Beginning in the late 16th c, painted Flemish cabinets such as this one were popular exports from Antwerp studios, finding their way into collections throughout Europe, particularly in the Northern Netherlands. The cabinets, which were used for jewelry, important documents and other small treasures, are usually constructed with ebony and tortoise veneer.
The outer doors open to a series of small drawers and a center cupboard. In this example, the center cupboard door opens to a series of mirrors flanked by gilded columns, reflecting a black and white floor of inlaid squares. The mirrors create an illusionistic perspective of seemingly endless floor tiles.
It was traditional to paint the doors, lids, and drawers with either Biblical or mythological scenes in series. The three larger paintings here on the doors and lid are by a different hand, superior to whoever painted the drawers and cupboard door.
Flemish painted cabinets are rare in America; no other examples are known in public collections such as the Ringling Museum.
Connoisseur , Dec 1968, pp213 ff, describes a similar cupboard (with mirrors and black and white floor) that is attributed to Hendrick van Balen, in the Andrew Graham collection. Two similar Flemish cabinets in the Rijksmuseum are attributed to Francken II. Our cabinet was purchased by the Museum in 1974.
[Notes by William H. Wilson]