In the seventeenth century the power of the Republic of the United Netherlands reached its pinnacle. Dutch merchants dominated maritime trade between Europe and Asia, and enormous wealth flowed into the republic leading to a flourishing of all the arts, as the urban ruling class sought to display its status and power. Painting, architecture, textiles, ceramics and metalwork all reached new heights of technical and aesthetic sophistication, as did the art of furniture making. In their finest work, Dutch furniture makers from major production centres such as Amsterdam made use of exotic timbers and materials like tortoiseshell and mother-of-pearl imported from across the maritime empire. Large-scale pieces of case furniture including kasten, monumental cupboards, and show cabinets were created as works of art in their own right. Their size and rich embellishment dominated the spaces in which they stood, making them a focus of a room’s decoration and a clear statement of the owner’s social position.
This kussenkast – or cushion cupboard, named for the raised panels on the doors – is veneered in costly tropical hardwoods and adorned with grotesque carvings in the melting, fleshy forms of the auricular style typical of much mid seventeenth-century Dutch furniture. The outlandish masks contrast with the architectural classicism of the cupboard itself, with its columns, monumental ripple-moulded pediment and spherical feet. A lock concealed behind the lower section of the central column allowed household linens, of considerable value, to be securely stored. This particular kast is distinguished by the very rare survival of a maker’s inscription, hidden behind one of the door cushions: ‘Peter Peters Bremensis fecit Anno 1659. 1 Maij’. From Bremen, Peters was most likely a journeyman cabinetmaker active in a Dutch workshop.
The Netherlands, Amsterdam
Cushion cupboard (Kussenkast) 1659
National Gallery of Victoria, Melbourne
Felton Bequest, 2015