Two-door cabinet

Late 17th
Exotic wood, varnished and inlaid with mother-of-pearl, highlighted in gold; gilded copper fittings
33 x 46 x 26 cm

This two-door cabinet, made from exotic wood, varnished in thick black shellac imitating true Asian lacquer, inlaid with mother-of-pearl and decorated in gold, is a rare example of “lacquered” furniture made in Spanish-ruled Viceroyalty of New Spain (in present-day Mexico), imitating export Chinese and Japanese furniture made for European consumption, in turn modelled after contemporary European prototypes. Possibly unique, it belongs to a type of decorative work, namely religious oil paintings on wood inlaid with mother-of-pearl destined for private devotion, and also Asian-inspired screens, that are known as enconchados. The technique of enconchado, inspired by Asian mother-of-pearl objects made for export to Europe (namely Japanese Namban lacquers), consists of the inlay of pieces of mother-of-pearl, the iridescent shell (concha) of the pearl oyster (Pinctada spp.) glued with a type of shellac (wax from the aje insect, Llaveia axin axin, mixed with chia seed oil, Salvia hispanica) into a wooden support or panel, followed, in the case of the more usual enconchados, by the painting of a figural composition with both opaque and translucent paints. Seemingly of Chinese inspiration – judging from the gilded copper fittings, and in particular from the lobed cartouche-shaped lock plate on the front and the double hinges on each door – the cabinet’s carpet-like decoration consists of central fields fully occupied by large European-style flowering vases, filled with highly stylised tulips, painted in gold over a black ground, and highlighted by large pieces of mother-of-pearl (a typical feature of the enconchado technique) with narrow borders made from similar crudely fashioned mother-of-pearl inlays highlighted in gold with vegetal scrolls. The cabinet opens to reveal nine drawers of different shapes and sizes set in four tiers, all with their typically Chinese loop pullers. While the more usual enconchados are not uncommon, cabinets such as the present example have yet to be published. Nonetheless, parallels may be drawn between furniture such as the present example and the “lacquered” frames decorating enconchado paintings. Long thought as European, the origin of enconchados has been firmly identified with Mexico City following the publication of documents on the activities of the González family (Miguel and Juan González), undoubtedly the most prolific of the enconchado painters.

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