A Raphael study for the Transfiguration in the Rijksmuseum

This post is part of a unique worldwide initiative in the international blogging community to celebrate the life, friendship and achievements of Hasan Niyazi (1975-2013), influential blogger, Raphael scholar and tireless campaigner for open access art history on the internet. On 6 April 2014, the anniversary of Raphael’s birthday, the artist Hasan loved most, Hasan’s friends join to pay him tribute with posts written especially for the occasion. Hasan’s untimely death left his great project Open Raphael Online unfinished, but as it stands it illustrates how comprehensive, scholarly and yet accessible his approach was. In that, he will always be a great inspiration for me. I am delighted to contribute a post about – who else – Raphael.

Raphael’s Transfiguration

In his Life of Raphael Giorgio Vasari movingly recounts the events immediately following Raphael Santi’s death in 1520:

As he lay dead in the hall where he had been working they placed at his head the picture of the Transfiguration which he had done for Cardinal de’ Medici; and the sight of this living work of art along with his dead body made the hearts of everyone who saw it burst with sorrow.

Vasari does not mention in how far the Transfiguration, Raphael’s last and perhaps most puzzling composition, was completed when the artist died. Until the painting was cleaned in 1972-76, scholars limited Raphael’s participation to the left lower group and attributed the right lower group and the upper section to Giulio Romano and Giovanni Francesco Penni respectively. The cleaning confirmed that the majority of the work was by Raphael and that assistants finished only the group at the lower right.

Raphael Santi, the Transfiguration,

Raphael Santi, the Transfiguration, c. 1518-20, Pinacoteca Vaticana

The painting presents two consecutive yet distinct narratives as recounted in the Gospels of Matthew and Mark. The upper register shows a radiant Christ who, with the prophets Elijah and Moses, appears in glory before the apostles Peter, James and John. In the lower register the other apostles (seen left) meet the family of a boy possessed (seen right) but in spite of the frantic pleas of the child’s family they fail to cure him. Their failure is not mentioned as such in the biblical text but is implied in the words of the boy’s father, who addresses Christ after he descended from the mountain: “And I brought him to your disciples and they could not cure him.” The meaning of the painting is perhaps most economically and eloquently expressed by Goethe:

The two are one: below suffering, need, above, effective power, succour. Each bearing on the other, both interacting with one another.

The kneeling female figure in Raphael’s Transfiguration – form and function

In his description of the painting which he termed Raphael’s “most beautiful and most divine work” Vasari somewhat unexpectedly refers to the kneeling female figure in the center foreground as “the principal figure in that panel.”

With her back to the viewer she kneels in a twisted contrapposto pose: her right knee forward and right shoulder back, left knee positioned slightly behind the right and her left shoulder forward, arms directed to the right and her face turned to the left. She offers a structural and compositional bridge between the family group gathered around the possessed boy on the right and the nine apostles on the left. Her spatial and tonal isolation from the surrounding figures and their apparent obliviousness to her stunning presence suggest that we should interpret this figure as different from the others. Jacob Burckhardt (1855) suggested that “the woman lamenting on her knees in front is as it were a reflection of the whole incident.”

The kneeling woman is Raphael’s most striking depiction of the figura serpentina (serpentine figure). Leonardo developed one of the earliest and most influential expressions of the serpentine figure in his now lost Leda, ca. 1504, which Raphael copied in a drawing upon his arrival in Florence.

Raphael, Leda and the Swan, c. 1507, The Royal Collection

Raphael after Leonardo, Leda and the Swan, c. 1507, The Royal Collection

Leonardo’s Leda assumes the serpentine pose by drawing her right arm across her chest, which then generates the opposing shift forward in her right hip and leg and the backward shift right. In a similar way Raphael’s female figure in the Transfiguration draws her left arm across her chest and brings her left shoulder forward while her head twists to the left.

