The Witcombe Cabinet, English, japanned and silvered wood, about 1698

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The Witcombe Cabinet, English, japanned and silvered wood, about 1698

Gallery label

Japanned and silvered wood, about 1697
Accepted by HM Government in Lieu of Inheritance Tax
and allocated to the Holburne Museum, 2005
The cabinet is in remarkable condition and is
unusual in retaining its original silvered stand and
cresting (above). Imported Chinese and Japanese
porcelain would have been displayed on the
brackets on the cresting.
Lacquer cabinets were a great status symbol in
the late seventeenth century. The secret of genuine
Japanese lacquer was unknown but English
craftsmen imitated it using varnish and shellac,
known as japanning. A fine imported Japanese
lacquer cabinet would cost up to £50, an English
japanned cabinet sold for less than half that
The Witcombe Cabinet (label text)
This magnificent cabinet, the finest of its type
known, shows the superb quality that some English
japanners were able to achieve. Instead of being
made to imitate lacquer this cabinet with its rare
white background was intended to resemble
porcelain, such as the two Chinese famille vert
plates in the case next door. The shellac varnish has
since darkened giving the cabinet a yellowish hue.
The cabinet was made for Sir Michael Hickes
(1645–1710) of Witcombe Park in Gloucestershire.
Sir Michael, originally from London, built a new
house on the estate in 1697. The cabinet was
displayed against a fine set of tapestries inherited
from Sir Michael’s grandmother. It remained at
Witcombe Park for over three hundred years.
‘Witcombe Park the seat of Sr Michaell Hickes’ (detail) from
Britannia Illustrata or Views of Several of the Queens Palaces
also of the Principal Seats of the Nobility and Gentry of Great
Britain, London, 1709. Drawing and etching by Johannes Kip
and Leonard Knyff.

On display?

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