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Bureau cabinet (trumeau)

Mobile a due corpi con piano scrittoio ribaltabile

Bureau cabinet (trumeau)
Venice, circa mid-18th century

Structure made of walnut and spruce wood veneered with walnut; the decoration on the top is made of carved and gilded wood. The mirrors are mercury-backed and the handles are made of gilded bronze.

It measures:
cm 276 x 163 x 63 (108.66 x 64.17 x 24.80 in)

State of conservation:
overall almost excellent.
The internal and external handles, and the gilded wood decorations are original; the latter show slight integrations to the gilding which are barely noticeable. The five external mirrors are original, while the two engraved inside the two doors were added around the second half of the 19th century, along with the small safe; these additions are easily reversible.

The cabinet consists of two parts.

The lower part rests on four carved feet in the shape of a flattened sphere, and is equipped with three large drawers and two smaller ones. It ends in the upper portion with a tiltable writing surface that contains a central well, small drawers, and several compartments that in turn conceal secret compartments.

The upper part is closed by two doors that feature their original bevelled mirrors on the outside, while on the inside they display two engraved mirrors with the figures of a man and a woman (as previously mentioned, these are not original). The interior contains numerous open compartments arranged around a central enclosed space, which in turn conceals a small safe (also installed at a later time).
Two other mirrors, consistent in shape with those of the outer doors, adorn the sides. The center area above the doors has another smaller mirror decorated with an engraved vase of flowers.
A prominent, mystilinear cornice frames the top of the cabinet with various rocaille elements of carved and gilded wood.

This type of furniture derived its shape from the Anglo-Dutch repertoire; in Italy, it was – and still is – improperly called a ‘trumeau’ (a term which in French instead indicates a mirror placed between two windows). It very soon became the most important piece of furniture in the palaces of the ancient Venetian aristocracy and the rich merchants. Although designed for prestige and placed on the main wall of the ‘sala’, these furnishings also had a practical function, as demonstrated by the numerous compartments. While the trumeaus commissioned for country villas were often painted or decorated in the style of ‘arte povera’ to simulate lacquer, the finest examples placed in prestigious palaces in the lagoon were veneered with walnut burl and, more rarely, with other precious woods, often, as in our case, highlighted by carved and gilded decorations.

Some examples of comparison with this trumeau are currently located in:

  • Ca’ Rezzonico, Venice (now the Museum of 18th-century Venice);
  • Palazzo Mocenigo in the Santa Croce district of Venice (now the Museum of Textiles and Costume);
  • Villa Reale, Monza, (near Milano);
  • Maritime Museum, Kotor, Montenegro.

Photography: Bruno Pulici

Reference bibliography:

  • Levy, Saul, Il mobile veneziano del Settecento, Milano 1964, tavv. 170-184 e tav. XXVIII;

  • Santini, Clara, Mille mobili veneti, Modena 2000, passim;

  • G. Liverani Un raro cimelio di maiolica faentina. Faenza XL, 1954 fasc. II pp. 30-33;
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