400-year-old treasures saved for the nation

The pair of 17th century Italian rosewood Pietre Dure mounted, inlaid ebony cabinets, that have been "saved" for the nation after almost going into a private collection abroad.  Picture: Sotheby's/PA Wire
The pair of 17th century Italian rosewood Pietre Dure mounted, inlaid ebony cabinets, that have been "saved" for the nation after almost going into a private collection abroad. Picture: Sotheby's/PA Wire
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A pair of 17th century cabinets have been “saved” for the nation after almost going into a private collection abroad.

The set, now the only of their kind in a public collection in Britain, was sold to a foreign buyer for £1.2 million at a Sotheby’s London auction last year.

A temporary export bar was placed on the 400-year-old items to create an opportunity for them to be bought for the nation.

They will go on public display at the Fitzwilliam Museum in Cambridge on Wednesday after £1.2m was raised to stop them leaving the country.

Tim Knox, director of the Fitzwilliam Museum, said: “Nowhere in the UK is it possible to see a pair of Roman cabinets of quite this swagger and splendour.

“I am thrilled that we have saved these remarkable objects from export and that they can take their place amidst the Fitzwilliam’s world-class collections.

“They are a fitting acquisition to celebrate the 200th birthday of our founder, Lord Fitzwilliam.”

The pieces were part of the private collection at Castle Howard, North Yorkshire, belonging to Henry Howard, the 4th Earl of Carlisle, who probably bought them in Rome in 1738 or 1739.

The National Heritage Memorial Fund donated a grant of £700,000 and the Art Fund gave £200,000 towards the project.

Built in Rome in around 1625, the cabinets are made of ebony and rosewood.

They are embellished with inlays of vividly coloured semi-precious stones, such as lapis lazuli and jasper, and feature gilt-bronze statuettes and escutcheons.