Heliodorus

Detail from the Expulsion of Heliodorus, 1512

Raphael altered the concept of the figura serpentina by including it in multi-figure narratives. In the Vatican Stanza d’Eliodoro, for example, in the fresco of the Expulsion of Heliodorus (1512), a woman is seen who is part of a group of bereft widows and who assumes a pose strikingly similar to that of the female figure in the Transfiguration. The latter, while not actively part of the group of apostles on the left nor of the group of frantic family members on the right, nevertheless intervenes in the narrative in that she bridges the two groups by directing the attention of the apostles to the sick boy. To the 16th century viewer of the altarpiece the importance of her role would have been apparent: her beauty suggests that she represents the manifestation on earth of the radiant Christ seen in the upper register. She thereby emphasises the message that the apostles fail to see the sick boy as a test of their faith which prevents them from being able to heal him.

Developing the image in the composition

As the earliest of the modelli from the studio that represent various stages in the Transfiguration Oberhuber identified a drawing that limits itself to the scene of the Transfiguration on the mountain, here taking place on a small hill.

Modello for the Transfiguration of Christ, pen and brown ink with white highlights on paper primed with dark brown wash, 40 x 27 cm, Vienna, Albertina

Raphael studio, modello for the Transfiguration of Christ, Albertina, Vienna

In this drawing the figure of the apostle kneeling in the foreground already suggests a figure pointing with both arms, although he is relegated to what would become the scene in the upper register of the painting. A later drawing attributed to Raphael’s assistant Giovanni Francesco Penni shows the scene with the possessed boy incorporated in the composition and the figure of a kneeling female figure in the foreground, pointing emphatically at the possessed child.

Attr. to Giovanni Francesco Penni, modello for the Transfiguration, Albertina, Vienna (b/w image)

Attr. to Giovanni Francesco Penni, modello for the Transfiguration, Albertina, Vienna (b/w image)

Weighed down by many and diverse commissions during the last years of his life, Raphael instructed and guided his assistants by providing detailed studies of several important figures, faces and hands in the composition. In order to clarify the figures’ postures and the various ways in which they are to be lit, full figures were shown naked.

Raphael studio, modello for the Transfiguration, Albertina, Vienna (b/w image)

Raphael studio, modello for the Transfiguration, Albertina, Vienna (b/w image).

Although no autograph compositional studies incorporating the kneeling woman survive, the third drawing, attributed to Rapahel’s studio, nevertheless provides an insight into what the artist envisaged. Here, the woman’s classical form has taken shape and, unlike in the second drawing, she communicates directly with one of the apostles as she does in the painting. The position of her right arm is already that of the painting, that of the left arm would undergo further changes as can also be seen in the Amsterdam drawing.

The Amsterdam drawing

Rijksmuseum

Raphael Santi, Study for the Transfiguration, 1519-20, black and white crayon on grey-brown paper, Rijksmuseum

The Amsterdam drawing is executed in black crayon and there are traces of punched contours visible, for instance on the forehead and cheeks and the facial contours have been repeatedly corrected. The woman’s classical profile and muscular shoulder epitomise Raphael’s search for idealised feminine beauty. Because her arm crosses her face at a lower point, her profile is more pronounced than that of the woman in the painting. The drawing’s strong shadow parts were created with very fine parallel hatching and there are remnants of white highlights that contribute to the strong plasticity of the image. Her expression is softer, gentler than that of the kneeling woman in the painting: it seems to express sadness but also anticipation unlike the determined and intently burning gaze of her painted counterpart.

Raphael (?), Head of Pope Leo X, Chatsworth

Raphael (?), Head of Pope Leo X, Chatsworth

The function of the Amsterdam drawing is somewhat puzzling in that, in spite of the punch marks, the head in the drawing is not the same size as that of the woman in the painting, which makes it unlikely that it is a fragment of a cartoon (full-size preparatory design for an artwork in another medium). This she has in common with, for instance, the famous drawing of the head of Pope Leo X. The latter has had a rocky reception with authorship passing from Michelangelo to Sebastiano del Piombo to Giulio Romano to Raphael. Likewise, based upon the misconception that the figure in the painting was not by Raphael, the drawing in Amsterdam has at one time been attributed to Raphael’s assistant Giulio Romano but it has later been accepted as an autograph Raphael drawing by such authorities as Oberhuber and Shearman.

