Unveiling of the Flemish Collector's Cabinet & George II side tablePublished: 11/09/2023
In early 2021, the museum was contacted by a local auction house: a cabinet from the house that once stood at Norton Priory was coming up for auction.
When the Senior Keeper and the museum's Chief Executive visited the auction house to view the cabinet, they discovered a stunning seventeenth century Flemish collector's cabinet on a painted and gilt George II side table, both with a removal company's labels on the reverse with the name 'Sir Richard Brooke' in pencil. They knew that the pieces were two important to Norton Priory's story not to try and secure them for the museum's permanent collection.
So in the midst of a post-pandemic landscape, work began to learn more about both pieces, their provenance and their importance. With valued support and assistance from colleagues at National Museums Liverpool and Dino Tomasso, the cabinet was identfied as being an especially large example of its type, possibly dating from as early as c.1652. The table on which it sits was important in its own right, due to the unsual frieze design featured on it. Research in the museum's archives revealed that the cabinet was recorded as being in an anteroom to the library in an 1865 inventory of the house. In addition, neither item was sold in the public auction of some of the contents of Norton Priory in May 1921, as preparation for the Brooke family's move to a new home in Abberley, Worcestershire.
Funding to bid for the items at the public auction came from Art Fund, Arts Council England / V&A, and The Wolfson Foundation. The museum trust which operates Norton Priory Museum and Gardens was thrilled to secure both the cabinet and the side table, and both items were subsequently sent for restoration. How the items came to be owned by a farming family in Cheshire remains unclear: possibly they were gifted to the family by the Brookes or they may have been subject to a private sale between the two families.
The cabinet is richly decorated and includes red tortoiseshell, ivory, embonised wood and is important for the scagliola decoration on its interior. This is a technique for producing elements which resemble marble inlays, producing a richness of colour not found in natural veined marbles.
On Sunday 10th September, the items were unveiled at a launch event, after being formally unveiled by Sir Richard Christopher Brooke, the 12th Baronet of Norton. The items are now on permanent display in the museum's main exhibition gallery.