French (Paris) (circa 1640). Ebony with marquetry of ivory and various woods© Victoria and Albert Museum, London
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