International Collections - Chests, Boxes & Coffers

An international collection

The furniture collection at the National Museum is not only Irish made furniture.

It also consists of an array of chairs, chests, tables, and cabinets from different countries such as England, France, Spain, Holland, Iran, China and Burma.

In the new furniture galleries some of the international furniture which has been put on display has never previously been exhibited.

The theme in this display is chests, boxes and coffers, their different functions and the materials from which they were made.

A history of chests, boxes and coffers

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.

Boarded table box, English, oak, 1620

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.

Chests, Cabinets and Boxes

Some of the objects on display in the gallery

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