Charles II East Devon chest

Circa 1680
Exeter, Devon

W 47.25" × H 30" × D 20.5"

Stock # Ex14


More information

These three chests and the remaining front of a fourth are the products of a single artisan working in the first of three identified later seventeenth-century Exeter joiners workshops. Two generations likely separate this artisan from the master of the workshop who made cat. 6 and the trained the joiner responsible for cat. 7. Examination of these four objects together with the other four closely aligned chests (cats. 6-8, 18) helps to elucidate the variety and qualitative range of one joiners practices as well as those of other artisans within a single, multigenerational workshop. The five objects also help to cement the connections between this Exeter workshop and Thomas Dennis, who evidence suggests, was among its apprentices. Cat. 13 is particularly important because of its remarkable state of preservation and the survival of several features which substantiate the link with the Dennis Shop. Aside from the loss of one cleat, this chest has survived in a state that fully reflects the structural and ornamental configuration that the maker of the chest originally intended. The design of the ornament on the facade reflects standard Dennis Shop practice. A running leaf and stem is incised across the length of the front bottom rail and muntins. This same pattern appears in the same locations on cat. 14 and on roughly contemporaneous joined chests constructed by the third Exeter workshop (cats.10, 12) and the Dennis Shop (Essex Institute). A characteristic Dennis Shop pattern consisting of a sequence of alternating foliated s-scrolls is incised on the top rails of cat. 13-14 and on all front framing members of cat. 15. Here, as on the seat rails of one of the two chairs which descended in the Dennis family and the front top rail of the Dennis Shop chest that appears as cat. 19, each s-scroll is composed of three foliate passages. The patterns carved on the front panels of two of the three chests and the chest front constructed by the same artisan are identical in form, dimension, and execution: a quadripartite flowerhead motif contained within a lozenge with scrolled and foliated extensions. Analogous patterns are known in the same location several on Dennis Shop chests (i.e. an exceedingly well preserved example at the Museum of Fine Arts, Boston) and English joined chests constructed by contemporaneous English joiners within the same (cat.18) and other (cat. 17) workshops. The panels of cat. 15 are of an alternate configuration a cruciform interlace pattern, the use of which is also documented to the Dennis Shop. The artisan responsible also constructed the lids of all three chests in the same manner: two longitudinal planks roughly equal in depth with squared side edges; the rear edge ornamented with a run of V-V-ogee moulding; either side is incised with a saw-tooth pattern further adorned with small, circular punches; the cleats secured with heavy pins driven from above. Within the same workshop, this configuration was used at least two generations earlier by the master joiner responsible for cat. 6 and later by another apprentice (cat. 8). All seven chests constructed by the same workshop over at least three generations also share a consistent use of the V-V-ogee moulding that appears on all joined case furniture produced by the Dennis Shop. Cat. 13 shares two other distinctive traits with joined chests constructed by the Dennis Shop. The surviving cleat tapers in width and depth, is rounded at the back, secured with large wooden pins which fully penetrate both the lid and cleat, and, most importantly, terminates in an ogee-bracket scroll which is not documented on any other seventeenth-century English or New England joined chest other than those produced by the Dennis Shop. Further, the interior of the chest is fitted with a till with a slanting, rather than level, top a configuration used almost exclusively by Thomas Dennis. Presence of the Dennis cleat and a slanted till on an English object with so many other Dennis Shop characteristics further substantiates the conclusion that this workshop was the originator of many of the practices which Thomas Dennis transplanted to New England. The importance of cat. 12 lies also in the preservation of its original color-scheme, indicating the appearance of many examples of later seventeenth-century Exeter joined furniture when new. Framing members and side panels were left without any paint or stain, while the dropped group surrounding the carving was picked out with polychromy in red (vermillion) and white (lead). Substantial amounts of original paint remain in the carving on the front panels of cats. 13-15 and, somewhat surprisingly, within the incised date and initials on cat. 15.