Press release

Rare £1.2m ebony cabinets at risk of export from UK

Culture Minister Ed Vaizey has placed temporary export bar on Italian cabinets that give unique insight into 17th century.

A pair of 17th century Italian cabinets are at risk of being exported from the UK unless a buyer can be found to match the asking price of £1,265,000 (plus VAT of £43,000 on the buyer’s premium). Culture Minister Ed Vaizey has placed a temporary export bar on the 300-year-old ebony cabinets to provide an opportunity to save them for the nation.

Experts say that they are among the most important cabinets from Rome left in Britain and date back to around 1625. They were brought to Britain by one of the leading collectors of the day, the 4th Earl of Carlisle for Castle Howard, Yorkshire. Showpiece cabinets were the most prestigious display furniture in 17th century Europe and were lavishly decorated to reflect the taste and status of their owners.

The cabinets, made in Rome, are thought to have been commissioned by the noble Borghese family, one of the wealthiest families of their day. They represent the best quality furniture making in the early 17th century and each one is ornately inlaid with decorative stones and mounted in bronze. Each cabinet sits on a matching stand made in England around 1800, made from mahogany, with gilded supports and ornaments.

Culture Minister Ed Vaizey said:

These ornate cabinets are among the finest examples of 17th century furniture left in the country and give us unique insight into how lavishly some of the wealthiest families furnished their homes at that time.

The decision to defer an export licence follows a recommendation by the Reviewing Committee on the Export of Works of Art and Objects of Cultural Interest (RCEWA), administered by Arts Council England.

The RCEWA made their recommendation on the grounds that they were of outstanding aesthetic importance and outstanding importance for the study of Roman pietre dure furniture given their quality, the Borghese association and the relationship of the cabinets with their stands and English 18th century collecting.

RCEWA member Christopher Rowell said:

These two magnificent ebony cabinets, veneered with hardstones and mounted in gilt bronze, on neo-Classical Kent Revival stands made for the Picture Gallery at Castle Howard, represent the high watermark of the British taste for Italian princely furniture. With the exception of the National Trust’s cabinet at Stourhead, made in Rome around 1585 for Pope Sixtus V, these are the most significant Roman cabinets of this type in Britain. Every effort should be made to prevent their export.

The decision on the export licence application will be deferred until 19th March 2016. This may be extended until 19th July 2016 if a serious intention to raise funds to purchase the cabinets is made at the recommended price of £1,265,000 (plus VAT of £43,000 on the buyer’s premium).

Offers from public bodies for less than the recommended price through the private treaty sale arrangements, where appropriate, may also be considered by Mr Vaizey. Such purchases frequently offer substantial financial benefit to a public institution wishing to acquire the item.

An image of the cabinets can be downloaded here

For media information contact: Francesca Roettger Moreda Communications Officer, Department for Culture Media and Sport Tel: 0207 211 6263