Edited by Luca Giunta Baroni

The production of writing sets is as old as writing itself. The most ancient examples date back to the Bronze Age and are limited to a pair of articulated tablets with a cavity inside to contain the instruments. They were widespread throughout the Mediterranean, the Near and the Far East, and constitute a type of object that crosses all eras and all cultures1.

In the European Middle Ages, portable desks gradually settled on two main types. A trapezoidal one was characterised by an inclined plane and intended to support the sheet of paper. While the other variety was expressly designed for travel: a box divided into various compartments2.

Because of the evolution of writing implements, very few writing desks, let alone with their original contents, have survived. Some exceptions, of particular refinement and value, are the ones held in European royal collections, where they were preserved as works of art3.

The solidity and compactness of this chest, in addition to the ingenious flap system that allowed the paper sheets to be kept under the lid, the presence of a ‘secret’ compartment under the bottom, and the use of exotic woods (Macassar ebony and Brazilian Bois de Violette) suggests identifying it as a captain’s chest, designed to keep the writing instruments in order despite the ship’s roll4.

These objects were particularly sought after and often accompanied the owner throughout his life, being then handed down from generation to generation.

The workmanship and decorative styles suggest a Franco-Flemish collocation of the Louis XIV period.

1 Payton 1991, pp. 99-106; Devonshire 1919, pp. 241-243, 245.

2 Thornton 1984, pp. 246-251; Koeppe et al. 2012, n. 255, pp. 284-286 (text by Wolfram Koeppe).

3 Meadow 2005, pp. 39-38.

4 We thank Franco De Ruvo for having identified the woods present.

Robert Payton, The Ulu Burun Writing-Board Set, “Anatolian Studies”, XLI (1991), pp. 99-106

Henriette Caroline Devonshire, Sultan Salâhed Dîn’s Writing-Box in the National Museum of Arab Art, Cairo, “The Burlington Magazine for Connoisseurs”, XXXV, 201 (December 1919), pp. 241- 243, 245

Peter Thornton, Cassoni, Forzieri, Goffani, and Cassette: Terminology and Its Problems, “Apollo”, 120 (October 1984), pp. 246-251.

Wolfram Koeppe et al., The Robert Lehman Collection. Decorative Arts - XV, Princeton 2012

Mark A. Meadow, Quiccheberg and the copious object. Wenzel Jamnitzer’s silver writing box, in Melville 2005, pp. 39-58

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