Splendid ebony cabinets such as this example, elaborately conceived to display costly Florentine pietra dura panels from the Medici workshops, were mainly produced in Florence and Rome, and favoured by a growing population of wealthy patrons. This cabinet, probably adapted in England in the 19th Century when such objects were highly sought after and bought by connoisseurs such as William Beckford, displays some of the finest pietra dura panels. The precious trompe l'oeil mosaics of marbles and hard stones epitomise princely magnificence of the Opificio delle pietre dure, founded in 1588 by Grand Duke Ferdinand I de Medici, while their never-fading flowers evoke the Arcadian concept of perpetual spring or 'Ver perpetuum'. The richest and most striking element of the façade, framed by drawers embellished with birds, fruiting branches and floral sprigs, is the central panel depicting an ormolu-mounted and flower-filled vase. The vase is one of the earliest and most favoured subjects of the grand ducal workshops and can also be found on large-scale panels for the monumental altar of Santo Spirito, executed between 1599 and 1607 for the Michelozzi family. The workshop records of the famous master, Urbano Ferruci describes 'vasi a commesso in fondo di paragone' (vases made in inlay on a ground of black marble).
A related cabinet, of slightly larger proportion, from the Palazzo Vecchio, Florence, is now in the Museo dell'Opificio delle Pietre Dure, (A Giusti (ed.), Splendori di Pietre Dure, Florence, 1988, cat.31). A cabinet from Warwick Castle (sold Christie's London, 30 May 1968, lot 91) and a pair at Chirk Castle, North Wales, both show similar architectural drawer arrangement and closely related pietra dura panels.
The design for an alternative stand found within the cabinet is inscribed 'This old cabinet and new stand now belong to Dudley. But we might utilise this design for our Florentine Cabinet for a better stand than it has' and signed 'Phil'.