Travels of a drawing

Samuel Woodburn by Thomas Lawrence

Samuel Woodburn by Thomas Lawrence, c. 1820, Fitzwilliam Museum, Cambridge

The first collectors’ mark on the Amsterdam drawing is that of the painter and collector Sir Thomas Lawrence who died in 1830. The first public auction in which the drawing featured was that of the Dutch King Willem II, held in The Hague in 1850. In the intervening years a peculiar chain of events occurred. Thomas Lawrence stipulated in his will that his collection of Old Master Drawings should be offered to the British nation. His friend, the successful art dealer Samuel Woodburn, set out to fulfil this wish but the mission became something of a curse as Woodburn was unable to sell the collection en bloc to the nation. In order to win over public opinion Woodburn organised ten exhibitions of the best works in the collection: the Ninth Exhibition, held in 1836, contained as many as a hundred drawings then attributed to Raphael.

King Willem II of the Netherlands in his private art gallery

King Willem II in his private art gallery, Jan van der Hulst, 1848, Historic Collection of the House of Orange-Nassau, The Hague

Private collectors were quicker to act than British public collections and what Woodburn had tried to prevent happened eventually in 1838 when the avid art collector, the Dutch Prince of Orange (the later King Willem II), bought fifty-two of the one hundred Raphael drawings that were on offer in the Ninth Exhibition, among which the Amsterdam drawing. When Willem II died unexpectedly in 1849 it was discovered that his art collecting habits had led him to accumulate huge debts and in order to redress this his art collection was hastily auctioned off in 1850. In part due to the lack of Dutch expertise on Italian art precious paintings and drawings were sold for a fraction of their worth. At the The Hague auction Woodburn bought back thirty-five of the eighty-four Raphael drawings on offer including the drawing now in the Rijksmuseum, featured as “No. 75, Étude de Jeune femme, largement exécutée, à la Pierre d’Italie.”

Via the British Gritton, Newton and Robinson collections the drawing returned to the Netherlands  to be included into the impressive drawings collection of Prof. Dr. van Regteren Altena, former director of the Prints and Drawings Department of the Rijksmuseum. In 1971 Van Regteren Altena generously donated the drawing to the Rijksmuseum, making it the only Raphael study of its kind in the museum’s collection.

Photograph taken by me in the Rijksmuseum on 14 January 2014, with Hasan Niyazi very much in my mind

Selected sources:

  1. Giorgio Vasari, Lives of the Painters, Sculptors and Architects, English edition 1996.
  2. Johann Wolfgang von Goethe, Italienische Reise, first published 1787.
  3. O. Fischel, “Raphael’s Auxiliary Cartoons”, The Burlington Magazine for Connoisseurs, 1937.
  4. K. Oberhuber, “Vorzeichnungen zu Raffaels ‘Transfiguration.”‘ Jahrbuch der Berliner Museen, 1962.
  5. L.C.J. Frerichs, “Een studie voor Rafaëls ‘Transfiguratie’ voor het Rijksprentenkabinet”, Bulletin van het Rijksmuseum, 1971.
  6. D. Rosand, “Raphael Drawings Revisited”, Master Drawings, 1988.

The most expensive tv stand in the world (2)

Years ago I read a book by Peter Watson describing the story of the life of Paolo Veronese’s painting Wisdom and Strength, painted c. 1580 in plague-ridden Venice and covers the four hundred years of the painting’s existence so far, during which it touched the private and public lives of its consecutive owners. If we look up a provenance of a painting on a museum website, in an auction catalogue or in an exhibition catalogue, it looks dry to us: a list of previous owners there to establish a work of art’s authenticity, as closely as possible to the moment when it left its creator’s studio. But the history of the fortunes and failures of the people on that list is shared by the work of art; in a similar and yet a different way. That, to me makes provenance such an interesting field of study and this is the story we now embark on as we follow the Japanese chest we left in the previous post when it was on its way to Europe from Japan, although, as we shall see, the provenance is by no means watertight.

