17th century marquetry cabinet
Villa Alta de San Ildefonso, Oaxaca, Mexico
Dimensions: h. 12.6 in, w. 16.53 in, d. 13.98 in.
The cabinet we are presenting is a rare piece, a refined testimony to Spanish colonial art.
Deeply inspired by the work of European cabinetmakers, this cabinet was made in the Oaxaca region, a production center renowned for its unique marquetry techniques: engraved & incised wood filled with "zulaque" (paste of burnt lime and black vegetable dye .
The cabinet opens with a flap on the top and a flap on the front, revealing five drawers and two drawer fronts. The upper compartment is divided into several spaces, probably used to store writing implements. Several secret drawers, including three drawers in the lower section and a drawer hidden by two drawer fronts in the upper section.
The impressive decoration, inspired by European engravings, features animals and figures in 17th-century costumes, with foliage and floral scrolls.
The drawer fronts are decorated with dogs, hares and hunters in foliage.
Inside the flap: heraldic crowned lions and dogs or foxes on a foliate background.
Inside the lid: in the lozenge on a foliate scroll background, cherubs unfurl around Catholic symbols: bishops' mitres and crosses, cardinals' hats and, in the center, two keys of St. Peter surmounted by papal crowns.
In the spandrels, four hunters, two with harquebuses, are surrounded by foliage and animals: monkeys, eagles, bulls and lions.
The cabinet features a fine silver lock and silver shell-shaped pulls.
Thanks to the renown of the craftsmen at Villa Alta de San Ildefonso, all the high officials of the Viceroyalty owned these works as prestige pieces. Generally returning to Spain after their service in Mexico, they brought these objects back as souvenirs and testimonials to exotic taste.
The ecclesiastical symbols in our cabinet may suggest that they belonged to a Catholic dignitary or were a gift for a churchman.
Founded in 1526, Villa Alta was the first Spanish colony in the Sierra Norte de Oaxaca, and became a veritable commercial, political, economic and cultural enclave during the Vireinal (viceregal) era. It was during this period that the Villa Alta workshops in San Ildefonso de Oaxaca developed, blending Mexican know-how with European furniture and motifs.