This extraordinary piece is one of a small group of highly important table-top cabinets made in Augsburg, Germany during the mid-17th century. Standing roughly 85cm high and wide, and made of ebony, silver and Italian pietre dure panels, this ‘Kunstkammer‘ is set to be the star of the Bonhams‘ European Furniture, Sculpture, and Works of Art sale on December 5th, with a pre-sale estimate of £400,000-600,000 ($642,000-962,000).
For centuries, the cabinet, circa 1660, was the highlight of one of Ireland’s most distinguished private collections, in one of the country’s most important houses Ballyfin, Co. Laois. This cabinet was almost certainly purchased for Ballyfin by Sir Charles Henry Coote, 9th Baronet, in the first half of the nineteenth century and until 2006 it was kept in the family despite the sale of the house in the 1920s.
Within this cabinet are some 40-plus drawers or compartments, some hidden, and all lined with exotic silks and intricate wooden marquetry. So complex is its design, that the last owner recently discovered a new compartment when exploring the cabinet with his grandchildren. They were used to house collections of ‘curiosities’ and ‘microcosms of the universe’ an encyclopaedic range of natural and man-made wonders encompassing natural history artefacts, precious stones and metals, shells, minerals, scientific instruments and other prized possessions, designed to reflect the entire cosmos on a miniature scale. The signature in pencil on the underside which reads ‘Elias Boscher gemacht’ (‘made’) together with the hallmark of known Augsburg silversmith Johann Spitzmacher on the gilt mounts, are highly unusual for such a work of art, and provide a crucial artistic attribution.