The former VOC warehouse in Amsterdam, demolished 1890. Photo: Stadsarchief

The former VOC warehouse in Amsterdam, demolished 1890. Photo: Stadsarchief

When the chest and its companion lacquer boxes arrived in Amsterdam in the early 1640s, the market for expensive luxury items was poor due to several factors including the Thirty and Eighty Years Wars which at that time raged simultaneously. Money was tight: on September 19, 1648, the Heren XVII (the central command of the United East India Company) passed a resolution to sell their lacquer stock without delay, “in exchange for cash payment.” But it would take until January 1658 before the Japanese chest would find an owner.

Jacques-Auguste de Thou, baron de Meslay, was France’s ambassador in Amsterdam from 1651 to 1661. His covert mission, like that of Alphonso de Lopez for Cardinal de Richelieu before him, was to buy the best art possible for Cardinal Jules Mazarin (1602-1661), particularly Japanese lacquers. Amsterdam, with its extensive Asian network, was the perfect place for this. De Thou wrote on 31 January 1658:

One of the best purchases he [Francis Lescot, a French merchant] made for his master was that of 1658. Lescot returned [to France] on a “battleship with beautiful objects for the Cardinal. For this acquisition, Lescot had to compete with an Amsterdam “rogue”. The purchase was most probably made at auction.

Cardinal Mazarin in His Palace, engraving by Robert Nanteuil, 1659. The auction house Rouillac suggests that the table the Cardinal is leaning on is the Rijksmuseum chest. This is difficult to say as it is covered by a cloth but the object has the correct height.

Having little by little become “as powerful as God the Father when the world began”, enjoying the revenues of twenty-seven abbacies, always ready to enrich himself by whatever means, Cardinal Mazarin had more wonderful art works in his own palace than the French king in his. In spite of the political crisis and Civil War (the Fronde), he was able to build an enormous collection that reflected his Italian origins and international connections. He was also particularly fond of Japanese lacquer: the inventory of his furniture warehouse at his death in 1661 lists 206 precious lacquer objects. This “Chinese lacquer furniture” was housed in the first floor gallery of the Palais Mazarin, today the Galerie Mazarine in the Bibliotèque National de France in Paris (see the engraving by Nanteuil above). The measurements of one of the lacquer chests given in the inventory enables us to identify the Rijksmuseum chest as No. 829; the smaller chest, today known as the Mazarin Chest in the Victoria and Albert Museum, as No. 810. Both are described as “Chinese lacquer boxes”.

Three of the seven nieces of Cardinal Mazarin: Marie-Anne (left), Olympia (center), and Hortense (right), 1660s

The next owners are a bit more problematic. It is certain that a large part of Mazarin’s lacquer chests remained in his family after his death, but it is not certain who inherited our chest. To begin with, Mazarin had seven nieces. It was either the eldest, Hortense Mancini (1646-1699), wife of Armand-Charles de la Porte de La Meilleraye, or another niece, possibly Marie-Anne Mancini (1649-1714), wife the 1st Duc de Bouillon, who inherited the chest on the death of their uncle. In his will the Cardinal had favoured Hortense and her husband but he also richly endowed each of his six other nieces, assigning to each of them 40,000 pounds worth of “furniture, jewels, rings and remaining jewelry and silverware […]” for them to divide between themselves as they saw fit. What is certain is that, upon Hortense Mancini’s death, her husband inherited, according to No. 626 of Hortense’s death inventory, “a large Chinese chest with a bridge and a Chinese woman.This description could well correspond with the so-called Mazarin Chest in the Victoria & Albert Museum. 

