Fig. 14 is more in the English character, cruder in modelling and not so vigorously cut as Fig. 13. Among a jumble of motives are shown the Nativity and the visit of the Wise Men of the East, with the crowning of the Virgin in the presence of the Deity in the right-hand top corner. Below is a representation of the Annunciation. Three horses, - presumably those of the Wise Men - stand in stiff attitudes, with a suspended crown above them, and there are the same curious animals scurrying into burrows, as in Fig. 13, to complete the picture. As an example of coffer-front work of the very close of the fourteenth century, this is highly interesting, and undoubtedly English in design and execution.
1 A similar conceit can be seen above one of the portals to the house of Jacques Coeur at Bourges.
Fig. 12. Oak Chest. Dersingham Church, Norfolk. - Fourteenth century.
Fig. 14. Front Of Oak Coffer. - Fourteenth century. - Victoria and Albert Museum.
The evidence for this separate manufacture of coffer-fronts is strengthened by Fig. 15, where the front is typically English of the mid-fifteenth century, with perpendicular tracery in low relief, and a Flamboyant centre. It is absurd to imagine that the fine and elaborate front was made for the crude chest to which it now belongs. The top has the appearance of being of seventeenth-century date, but this may be an addition. The roughly incised decoration of the uprights indicates no period, but this work is, obviously, not by the same hand as the traceried front.
Fig. 16 is unmistakably foreign, French or Burgundian, although there is strong English feeling in the traceried panels of the side doors. This was, in all probability, a credence, the legs of which have been cut down. It dates from the latter part of the fifteenth century, when chests were rarely, if ever, supported on legs. Similar tracery will be noticed in the door panel, Fig. 17, the English origin of which is more certain. There is the same ogival tracery in the lower fenestration as in the side doors to Mr. Aston's cabinet. Both are of about the same period.
Marked traces of the Flamboyant still linger in the next panel, Fig. 18, which is somewhat earlier than the preceding example. The central tracery is ogival, in the manner of the mid-fifteenth-century great windows, and there is no trace of the cusping which is so marked on the next example, Fig. 19, a chest from the Lady Chapel of St. Michael's Parish Church at Coventry. This is a typical late fifteenth-century Church muniment or vestment chest of large size and great weight. The ends are closely frame-braced over solid sides, and the front with its uprights is richly ornamented. Here again, it will be noticed that the front panel only is ecclesiastical in character, the uprights being rosetted in diamond tracery with a swan or other bird in the central panel. The top is nearly two and a half inches in thickness, of straight-cut oak, with tongued clamps at the ends. The side framings and the hasps are bolted through with large wrought-iron nails. The two locks are of a later date. For its age, this chest is in wonderful preservation. It is one of the earliest examples known where the uprights are prolonged to act as feet, with a shaped apron uniting them on the front.
Fig. 15. Sixteenth-Century Oak Chest With Panel Of Earlier Date. - The panel is mid-fifteenth century
Fig. 16. Oak Cabinet, Probably French Or Burgundian. - 4 ft. 3 ins. wide by 3 ft. 2 ins. high by 2 ft o 3/4 in. back to front. - Late fifteenth century. W. Smedley Aston, Esq.
Before dismissing the subject of these chests of elaborate kind but of questionable nationality, one example, now in Christchurch Museum at Ipswich, is illustrated in Fig. 20, together with another, which strongly resembles it, in Crediton Church, Devonshire, Figs. 21 and 22. The Ipswich chest has not been improved by the later plinth with the carved inscription above it. Both these chests are of the Flamboyant Gothic of the close of the fifteenth or the commencement of the sixteenth centuries, and of French origin, but, possibly, from the provinces which had remained English, in ideas if not in actual fact, at this date. It cannot be suggested that these fine chests were either made in England or under English supervision, although the central panel of the Ipswich chest is carved with the English lion. This, however, is a later insertion, the coat being that of the town of Ipswich. Both examples are certainly not prior to 1500 in date, but at this period the Italian Renaissance was dominating the woodwork of France.
They may, on the other hand, have been imported from the Low Countries, which would account, in some measure, for the Flamboyant Gothic as late as 1500-20. This hypothesis is preferable to ascribing a date in the fifteenth century, even although the Gothic character is more French than Flemish, both in design and execution.
Another example from the Christchurch Museum, Fig. 23, is typical Touraine work of the early sixteenth century, but this may have been, and probably was, imported as a chest-front, only the front and the two end panels being actual work of the period.
If it be difficult to postulate a country of origin for a chest, with a carved front strongly suggestive of French workmanship, but where the top, sides and back may have been, and probably were, made in this country, there can be little or no doubt regarding the fine walnut chest illustrated in Fig. 24. Not only is the wood foreign, but the chest bears the arms of Henry II when Dauphin of France, together with his motto, "Donex totum impleat orbe." The top is domed in the manner of the thirteenth century, before described, but here it is constructed, in cooper-jointing, not hewn from solid timber as in the case of the earlier examples. The front is finely carved in representation of a joust or actual combat, and at each corner are caryatid figures modelled in the fine manner of the Italian Renaissance. It is possible, considering the period of this chest, - which can be stated within narrow limits, - that one of the contemporaries of Michelangelo Buonarroti (1475-1564) if not the master himself, may have had something to do with its designing, as we know that Francis I was a liberal and cultured patron of Italian artists and craftsmen of his period. There is real spontaneity and inspiration evident in this chest as compared with the skilful but mannered duplication which is evident in much of the secular woodwork or furniture of this period, both in this country and in France.