The Bargueño, a 17th century Spanish cabinet

The Bargueño, a 17th century Spanish cabinet

A Bargueño is a type of Spanish writing cabinet ("escritorio ") that appeared in the early 15th century. However, the term was not invented until 1872 by Juan Facundo Riaño, a Spanish art historian. It refers to the town of Bargas, near Toledo, where the centre of production of marquetry in the 16th and 17th centuries. This piece of furniture is composed of a chest, the Bargueño, generally placed on a base which can be a table with arches (" pie de puente ") or a chest of drawers ("bargueño") like the one in our collection. The chest opens with a locked flap to reveal a multiplicity of drawers, several of which are secret.

Bargueno Spanish firm

This cabinet, which is primarily utilitarian, has a very sober with rigid lines. The oak, walnut or chestnut wood highlight the strength of the object and its imposing character. Its simple shape and side handles makes it easy to carry. Until the middle of the 18th century, furniture items followed their owners to their various homes. The furniture therefore had to be able to withstand long journeys. TThis characteristic allowed him to become the ultimate piece of furniture for conquistadors and missionaries exploring the "New World". Since it could hold administrative, diplomatic and personal effects, the Spaniards made it an essential part of their travels in America.

The massive appearance is complemented by heavy hinges and openwork wrought iron latches inspired by Middle Eastern craftsmanship. They are influenced by the Islamic civilisation present in Spain until the fall of Granada in 1492. These repetitive decorations are inscribed in geometric shapes. There are sometimes elements of red velvet or textiles. These decorative elements are so popular that it is now possible to find those ironwork sold separately on the art market. Some locks were even dismantled from their original furniture to satisfy the taste of 19th century collectors. Our Bargueño has retained its rich double hasp lock in the form of towers and pomegranates, a representation of the rich Spanish houses that were able to accommodate such a piece of furniture.

Originally a piece of sacristy furniture used to house objects of worship (vestments, vases or liturgical cups), the Bargueño keeps a trace of this use in the symbolism of its decorations. The shell-shaped pulls are a reminder of the portable chests used by pilgrims to Santiago de Compostela, while the pomegranate is a symbol of fertility, but above all of the resurrection of Christ. Although it is no longer a religious piece of furniture in the strict sense of the word, it retains a mystical dimension through its hidden compartments.

Reaching its greatest success in the Baroque period, it plays on the of dramatisation with a desire to surprise the spectator. Behind a rustic facade lies a sophisticated Italian-influenced décor influenced by the architect Juan de Herera. Symmetrically organised, the hidden drawers and compartments use the architectural vocabulary of temples with arched colonnades and pediments. An increasingly fine and detailed wood and bone marquetry is revealed, highlighting the skills and techniques of the cabinetmakers. The owner can impress his audience by revealing the different compartments, but also by displaying his collections of curiosities.

At the end of the 17th century, the Bargueño loses its travel function to become a prestigious piece of furniture present in all the great Spanish residences. Faced with the Italian and German cabinets dominating the European market, it lost its flap and became a cabinet with simple functions of decoration and storage of collections of precious objects.

To see the Bargueño in our collection, click here.