The V&A's

The V&A’s “Mazarin Chest”. Photo credit: V&A

In 1781, Jeanne Louise Durfort, Duchess of Rethel, Mayenne, La Meilleraye and Mazarin, died at the age of 45. The sale of her collection, the catalogue of which was published by LeBrun, was held on 10 December and the following days. At the very end of the catalogue are listed six lacquer objects, starting with No. 357 which is described as “a large wooden chest, black background with dragons in gold and trimmed with golden brass, placed on carved & gilded foot.” The description could fit our chest, but again, this is not absolutely certain. Jeanne Louise was related to Hortense, Cardinal Mazarin’s eldest niece who may have bequeathed this chest to her. She was the aunt of the last Duc de Bouillon, the next owner of our chest.

The Duc de Bouillon as a child, playing a hurdy-gurdy, with his brother, by François-Hubert Drouais, 1756

The Duc de Bouillon as a child, playing a hurdy-gurdy, with his brother, by François-Hubert Drouais, 1756

Jacques Leopold Charles Godefroy de La Tour d’ Auvergne, 7th Duc de Bouillon (1746-1802), either inherited the chest upon the death of his father (through the husband of Mazarin’s niece Marie-Anne, the 1st Duc de Bouillon) in 1792 or he may have bought it at his aunt Jeanne Louise Durfort’s sale in 1781. His taste for old Japanese lacquer is documented: in 1777, for instance, he bought the much smaller Van Diemen box which came from the collection of the Marquise de Pompadour at the Randon de Boisset sale. However, from March 1800 he was forced to pay an astronomical sum to recover his duchy which had been sequestered during the Revolution and this meant that he gradually had to sell his collections.

The Van Diemen box, so named because the name of the wife of Antonio van Diemen, Governor-General of the Dutch East Indies in the first half of the 17th century, is carved on the inside of the lid. Photo credit: V&A

The Van Diemen box, so named because the name of the wife of Antonio van Diemen, Governor-General of the Dutch East Indies in the first half of the 17th century, is carved on the inside of the lid. Photo credit: V&A

At one of the Duc de Bouillon collection’s sales, on 21 July 1801, a Parisian haberdasher called Darnault bought 51 lacquer items “for Mr. Beckforth” (sic). Our chest is possibly No. 6 of the invoice sent by Darnault to the Duke of Beckford the following month:

A large trunk 3 feet long by two wide and two high. The panels depict landscapes with figures and animals, mills etc., all inlaid in gold and silver embossed. The frames of said panels represent ornaments and rosettes inlaid in gold and mother-of-pearl […], all in the most perfect state of preservation.

Darnauld paid the sum of 1,280 francs for the chest. In total he spent 5,888 francs on the 51 lacquer items, suggesting that the chest described is possibly the largest item and therefore our chest.

William Beckford by George Romney, 1782

William Beckford by George Romney, 1782

William Beckford, only legitimate son of wealthy plantation owner of the same name, was the heir to an immense fortune. In 1771, when Beckford was ten years old, he inherited £1,000,000 (roughly £100 million today) and an income which his contemporaries estimated at around £100,000 per annum (equivalent to roughly £10 million). Newspapers of the period described him as “the richest commoner in England”. A passionate art collector, Gothic novelist, critic, travel writer and sometime politician, he had acquired an early taste for Japanese lacquers. A few months prior to the Duc de Bouillon sale of July 1801, Beckford wrote in a letter: “I feel I shall never be good for anything in this world but composing airs, building towers, forming gardens, collecting old japan.” The “towers” no doubt referred to Fonthill Abbey, the Gothic revival extravaganza with its extraordinary tower that was being constructed for him by architect James Wyatt at the time. Two Japanese lacquer chests are listed among Beckford’s property at Fonthill Abbey in 1812: on the east side of the Gallery stood “a large Japan chest inlaid with curious devices in pearl and silver; the bordering […] uncommonly rich”. It is thought that Beckford bought the smaller Mazarin Chest at the property sale of “Citizen Juillot” in 1802; it and other lacquer boxes are listed in the oratory at Fonthill.

