International Collections - Chests, Boxes & Coffers

The furniture collection at the Museum is not only Irish in origin but consists of an array of chairs, chests, tables, and cabinets from different countries.


Furniture from England, France, Spain, Holland, Iran, China and Burma is on display, some for the first time.

The earliest recorded boxes were found in the royal pyramids of ancient Egypt. Some caskets dating to the Middle Ages also survive; these were made of stone, pottery and ivory, but primarily of metal.

Only royalty, nobility and the church commissioned jewelled boxes, coffers and reliquaries. Early chests were made from wood, covered with gesso and painted with vivid scenes.

In Western Europe the first wooden boxes were dug-out chests made from hollowed tree trunks, which were exceedingly heavy. During the 13th century, boarded construction developed and chests were reinforced with iron bands.

These chests were usually large rectangular boxes with a hinged lid and were sometimes fitted with a small lidded box to hold sweet herbs or lavender. They were generally decorated with painting, leather, ivory, tortoiseshell and contrasting timbers.

Wooden chest

Towards the end of the 17th century the chest of drawers replaced lidded chests. Large blanket chests with drawers at the base continued to be made up until the end of the 18th century. Only a few small boxes survive from the 17th century.

The 18th century was the great age for artistic production with styles ranging from Baroque, Rococo through to Neo-classical. Exquisite personal boxes were created for travel purposes.

By the 19th century a wide range of boxes were available to the wealthy. They varied in function, quality and decoration, and they followed contemporary styles.

16th Century Gilded Wood Coffer

16th Century Gilded Wood Coffer

This late medieval Italian coffer is ornately carved and gilded.

17th Century Italian Cabinet

17th Century Italian Cabinet

This rosewood cabinet, made in Ravenna, boasts ebony and ivory features.

16th Century Italian Wedding Chest

16th Century Italian Wedding Chest

This walnut wedding or bethrothal chest is known as a cassone.

16th Century Spanish Cabinet

16th Century Spanish Cabinet

This walnut chest from Spain is known as a barguero and is ornamented with gilded metal and red silk.

18th Century Italian Chest

18th Century Italian Chest

This decorated chestnut piece boasts lion’s feet to the front and padded feet to the back.

17th Century English Strong Box

17th Century English Strong Box

This early English version of a safe is decorated with oyster veneer and rosewood, and lined with iron.

18th Century Dutch Cabinet

18th Century Dutch Cabinet

The panels in this cabinet are decorated with scenes from scripture, including the Nativity; and the Virgin and Magi.

16th Century French Coffer

16th Century French Coffer

This Gothic oak coffer from sixteenth century France features the royal arms of France.

18th Century Persian Bridal Coffer

18th Century Persian Bridal Coffer

This coffer originated in Persia and features mother of pearl and gilt inlays.