The inventory labels refer to Walter, 5th Duke of Buccleuch and 7th Duke of Queensberry (d.1884). The Duke was heir to the combined Montagu, Douglas and Scott fortunes clustered principally around Drumlanrig, Dalkeith, Boughton, Bowhill, Adderbury and Montagu House, London as well as elsewhere - and it has so far proved impossible to pin this rare cabinet to a specific house.
With its sinuous double scrolled leg and 'Bantam-work' decoration, this cabinet stylistically appears to date from circa 1680-90, echoing documented seat-furniture such as that supplied in 1682 by John Ridge for the Duke of Hamilton and now at Holyrood (A. Bowett, English Furniture 1660-1714 From Charles II to Queen Anne, London, 2002, p.155). Chronologically and stylistically, therefore, three principal contenders for its commision emerge - Ralph, 1st Duke of Montagu (d.1709), Anne, Duchess of Buccleuch (d.1732) and William Douglas, 1st Duke of Queensberry (d.1695).
In the 1670s, during his membership of Charles II's Privy Council, Ralph Montagu pursued the role of an 'Apollo of the Arts'. He attempted to bring gloire to the Restoration court by elevating English arts and manufactures to the same high standard that he had witnessed while serving as the King's Ambassador Extraordinary to the Court of Louis XIV. His London house in Bloomsbury, which may at times have served as an hotel for French ambassadors, was decorated in a Franco-Italian style so lavish that John Evelyn considered in 1683 'there was nothing more glorious in England'. As Keeper of the King's Great Wardrobe from 1671 and 'Comptroller' of the Royal Tapestry Works at Mortlake from 1674, Montagu's role was to supervise the purveyor's of furnishings to the Royal households and to set the 'national' or 'court' style. After returning from exile in Paris during the reign of James II, Montagu gained control of King William III's Great Wardrobe - and this catapulted his ambition to enlarge both Montagu House and Boughton in the most fashionable taste expounded by the Court of Louis XIV. Imbued with the 'antique' style of Marot, Le Brun and le Pautre, Montagu sought to encourage French Huguenot craftsmen and artists to work in England and he turned to the French architect Mr Pouget for the rebuilding of Montagu House in Bloomsbury. The early inventories of Boughton reveal a plethora of lacquer furniture- including a Coromandel lacquer dresing table and mirror attributed to Gerrit Jensen which incorporates the cypher of Elizabeth, Countess of Montagu; this was described in 1718 as being of 'India with cyphers and plates and other work on them of silver'. Interestingly the adjoining Ante-Chamber is recorded as having 'an India cabinet on a black japanned frame which is now untraced. Both the Jensen dressing set and this cabinet are of 'Bantam' or Coromandel incised lacquer - as opposed to flat lacquer or 'japanned' decoration more frequently seen in contemporary Inventories (T. Murdoch et al., Boughton House The English Versailles, London, 1992, pp.132-133, pl.78). 'Two little white India Cabinets' listed in Montagu House, Bloomsbury in 1707 are also now at Boughton; Gerrit Jensen was paid £5 in 1694 'For mending the Jappan for 2 white India Cabinets & Varnishing the frames black and cleaning the brass work', although interestingly their original stands were replaced by 1718 with their current giltwood bases by James Moore (Ibid., pl.80).
An equally compelling case can however no doubt also be made for the two other ancestors. Anne, Duchess of Buccleuch (d.1732) was the daughter-in-law of King Charles II as wife of the Duke of Monmouth. She was responsible for a comprehensive remodelling of Dalkeith Palace and is known to have commissioned japanned furniture from James Moore in 1700-1. Interestingly, listed on a bill of 'Worke done for her Grace ye Dutchess of Bucclough by James Moore is ....a speckled Cabinett & frame with black & Gold hinges & Locks; a Buro made of Japan & Locks'. An Inventory & Appraisement of Household Furniture at Dalkeith House, taken on 10 March 1812, includes the following fleeting references to cabinets, including in the 'Principal Bed Chamber - An India Cabinet', 'Lady Queensberry's Room - An India Cabinet' and 'Lady Queensberry's Sitting Room - An old India Cabinet'. A possible accompanying dressing table is described in 'Major Scott's Room - A Ladies Dressing Table with Dressing Glass etc.', 'Step Room No. 1 - A Ladies Dressing Table with Mirror &.' 'N. 6 - A Dressing Table with Mirror &.' or 'The Duke's Nursery - A Ladies Dressing Table with Mirror'.
William Douglas, 1st Duke of Queensberry commissioned Drumlanrig Castle, Dumfriesshire between 1679-91; whilst the descriptions in the 1694 Inventory of Castle of Drumlanrig are fleeting, 'The Principal Bed Chamber' includes 'One fine jeopand cabinet, table, glass & stands jeopand and gilded round the Edges with red leather covers for the table and and two brass nails for the glass to hing on One fine gilded'.
A Coromandel and parcel-gilt kneehole dressing table of complimentary design with giltwood stand supported upon similar acanthus-wrapped scrolled legs was very probably supplied by the same cabinet-maker. Still in the collection of the Dukes of Buccleuch and Queensberry at Bowhill, Scotland, it is certainly conceivable that this is the 'buro made of Japan' referred to on James Moore's bill. Another Coromandel lacquer cabinet bearing the same inscribed inventory label to the reverse but 'No 5', was sold at Christie's, 26 June 1986, lot 129; its stand, however, had been replaced in the later 18th Century.
Coromandel lacquer or 'Bantamwork', with its characteristic incised decoration, was made in Honan province in Northern China from the latter part of the Ming dynasty and exported to Europe from the end of the 17th Century through the East India Company's trading posts on the Coromandel Coast of India. The technique consisted in overlaying a base of wood with a series of increasingly fine white clays and fibrous grasses. Over this surface, lacquer was applied and polished before the design was incised and the hollowed out portions filled with colour and gilt and finished with a clear lacquer to protect it. Although John Stalker and George Parker used the term 'Bantamwork', the contemporary layman usually called it 'cutt-work', 'cutt Japan' or 'hollow burnt Japan'. Stalker and Parker discuss two types of 'Bantam-work' - flat and incised - in their Treatise on Japanning and Varnishing of 1688, noting that it 'was done in colorus mix't with a gum water'. They also considered that it was 'almost obsolete, and out of fashion, out of use and neglected....' although admitted that 'it was very pretty, and some are more fond of it, and prefer it to the other...'.