The medal cabinet is a fascinating object, and a rare example of exquisite Empire furniture in Britain. Made from amboyna and mahogany, with finely engraved silver mounts, it is of an extraordinarily refined design and has been crafted with the utmost skill and finesse.
The cabinet is an excellent example of the impact that Ancient Egypt had on French design, and indeed on design all over Europe, including Britain. The cabinet is of such supreme quality that it is very likely to have been made for someone close to the imperial court, or even for a member of Napoleon’s family.
Culture Minister Ed Vaizey said: “ This beautifully crafted cabinet is of outstanding importance to the history of design, and I hope the export bar I’ve placed on it will allow time for a UK buyer to come forward and save it for the nation.”
Culture Minister Ed Vaizey took the decision to defer granting an export licence for the cabinet following a recommendation by the Reviewing Committee on the Export of Works of Art and Objects of Cultural Interest (RCEWA), administered by Arts Council England. The RCEWA made their recommendation on the grounds that it was of was of outstanding aesthetic importance; and that it was of outstanding significance for the study of the history of design, particularly the popularity of the ‘Egyptian Revival’ and the influence of archaeology in the decorative arts during the Empire period.
Medal cabinets have been an important furniture type since the 16th century, but enjoyed renewed popularity during Napoleon’s rule, both as a result of the increased interest in ancient civilizations and of Napoleon’s own passion for medals – during his reign the Emperor had a new series of commemorative medals struck to celebrate his major achievements, including the conquest of Egypt. They are therefore important in their own right as pieces of furniture, but also for what they can tell us about the history of collecting.
Simon Swynfen Jervis from the RCEWA said: “ This enchanting cabinet combines the architectural presence of an Egyptian pylon with silver details of consummate precision and wit: it is the very quintessence of the French Egyptian revival which was inspired by Napoleon’s short-lived conquest of Egypt.”
The decision on the export licence application for the cabinet will be deferred for a period ending on 28 March 2014 inclusive. This period may be extended until 28 July 2014 inclusive if a serious intention to raise funds to purchase the cabinet is made at the recommended price of £534,000 (plus VAT which could be reclaimed by an eligible institution).
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