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Medici Chest

Technical Study of an Italian Painted Chest

The following is a summary of the collaborative research by the Museum’s scientific, conservation and curatorial staff as presented in the paper, Figdor and the Medici: notes on the collection and display of Italian Renaissance furniture at the Philadelphia Museum of Art to 1930, including a technical study of a fifteenth-century painted chest’, Furniture History vol. XLV (2009)

Chest with Coat of Arms and Emblems of the Medici Family
Chest with Coat of Arms and Emblems of the Medici Family, c. 1450-1460
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In 1930 the Philadelphia Museum of Art, led by director Fiske Kimball, acquired this important Italian Renaissance chest from the collection of Dr Albert Figdor (1843-1927) in Vienna. The painted emblems and decorations associated the chest with the famous Medici family of Florence, but the battered and grimy state of the painted surfaces prevented its display in the Museum's galleries in recent times. Moreover, the desirability of a connection with the Medici family gave rise to some suspicions that the object could have been repainted in the nineteenth-century to suggest such a link. To help answer the questions surrounding the authenticity of the chest and its decoration, a collaborative research study into the object was undertaken by the Museum’s conservation and curatorial departments.


View of chest showing interior


The chest is constructed entirely of poplar, with beaten iron bands edging the lid and exposed corners of the front and feet, and two further bands dividing the front and lid. The wooden boards are butt-joined and fixed with nails. The interior of the chest is well preserved: the wood shows an even patination, with knots and flaws filled with an off-white material made with marble dust in an animal glue binder. Small strips of parchment were found covering joins in the planks.

Detail of handwriting on a strip of parchment from the interior of the lid of the chest
Examination of the parchment revealed fragments of Italian script, written in a fifteenth-century hand. Although the text could not be deciphered, its presence was nevertheless of interest in suggesting the potential age and authenticity of the object. As for the integrity of the construction in general, there are no elements that appear to be replacements, and x-radiography showed no traces of modern wire nails or any other indications of recent repairs.