Mudéjar Chest


Museo de Artes y Costumbres Populares de Sevilla

Museo de Artes y Costumbres Populares de Sevilla

This small piece of furniture in the shape of a rectangular box with two side handles contains three smaller structures inside which are fixed to the side and back walls with hinges. These in turn hold as many as 14 small drawers (or tills) some of which have initials painted at the top (D, M, B, O, L, N, G, etc.). This probably confirms its use as a medicine case given that the letters might indicate the medicines contained in each drawer.

Inside it has abundant geometric decoration achieved with marquetry in which chequered and herringbone motifs predominate. The central rosette on the inside of the lid is a later addition, probably from the 18th century, as is the lock. The outside decoration of the chest is less abundant. It is mostly found on the side panels, while two small inset, decorated consoles feature on the front panel with the same herringbone motif. A curious decorative feature is the presence of a chess board on the outside of the lid.

This type of chest is characterised by having tiny compartments inside, used for keeping small and valuable objects (money, jewels, etc.). While larger chests were intended for household storage, smaller ones, like this one, were portable and used as travelling desks or medicine cases. Later on, household chests developed into bureaux, which had a stand and front drawers. This example was probably used by traders, bankers, tax collectors or pharmacists in their work. All of these professions of course were usually conducted by converted Muslims or Jews in 15th-century Christian Spain.

This example of a small piece of furniture is representative of the skill achieved by Mudéjar cabinet-makers and carpenters in marquetry, which consists of inlaying fine woods in different colours (ebony, sandal, lemon, etc.) into the wood of the furniture body.) The cities of Granada and Toledo were renowned for wood working and marquetry and from here examples of furniture spread throughout Europe.

There is a similar object at the Hispanic Society of America and another identical one, although smaller in size at the Museum of Bremen (Germany).

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  • Title: Mudéjar Chest
  • Date Created: 1450/1500
  • Location: Toledo
  • Physical Dimensions: 68 x 85,5 x 30 cm
  • Type: Holding and transportation of objects
  • Medium: Wood