The Amber Cabinet, Poland, c. 1700
Baroque designers loved using extraordinary materials. Amber is a resin which oozed out from the bark of trees millions of years ago and was fossilized. This cabinet is covered inside and out with panels of it. This amber was mined in Poland, near the Baltic Sea. It was made into a cabinet in the port city of Gdansk - most famous today for the Solidarity movement which grew there in the 1980s. Gdansk, formerly known as Danzig, was the centre of the amber trade when this cabinet was made around 1700.
The cabinet was probably kept in a room which was itself called a cabinet - a 'cabinet of curiosities'. This was full of natural and manmade wonders from all over the world. Explorers were bringing back lots of new things such as ostrich eggs, jade carvings and the feathers of birds of paradise. Amber took its place among these and the amber cabinet provided a place to store the most precious of them. The proud owner would impress their friends by opening it up and showing off their treasures. The drawers might also hold more practical things like writing equipment, board games and jewellery. The bottom drawer still contains eight original scent bottles, each with its cork and brass stopper.
The ivory panels are carved with scenes involving cupids and their general theme seems to be love. On one panel a cupid presents a picture of a heart to a lady. Another shows a cupid with a pile of skulls - this may mean that you should enjoy love while you can, before death strikes you down. Alternatively, it may mean that love is stronger than death. Baroque images were often puzzles, intended to keep you guessing.
Purchased with assistance from the Heritage Lottery Fund and the Art Fund.