The Borghese-Windsor Cabinet

Explore this magnificent display furniture owned by some of Europe’s most important rulers, with its colorful hard stones, statuettes and ornaments in gilded silver and bronze, and many secret drawers.

By The J. Paul Getty Museum

This sumptuous cabinet, with its upper part made in Rome around 1620, belonged to Pope Paul V Borghese. It stands about nine feet high and measures approximately five feet wide and two feet deep.


Soon after its stand was added in the early 1800s, it was bought by King George IV of England and stayed in the British Royal Collections until 1959, when it was sold at auction and bought by a French private collector. The Getty Museum acquired it in 2016 at a sale organized by the heirs of this collector.

At about six feet tall, the upper display cabinet, called stipo or studiolo in Italian, was designed to resemble the facade of a Baroque church. Made of walnut and chestnut veneered with various tropical hardwoods, it is exceptional for its large size and its rich decoration of metal and hard stone elements.

Standing out among the gilded bronze decorations and above the arch of the central niche is Pope Paul V Borghese’s coat of arms, featuring a winged-dragon and an eagle. It is accompanied by the symbols of papacy: the tiara and the crossed keys of St. Peter.

Decorations of hard stones, or pietre dure in Italian, including lapis lazuli, jasper, agate, carnelian and amethyst, cover the cabinet in geometrical and chromatic patterns. In between each stone is a thin layer of silver.

Lapis lazuli, a vibrant blue hard stone, is predominantly featured. Very expensive and difficult to cut, it decorates all 26 columns.

To further enrich the effects of colors, some of the translucent stones were placed on top of colored backgrounds. For instance, this beautiful purple amethyst shines with red reflection. This comes from a thin layer of red-colored resin applied to the metal sheet underneath the stone.

Even more remarkable is that behind its colorful facade, the cabinet contains 74 drawers in various configurations, hidden in every part and level of its structure.

The Borghese-Windsor Cabinet (cabinet about 1620; stand before 1821) by UnknownThe J. Paul Getty Museum

Some of the drawers are accessible only when others are removed or turned backwards. Wood on the exterior of the “show” or visible drawers is primarily ebony with rosewood. The secondary wood, used for sides, backs, and bottoms is typically walnut or chestnut. The interior secret drawers are made of poplar.

One drawer of the Borghese-Windsor Cabinet, Unknown, about 1620, From the collection of: The J. Paul Getty Museum
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Backside of one drawer of the Borghese-Windsor Cabinet, Unknown, about 1620, From the collection of: The J. Paul Getty Museum
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Smaller hidden drawer accessible on the back of one drawer of the Borghese-Windsor Cabinet, Unknown, about 1620, From the collection of: The J. Paul Getty Museum
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At the time, these drawers might have been used to store treasures such as medals, gems, small bronzes, ivories, or private documents.

Detail of the Borghese-Windsor Cabinet, Unknown, about 1620, From the collection of: The J. Paul Getty Museum
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4 hidden drawers of the Borghese-Windsor Cabinet, Unknown, about 1620, From the collection of: The J. Paul Getty Museum
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The statuettes, with draperies in gilded bronze and with heads, hands, and legs in silver, add to the cabinet’s luxuriousness.

The upper statuette represents a Roman emperor. Majestically dressed with a long mantel on top of his cuirass (chest armor), he holds the globe in his left palm and raises a baton of command in his right hand. This statuette makes a connection between the earthly power of the Roman emperors and the more spiritual power of the pope.

While the cabinet was made in the early 1600s in Rome, the bottom stand dates from the early 1800s. The whole piece of furniture, acquired by King George IV of England in 1827, was first displayed in Windsor Castle, and then in Buckingham Palace in London.

With a mirrored backboard, the stand is composed of 24 fluted columns in solid ebony, with gilt bronze bases and capitals, which support the upper table adorned with a frieze of gilt bronze foliated scrolls.

The Borghese-Windsor Cabinet is a masterpiece that reflects the highest standards of craftsmanship of its time. Its imposing size and noble proportions, the refinement of its decorations, the sumptuous chromatic pattern of the pietre dure stonework, and the elegant classical-style statuettes are rarely matched in furniture of its era.

The Borghese-Windsor Cabinet (cabinet about 1620; stand before 1821) by UnknownThe J. Paul Getty Museum

Credits: Story

© 2020 The J. Paul Getty Trust, Los Angeles

A version of this material was published in 2017 as the podcast Art + Ideas Podcast: In the Galleries: Borghese-Windsor Cabinet and Bust of Pope Paul V on the Getty Iris, and as the live broadcast The Borghese-Windsor Cabinet on Getty's Facebook.

To cite these texts, please use: "The Borghese-Windsor Cabinet," published online in 2020 via Google Arts & Culture, the J. Paul Getty Museum, Los Angeles.

Credits: All media
The story featured may in some cases have been created by an independent third party and may not always represent the views of the institutions, listed below, who have supplied the content.
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