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Traveling Desk (Escritorio)

Decorative Arts

On View: Luce Visible Storage and Study Center, 5th Floor
A number of Spanish American towns became well-known manufacturing centers specializing in escritorios and related desk types. Among the most famous was Villa Alta de San Ildefonso in Oaxaca, Mexico, where this finely crafted traveling desk was created. The desk’s interior is inlaid with representations of saints and their attributes within New World landscapes, suggesting a religious provenance. The piece, designed for personal use, may have furnished a private space within a larger ecclesiastical complex for a high-ranking member of the church.

Varias ciudades de Hispanoamérica se convirtieron en conocidos centros especializados en manufactura de escritorios y objetos relacionados. Entre los más famosos estaban la Villa Alta de San Ildefonso en Oaxaca, México, donde se creó un estilo de escritorios finos portátiles. El interior del escritorio se taraceaba con representaciones de santos y sus atributos en paisajes de Nuevo Mundo, sugiriendo su procedencia religiosa. La pieza, diseñada para el uso personal al interior de un complejo eclesiástico mayor, puede haber amueblado el espacio privado de un miembro del alto rango de la iglesia.
MEDIUM Spanish cedar and walnut, with hard- and softwood inlays, pigments, iron, and velvet
DATES 18th century
DIMENSIONS open: 22 3/4 x 37 1/8 x 31 7/8 in. (57.8 x 94.3 x 81 cm) closed: 20 3/4 x 37 1/8 x 15 in. (52.7 x 94.3 x 38.1 cm)
COLLECTIONS Decorative Arts
MUSEUM LOCATION This item is on view in Luce Visible Storage and Study Center, 5th Floor
CREDIT LINE Gift of the family of Josephus Daniels
CATALOGUE DESCRIPTION A portable fall-front writing cabinet (a) secured with iron fittings backed with crimson velvet. Its plain cedar exterior contrasts with the rich decoration inside, executed in both in marquetry and with incised lines. Depth of color produced by rubbing of zulaque into designs. The inlaid Dominican arms on the exterior, placed where drop handles might once have been, suggest a religious provenance, and this is borne out by the iconography inside. Images of apostles with the attributes of their martyrdom decorate its compartments. Saint Bartholomew with a knife and Saint Matthias with an ax stand on the center drawers in replicated landscapes of lush, New World vegetation. On the lower drawers evangelists Saint Luke and Saint Mark sit astride their symbolic animals and, on the fall-front, Saint Andrew with a diagonal cross and Saint James with his pilgrim staff are flanked by unidentified standing figures, one with a scroll and one with a book. Saint Peter with the keys to heaven and Saint James the Less with a fuller's club both with hawk-like tropical birds hovering over their heads, stand on the arched doors to a central arch. Deep inside its architectural compartment is the winged figure of the Archangel Gabriel. He holds a flowering branch, on which has alighted another bird with the host in its beak. Base (b). Condition: See reports (Brian Howard & Assoc.) 1991 & 6/16/95
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