“On this day in 2004, the Badminton Cabinet sold at auction for a record US$36.7 million, making it the most expensive piece of furniture in the world.
The chest was originally commissioned in 1726 by Henry Somerset, third Duke of Beaufort. He was on a grand tour of Europe, and passing through Florence, the 19-year-old duke made a rare private request to the Medici workshop. Among the last great works of art made in Florence under the Medici family and the greatest work of the Grand Ducal workshop, the cabinet took 30 craftsmen some six years to produce. The duke paid about £500 for the decorative masterpiece, named for Badminton House, his seat in Gloucestershire.
The Florentine ebony chest measures 3.8 metres tall by 2.3 metres wide, supported by stately legs and crowned with a gilded bronze top. The chest is inlaid with semiprecious stones in an elaborate surface decoration. Medici artisans used a technique called pietra dura to create painterly scenes across the surface of the grand cabinet using gems and semi-precious stones. Brilliant lapis lazuli, amethyst quartz, red and green jasper, and other gems form dazzling scenes of birds darting among beribboned flower gardens, fruit and foliage, lions, and satyrs. Rendered in bronze are the four seasons and the coat of arms. At its center is a clock using fleurs-de-lis as numbers.
The ornate cabinet was installed in Badminton House, where it stayed in relative obscurity until the late 20th century, when Somerset’s descendants auctioned it to settle estate taxes. In 1990, the Badminton Cabinet sold for US$15.2 million at auction in Christie’s, the world record for a piece of furniture at the time. In 2004, the impressive chest went back on the auction block at Christie’s. After a contentious bidding battle, the director of the Lichtenstein Museum in Vienna, acting on behalf of Prince Hans-Adam II of Lichtenstein, placed the winning bid: US$36,662,106.
The piece now rests in the Lichtenstein Museum for all to enjoy its ebullient baroque craftsmanship.”
Credit: Getty Images
Caption: The world’s most expensive piece of furniture, Badminton Cabinet, stands 3.8 metres tall and is inlaid with semiprecious stones.