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Medal/coin cabinet

Genoese cabinet-maker

Genova, 16th century

Material: Walnut

Size: 83 x 75 x 43 cm

review by di bartolomeo lorenza

An ancient and valuable coin or medals cabinet “a bambocci” – (Genoese term indicating sculpted figures on it), wholly walnut made, richly engraved and sculpted.

The illustrious and noble family De Fornari commissioned it to the craft and cabinet-making workshops active in the Ligurian town, during the XVIth century. A medals or coin cabinet is a piece of furniture with small drawers and doors, made to contain coins, medals, documents, small collectors’ items, jewels.

The medals cabinet comes from the cabinet, a piece of furniture suitable to contain different types of objects and to have various uses, and of small dimensions. The coin cabinet becomes a furnishing piece in the Renaissance, and with its own details becomes precious, sometimes borrowing its shape from the architecture field. It is usually organized with small doors and drawers, sometimes it is secured by a big door. If made on commission, it reflects the owner’s taste bearing his coat of arms, showing his aesthetical taste and the kind of precious objects contained and preserved into it.

It is possible to find coin cabinets of small dimensions, suitable to be placed on top of another piece of furniture, but also others of bigger dimensions with a central body based on legs joined by bars, bearing the weight of what is contained into the drawers and inside the small doors. This cabinet, dating back to the Renaissance period, was a precious furnishing item, aimed to embellish and enrich one of the noble family palace rooms, and to show to guests the social status of the same commissioning family.

Its structure, made of a central walnut veneered body, and a door also veneered in walnut root and a trabeation, sculpted as a cornice, recalls that architectural monumental style typical of the renaissance noble palaces. The upper part has a frame decorated by leaf like or geometrical laces together with some Greek keys, repeated also on its base; then the part of decoration or coffered architrave with inside, instead of the typical rosette shaped decorations, some small sculpted jutting out heads, used as shelves or modillons alternating with empty panels.

This decoration hides two drawers; in the center, where the silver and red striped coat of arms of the family De Fornari is, overlapped with an eagle on top, there is a small, narrow, long drawer, closed by a wooden sliding lid, which is a secret compartment.

The four side parts of the main body are embellished by the application of two uprights made by figures skillfully full-relief sculpted, or “bambocci” the way there are called in the antique field , which create a sense of movement and three-dimensionality to the whole.

The lateral caryatids represent both full and half-length human figures, masks, satyrs and only at the base of the left side, frontally and behind, there is a pair of two-headed eagles. The central door is concealing and thus protecting the internal treasure, like a casket holding both the wealth of the masterfully worked manufacturing and the precious objects contained therein. The internal front part, assuming the appearance of a real Renaissance facade, consists of six drawers each of them with a small central handle in gilded iron, with a shape recalling the doorknockers of the palace main gates.

Two drawers are in the upper corners and four, arranged in a row, form a sort of base in the lower part. In the center, surrounded by drawers, three openable shrines stand out, containing compartments to store objects: the two ones at the side are simpler and more linear, while the one in the middle, besides being larger, recalls the style of the single-lancet windows of those buildings.

Inside this last shrine, flanked by two caryatids, there is a sculpture depicting the Greek divinity of Hermes with the caduceus, to indicate probably the contents of medicines and ointments, at that time rare and of great value. A privilege of the richest and available families, thanks to the trade practiced in the Serenissima Maritime Republic.

This cabinet looks like a harmonious, well balanced whole, and at the same time elegant and imposing,  worthy being in the most well-known national and international museums. Some of these works are in the most important museums in Italy, as Palazzo Davanzati in Florence or Palazzo dei Normanni in Palermo. Its state of conservation is great.

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