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Weekly Report 2
Object: Chest with drawer
Using the Art History of Studying Material Culture,
In what ways do the elements that characterize this chest reflect baroque ideas of
the period?

Rachel Tavaras
HIS5330
September 15, 2015

The overall form and decorative aspects of this chest with drawer (Figure 1), a
part of the Metropolitan Museum of Art’s collection, reflect early Baroque ideas. By
concentrating on the stylistic traits of the chest, insight is provided regarding Baroque
values of the late seventeenth century such as space, exoticism, light, and antiquity. To
put these values into context and therefore analyze them more effectively, the sources of
Baroque ideas will be considered. All together, the evidence examined will determine
how Baroque values are reflected in this piece of furniture

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The chest with drawer is rectangular in shape with an overall balanced
composition given the bilateral symmetry in its painted decoration and overall form. By
the time this piece was created, Galileo had confirmed Copernicus’s theory of a suncentered universe, contributing to the concepts of space during the Baroque Period.1 In
the seventeenth and eighteenth centuries, the colonists would have been more conscious
of how they used space. Such consciousness brought an emphasis on expanded spaces, in
turn influencing culture as well as domestic space. Large domestic spaces could become
visually structured through the use of unified furniture and textiles. One might imagine
that the symmetrical makeup of the chest made it easier to pair with more symmetrical
furniture to create a uniform look, demonstrating its creator’s foresight in regard to this
awareness of space. The painted decoration on this piece could have been used to echo
the design of textiles or the painted decoration of other furniture of the room, also
contributing to a unified aesthetic.
The dark paint and botanical painted decoration reflect the fixation with exoticism
during the Baroque Period. To Europeans and Americans alike, Asia was exotic.2 The
dark paint mimics oriental lacquerwork, as demonstrated by comparing the chest to a
Chinese tray from the Ming Dynasty (Figure 2). The painted botanical decoration on the
chest offers a creative interpretation of oriental works, as reflected with the decorative
plant elements on the Chinese tray. Light was also of interest during the Baroque Period,
as the use of light could manipulate space. The use of mirrors or light-catching metals
and veneers could contribute to the ideal of a seemingly infinite space. While furniture in
the colonies did not compare to the gilded or silvered furniture of European courts,
1 Rosemary Troy Krill & Pauline Eversmann, Early American Decorative
Arts, 1620-1860, 63.
2 Ibid.

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veneers and paints could still manipulate light.3 The paint on the chest catches and
reflects the light near the ball-shaped feet and at the handles of the drawer, indicating that
the piece likely shined throughout at one point (Figure 1).
Antiquity greatly influenced domestic spaces during the Baroque Period.
Furniture from this period took cues from classical sculpture, paintings, and architecture.4
The overall symmetry in form and design of the chest reflects classical architecture, as
represented by Maison Carée in Nimes, France (Figure 3), a Roman temple. It may be
deduced that such symmetry illustrates that a classical approach was kept in mind during
the construction of this piece. Collectively, the consideration of space, exoticism, light,
and antiquity are evident in this piece, reflecting an awareness of Baroque values when
this piece was created.

Figure 1. Chest with drawer, dated 1705-25, Connecticut. Photo courtesy of the
Metropolitan Museum of Art.

3 Ibid, 64.
4 Ibid.

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Figure 2. Rectangular Tray with Daiost Immortals, dated 1700s, China. Photo courtesy
of the Metropolitan Museum of Art.

Figure 3. Maison Carée, dated 16 BCE, Nimes, France. Photo Courtesy of The Ancient
History Encyclopedia.