The Medal Cabinet Appeal
Victoria and Albert Museum
Managed a campaign to raise £534,000 in time to save a rare medal cabinet from export as a member of the V&A’s Development department. The government placed a temporary export bar on the cabinet and the V&A only had a few months to acquire it and ensure its place in the national collections.
About the Medal Cabinet
The medal cabinet is perhaps the finest piece of French Empire furniture in Britain today. It is also a superlative example of the Egyptian taste that was fashionable throughout Europe in the period 1800-1815. Newly minted medals, of the sort this cabinet would have stored, were a significant element of Napoleon’s propaganda and used to commemorate his major achievements.
The silver mounts were made by the firm Martin Guillaume Biennais, whose signature is engraved on the lockplate. Biennais, who may have made the cabinet in its entirety, was goldsmith to the Imperial family. There are few works by Biennais in Britain; these are limited to smaller travelling cases or metalwork and certainly include nothing of this size, design-historical importance or quality.
The cabinet’s architectural form and craftsmanship are striking. Its rich amboyna wood is adorned with intricate figured veneers as a background to silver mounts of the highest quality. The design of inlaid bees on each individual drawer front, with hinged wings that flip forward to function as handles, are particularly sophisticated.
Saved from Export
Donations from the public and private individuals were crucial to helping make this important acquisition in time and ensuring that the medal cabinet remained in the UK.
Due to open in due course, the V&A’s new Europe 1600-1800 Galleries will provide a permanent home for this object. It will be central to a dedicated display on Napoleon.