The façade of these cabinets display 17th century hardstone panels from the Florentine 'Opificio delle Pietre Dure' workshop, created in 1588 under the patronage of Ferdinand I de Medici, Grand-Duc of Tuscany (d. 1609). Suiting early 19th Century antiquarian tastes, the mosaics depict birds, fruit and trompe l'oeil flower-vases.
The 19th century fashion for sumptuous furniture embellished with hardstone panels was nothing new. The depiction of birds with flowers in the present cabinet is very similar to those found on a 17th century cabinet at the Musées du Château des Rohan, Strasbourg (see A. M. Giusti, Hardstone Decoration in Furniture and Decorations, London, 1992, p. 202), and may also be found on the spectacular early 18th century 'Badminton Cabinet' which was sold Christie's London, 5 July 1990, lot 151. A very similar arrangement to the present pair, but with plaques of birds surrounding a central sunflower instead of a vase of flowers, is incorporated in a Louis XVI meuble d'appui by Charles Claude Saunier (maître in 1752; see A. González-Palacios, Il Gusto dei Principi, Milan, 1993, vol. II, p. 32, fig. 25.)
Also constructed in the second half of the 18th century was a wonderful pietre dure cabinet signed by Adam Weisweiler (maître 1778), in the collection of Her Majesty the Queen, Buckingham Palace, London. This cabinet, set with a central floral bouquet with fruits and a bird, incorporates the same leaf-tip frieze as the present pair. It is also interesting to note that all three cabinets have tops comprised of the same brocatelle marble (op. cit. A. González-Palacios, p. 32). Weisweiler was likely commissioned to make this sort of cabinet for the marchand Dominique Daguerre (d.1796). In an inventory taken after the latter's death, 26 panels in pietre dure with fruit and birds are listed. As such, it is probable that Daguerre not only commissioned the works, but supplied the panels as well. (see P. Hughes, The Wallace Collection, Catalogue of Furniture, London, 1996, II, p. 604).
Two other Louis XVI side-cabinets with conforming brocatelle marble tops and very similar plaques of birds and flowers, this time by Joseph Baumhauer, were purchased by the King for eventual inclusion at the Louvre. A copy was made by Jacob-Desmalter in 1812 (see D. Meyer, Versailles, Furniture of the Royal Palace, Dijon, 2002, pp. 212-215), a testament to the continued desire for hardstone-embellished furniture in the early 19th century.
In London, the cabinet-maker and marchand-mercier, Robert Hume, who was patronised by some of the greatest collectors of the early 19th century, was a proponent of pietre dure. The continued fashion for hardstone-mounted furniture is reflected in a pair of cabinets supplied by Hume for Erlestoke Park, Wiltshire, the seat of George Watson Taylor. Records in the Hamilton archives reveal that in 1820 the Duke supplied Hume with 'Mosaics Florentine bought of Hume pietre dure', establishing Hume as both a supplier, and perhaps importer, of hardstones. As with the present lot, the group of Hume pietre dure cabinets are all made in a contemporary ebonised interpretation of the ancienne régime style.
In 19th century France, it was ébéniste Georges-Marie-Paul-Vital-Bonifacio Monbro (d.1841) and his son Georges-Alphonse-Bonifacio Monbro (d.1884), whose firm had a reputation for producing high-quality pieces in a diverse range of styles with the inclusion of pietre dure panels. Suited to the melange of motifs and eclecticism popular by mid-century, the style continued in popularity through the reign of Napoleon III. Befort Jeune and Diehl both produced similar ebony and ebonised cabinets embellished with Florentine plaques. The latter received a gold medal from the 1855 Exposition Universelle for a cabinet related to one designed by Monbro (see A.M. Massinelli, The Gilbert Collection: Hardstones, London, 2000, no. 16).