On display at the Fitzwilliam Museum in Gallery 3
Within the first half of 2016, the Museum raised the £1.2 million needed to save an important pair of pietre dure Roman cabinets for the nation. No other pair of Roman hardstone cabinets exist in a public collection in Britain.
These unique and highly prized cabinets have been part of the private collection at Castle Howard, Yorkshire, since their purchase by Henry Howard, the 4th Earl of Carlisle, most likely in Rome during his second ‘Grand Tour’ of Italy (1738-9). They were offered for auction at Sotheby’s London last summer by the Trustees of Castle Howard and sold to a foreign buyer for £1.2 million. Their historic and cultural value was such that a temporary export bar was placed on the 400-year-old Italian cabinets to provide an opportunity to save them for the nation.
The cabinets, made in Rome in the first quarter of the 17th century, were almost certainly for a member of the papal Borghese dynasty, one of the most powerful and wealthy families of their day, and represent the highest quality of furniture-making in 17th century Italy. Each cabinet sits on a Neo-classical stand, probably made c. 1800 to the designs of the influential Regency designer, Charles Heathcote Tatham, for display in the just-completed spectacular Long Gallery at Castle Howard, Yorkshire.
The cabinets are now part of the collections of Fitzwilliam Museum in perpetuity, in the principal museum of the University of Cambridge. Conservators in the Applied Arts Department will care for the cabinets in the Museum, part of a Fitzwilliam Museum tradition of displaying works of art in context, alongside furniture, sculpture and carpets of the period. The cabinets have huge potential for teaching and research, befitting a University museum, and the Museum has exciting plans for incorporating the cabinets into our learning and participation programmes.