Fonthill Abbey

Fonthill Abbey from John Rutter’s “Delineations of Fonthill” (1823)

Fonthill Abbey, due to Beckford’s haste in getting it finished, was badly constructed, its tower built with inappropriate materials that were inadequate to support such a massive structure. The tower collapsed twice but when it collapsed a third and final time in 1825 Beckford had already sold the property to John Farquhar, who had made a fortune selling gunpowder in India. Farquhar at once auctioned the art and furnishings in the famous Fonthill Sale of 1823. In the sale, organised by Phillips, our chest gets a rave review:

A SUPERB COFFER OF RAISED JAPAN, presumed the largest specimen known of this superior quality; the LID without and within, as also the FRONT and SIDES, are covered with representations of buildings and landscapes, of the finest raised and spangled Japan, and with animals in SOLID gold and silver. This unique specimen of Japanese art was formerly the property of CARDINAL MAZARIN, and belonged, subsequently to the DUC de BOUILLON.

At the sale, Beckford himself and his son-in-law the Duke of Hamilton were heavy purchasers, often buying items more cheaply than the original price Beckford had paid. On September 27, 1823, on the fifteenth day of sale, the chest was bought for 131 pounds and 5 shillings by a man called Swaby who probably acted as an agent for Beckford. 

The Duke of Hamilton by George Raeburn, c. 1812-23

The Duke of Hamilton by George Raeburn, c. 1812-23

Where his father-in-law William Beckford had been called the “richest commoner in England”, Alexander, 10th Duke of Hamilton (1767-1852) who married Beckford’s daughter Susan Euphemia in 1810, was called in one obituary “the proudest man in England.” He was quite a dandy and a great art collector with a great interest in Egyptian mummies that went so far that he persuaded a mummy expert to mummify him after death. He and his wife had settled in Hamilton Palace, a large country house located north-east of Hamilton, South Lanarkshire, Scotland (destroyed in 1927). Interestingly, attached to the bottom of our chest a label was found with the text William Murray Carver & Gilder To His Grace the Duke of Hamilton & Brandon 25 Buchanan Street Glasgow, Architectural Coats of Arms, Ships and Furniture Carving, leaving no doubt that the chest was, either by descent or by purchase, in Hamilton’s possession.

The chest remained in the Hamilton family until, ruined, Hamilton’s grandson William Douglas-Hamilton, 12th Duke of Hamilton, sold off the Hamilton Palace collection in 1882. The sale, arranged by Christie, Manson & Woods lasted thirteen days. Our chest is sold on the eleventh day, 10 July 1882, and is described as:

A VERY FINE OBLONG COFFER, OF OLD JAPAN LACQUER, with a large landscape, buildings, threes and a river, with a bridge and figures in the foreground, in border of birds and scrolls, animals and birds in gold and silver in relief, similar landscapes on the front and ends and inside the lid, black and gold trellis-border, with circular ornaments, inlaid with mother-o’-pearl, chased metal-gilt mounts –on carved and gilt wood stand -4ft. 6 in. by 2 ft 3 in. From the Collections of the Cardinal Mazarin, the Duc de Bouillon and Fonthill.

It was at this sale that the Victoria and Albert Museum purchased the Japanese chest today known as the Mazarin Chest. Our chest was sold to Trevor Lawrence and this gave it its – hopefully temporary – name, the Lawrence Chest.

At the Hamilton sale, Sir James John Trevor Lawrence, 2nd Baronet (1831-1913), President of the Royal Horticultural Society, philanthropist and collector, bought the chest together with other Asian art. His lacquer boxes were exhibited in 1894 at the Burlington Fine Arts Club. The beautifully printed book describing his Japanese art collection was published privately at the expense of the author in 1895. Our chest, numbered 1110, is thus described:

hitsu (a chest) Probably used as a receptacle for dresses.. Size, 4 ft. 8 in. long by 2 ft. 2 in 2 ft high. 4 in. wide, decorated on all sides with scenes in gold on black lacquer, Contained within a triple Bordering of diapers and floral design in gold and mother-of-pearl. The scenes depicts flowers gardens, building, bridges, and ornamental waters, and in Court by All which ladies and children walk and play. The chest is bound with brass and gilt angle plates, decorated hinges, and fittings, the plate surrounding the keyhole. Having an elaborate design with a panel upon a nashiji ground.

