Charles II East Devon chest

17th century
Exeter, Devon

W 44 1/8" × H 31" × D 21.25"

Stock # Ex11


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This chest is not simply a more ornate and thus costly version of the joined chest (cat.11) that introduced the third later seventeenth-century Exeter joiners workshop. It represents the work of an artisan of an earlier generation, showing a direct engagement with design sensibilities of the late sixteenth and early seventeenth centuries that is absent from the other chest. The individual motifs comprising the carving of the front panels and the manner in which these elements are arranged directly parallels cat. 3. These elements, however, are far more elaborate in execution. The carvers asymmetric leaves, flower-heads, seedpods, and scrolling vines are deeper, more intricate, and heavily modelled so as to lend an almost three-dimensional quality. Several elements not present on cat. 12 are more compatible with carving design in the period of Elizabeth I than in the period of Charles II naturalistic berry-like clusters, classicised urns, and almost Gothic leaf and bud details. Also, the design of the outer front panels integrates the distinctive serrated flowerhead which appears in the same position on the panels of a great chair that descended in the family of Thomas Dennis (Bowdoin College Museum of Art) and a chest he constructed for prosperous Ipswich, Massachusetts residents John and Margaret Staniford and dated 1676 (Winterthur Museum). Carving on the principal front framing members establish important linkages between artisans from this third latter seventeenth-century Exeter workshop and their contemporaries in England and New England. A running stem and leaf sequence incised on the faces of front stiles and the front bottom rail matches the carving on the front rails and muntins of two chests (cats. 14-15) constructed by a joiner from the first Exeter workshop. This pattern also appears on a Dennis shop chest dated 1692 (Essex Institute). This chest is one of the few examples of a later seventeenth-century joined chest constructed with two panels separated by a central muntin on either side the standard configuration employed by the Dennis Shop. This difference between the practices of English and New England joiners likely results from considerations relating to labor costs and material resources. Oak used by New England joiners was almost exclusively prepared by riving – a quick and efficient practice of splitting of work pieces along the radial plane. Because the riving process required high-quality timber, single panels were difficult to obtain. This made enclosing the side of a chest with a single, large panel a more costly proposition than the additional joinery required for double side panels. In Exeter where available timber was of a quality ill-suited for riving, the reverse was the case. Despite the high-quality ornament, the local timber employed in this chest reflects the depleted condition in which Exeters woodworking artisans found themselves in the century after the depletion of the Citys primary source of oak at Duryard Manor during the 1590s. The principal framing members are not only dangerously thin and rife with imperfections, but the maker resorted to the opportunistic reuse of discarded timber. The exterior surface of the back top rail is carved with an incomplete stem and leaf sequence of the type that appears on the front framing members of the facade. The fact that this pattern is interrupted indicates that the work piece that ended up as the rail was originally intended for an entirely different project, much like the components that were reused in cat.1. Condition Notes Losses and repairs to joints between stiles and rails.