This Italian Renaissance walnut double cabinet or armadio dei due corpi epitomizes much of what was new and inventive in the Italian Renaissance. The stop-fluted pilasters of each unit seem to support entablatures, the lower of which also has corbel brackets at either end. These decorative and seemingly structural architectural features are purposely reminiscent of the rich classical tradition of ancient Roman architecture from which they have been mined.
The four carved panels of the cabinet doors each depict the illusion of deep, perspectivally rendered interior spaces, the upper “rooms” adorned with coffered ceilings while the lower “rooms” are barrel-vaulted. The balanced, mirror-image reversal of the depictions as well as the pictorial illusionism are again typical Renaissance borrowings from the classical past. The Renaissance interest in ancient architectural systems and linear perspective had been first codified in Leon Battista Alberti’s treatise on architecture, posthumously published in 1485 and heavily influenced by the sole extant ancient Roman treatise on architecture by Marcus Vitruvius Pollio. By the sixteenth century, this tradition had become the common vocabulary of even the decorative arts, as is evidenced by the Dumbarton Oaks double cabinet.
A similar Tuscan, sixteenth-century double cabinet with architectural scenes and fluted pilasters was in the Villa I Collazzi, Scandicci (see Augusto Pedrini, Italian Furniture: Interiors and Decoration of the Fifteenth and Sixteenth Centuries [London, 1949], 120, fig. 316). Tuscan cabinet makers brought the model of the double cabinet to Lyon, France, where a number of examples are known. One, with panels nearly identical to the bottom two of the Dumbarton Oaks cabinet, was sold at Sotheby's London on October 31, 2006, sale L06312, lot 243.
The Blisses purchased this piece and other important Italian Renaissance pieces from the Villa Farnese at Caprarola near Rome. The villa’s furnishings had been collected by the Brambillas, a noble Italian family. The architect Lawrence Grant White had seen photographs of the collection in 1929 and urged the Blisses to acquire several pieces, telling them that the collection “seemed very good, and I hope you are able to get some of it.”
Bühl, Gudrun, editor. Dumbarton Oaks, The Collections. Washington, DC: Dumbarton Oaks Research Library and Collection (distributed by Harvard University Press), 2008, 324f, ill.
Collection of Giuseppe Brambilla, Villa Farnese, Caprarola.
Inherited by the Countess Mazzarino (his sister), Milan.
Purchased from Countess Mazzarino, Milan, through Toledano & Co., Paris, by Mildred and Robert Woods Bliss, ca. 6/28/1929.
Collection of Mildred and Robert Woods Bliss, Washington, D.C., ca. 6/28/1929-11/29/1940.
Dumbarton Oaks Research Library and Collection, House Collection, Washington, D.C.