The sale of Lawrence’s estate after his death was spread over three sessions in May, November and December 1916.

From 1916 auction catalogue. Photo credit: V&A Museum

Photos from the 1916 auction catalogue. Photo credit: V&A

Our chest was offered on the third day of the first sale, 29 May 1916 and was bought by Sir Clifford Cory (1859-1941),  a Welsh colliery owner, coal exporter and Liberal Party politician. Sir Clifford Corey died in 1941 and in the middle of the turmoil of World War II his estate was sold at auction with the lacquer chest described solely as “a large Chinese chest”. And there, it appeared, the trail ended. Fraught with uncertainties and possible false leads that still need to be thoroughly researched, we were able to more or less follow the Rijksmuseum or Lawrence chest from Japan to the United Kingdom throughout the four centuries since it was created in the lacquer workshops of the Shogun court.

The Victoria and Albert Museum, as we have seen, had purchased a similar, smaller chest, also once owned by Cardinal Mazarin. Its larger counterpart had featured in the same 1882 sale, but where was it? The Museum started looking for it in earnest in the 1980s, launching an appeal in Country Life and again on their website in 2000:

How can a chest of such supreme quality and exceptional size have disappeared like this? Did it suffer at the hands of enemy action during World War II, or is it gathering dust somewhere in a proverbial attic unrecognised for what it is by its current owner? The V&A is very keen to locate the Lawrence Chest or identify who bought it from the 1941 sale as this would be of enormous benefit to our research on the Mazarin Chest.

By a quirk of fate in the 1980s the chest was actually only a few minutes walk from the museum: at the home of a Polish doctor named Zaniewsky who had bought it at the Cory auction for a pittance. He was evidently not a Country Life reader. The doctor sold the chest in 1970 to a tenant of his, a French engineer who worked for Shell Petroleum. It was he who used it as a tv stand in his South Kensington apartment for 16 years and he took the chest with him when, after his retirement, he moved to a modest little house the Loire Valley. There he used it as a bar.

After the deaths of their parents, the family of the engineer engaged the auction house Rouillac to appraise and sell the estate. On 9 June of this year the chest was offered at auction by Rouillac at  Château de Cheverny. And there, as we saw in the previous post, the Amsterdam Rijksmuseum bought it for the largest sum ever paid for a tv stand. Eventually the chest will be exhibited not, as one would expect, in the museum’s new Asiatic Pavillion but in one of the 17th century galleries. Perhaps the thought behind it is that the chest was commissioned for the Dutch VOC company as a luxury export product, but I would rather see it in the Asiatic Pavillion as a testimony to the artistic brilliance of Koami Nagashige and his workshop.

I need not think long of a name for it. Not the Lawrence chest as the V&A and auction house Rouillac have dubbed it, but I would like for it to be called Koami Chest in honour of its maker or, if it has to be a Western name, Caron Chest in honour of the adventurous and entrepreneurial François Caron we met in the previous post at the beginning of the chest’s story. After all, the chest and its companions would never have been created if it had not been for him and we would not have been able to enjoy and admire its lavish beauty today.

At the Château de Cheverny auction with, ironically, Cardinal Mazarin sternly looking on in the background. Photo: Rouillac

Note:

  • I am indebted to the French auction house Rouillac which has, in as far as possible, outlined the provenance of the chest. Where necessary I have verified or contradicted their conclusions. Should the Rijksmuseum publish their new research on the chest and its provenance and should that yield significant new insights, I will post an update on this page.