c. 1680–1700
Mahogany, mother-of-pearl, ivory, and tortoiseshell
Overall: 102 x 89 1/2 x 26 in. (2 m 59.08 cm x 2 m 27.33 cm x 66.04 cm)
Decorative Arts and Design
American Art - Spanish Colonial, Level 4
Dallas Museum of Art, gift of The Eugene McDermott Foundation, in honor of Carol and Richard Brettell
Image courtesy Dallas Museum of Art

General Description

This exuberant baroque-style cabinet, adorned with floral marquetry or geometric inlay on all the doors and compartments, is composed of thousands of intricately shaped bits of mother of pearl and tortoise shell along with ivory. The luxurious materials testify to the wealth and political importance of Latin America in the 17th century Iberian global empire. The original owner of the cabinet appears to have been Don Melchor Portocarrero, third count of Monclova and viceroy of New Spain (1686–88), who subsequently became viceroy of Peru (1689–1715). It is likely that the count commissioned the piece during his tenure as viceroy. Probably made in the Portuguese settlement of Goa, India, the cabinet crossed the Indian Ocean to Manila, in the Spanish Philippines. Finally, the cabinet crossed the Pacific to arrive in New Spain's capital, Mexico City. Set within the mother-of-pearl double-headed eagle crest symbolizing Spain's Habsburg dynasty is the painted coat of arms for Peru's Tagle family, who inherited the monumental piece in the late 18th century.

These marquetry-thin decorative panels of assembled wood veneers and other imported materials are characteristic of luxury 17th-century Limeño furniture, especially that produced in Goa. These designs cover cabinet doors that open to reveal shelves, drawers, and even a dome richly veneered with tortoise shell, mother-of-pearl, ebony, mahogany, metals, and ivory. The interior, which adds materials from the earth to those from the sea, glories in geometric forms. These geometric patterns have double origins: Moorish techniques common in pre-Christian Spain and colonial marquetry from Goa. When these doors were opened, the owners could display their holdings of small sculpture, natural specimens, or other collections of intriguing and highly precious objects.

Adapted from

  • Bonnie Pitman, ed. "Cabinet" in Dallas Museum of Art: A Guide to the Collection (New Haven, CT: Yale University Press, 2012), 159.

  • Kevin W. Tucker, Label text, 2006.

  • Charles Venable, "Cabinet," in Dallas Museum of Art: A Guide to the Collection, ed. Charles Venable (New Haven, NJ: Yale University Press, 1997), 204.

Web Resources