side rail, cornice; with slight update

all there is to go by...
This photo from the early 20th century is all there is to go by for the decoration on the side rails of the cornice. (click on it to enlarge) – I copied it from Frances Gruber Safford’s catalog of the early furniture at the Metropolitan Museum of Art. This cupboard now has been over-restored twice, rendering it useless for these details today. So the photo is critically important.
here is a sketch of what I think I see…it ain’t much. It relates a bit to the pattern carved on the front rail; but it’s not an exact quote of that rail.
sketch of the side cornice rail
That the two possible leaf/flower shapes “read” dark in the old photo doesn’t mean much. That could mean we’re looking at something that was painted black, or even white!  See the side of the MFA lower case, that center oval was white with black squiggles; but the quarter-round corner pieces were black. Today it all “reads” black, so what we see now just with a visual exam is not really enough… except in the case of the photo, it’s all there is.
MFA cupboard base w paint
I can’t decide if there was a molding attached under the painted decoration; nor above. If there were applied moldings, I have to decide how they were cut at the front ends, where the dentils and the applied molding from the front meet… seems dicey.
Then the whole issue of what colors to use, and where. The whole cupboard thus far has just red, black & white.
So I wil send this to the curators; and hopefully we will pull something out of our hat…
here is the Met cupboard as it looks today…on this side rail I see no nail hole, the opposite one has one nail hole plugged. Hardly enough to fix a molding with, given that the front molding seems to have at least 4 nails in it in the old photo of that view.
uppder case side rail modern view

9 thoughts on “side rail, cornice; with slight update

  1. If a molding was present then I assume it would have been secured with nails. Upon the examination of the Mets cupboard could you see any nail holes along the bottom edge of the upper side rails?

    • Not really Erik. That’s why I lean towards a painted border…plus it saves the complication of how to have the side & front moldings meet. There is one nail hole on the proper left side. I added a view of the proper right side as it looks these days, in an update of this post. Plus when we think of how the front of the lower case is decorated, compared to the side of that case. Carving & painting on the front, with applied moldings as well. Side of the case just has painted decoration, with a few integral moldings…so my interpretation is to continue that heirarchy on the upper case as well…thus just paint to decorate the side view, a couple of integral moldings too.

  2. I see two more flower type shapes peeking through in the original photograph, pretty much matching in pattern with the one big one you have drawn, appearing on the concave side of the vine bends.

    • JA: I’m not sure which “two pieces” you mean, the upper case I am making will be displayed directly over the base of the MFA cupboard – thus creating a double-whammy. It will show the original format of the cupboard, and also give some idea of the decorative scheme; color, carvings, patterns, etc.

      The cupboard at the Met is not worth displaying, it is part of their off-display/on-display study collection…sort of storage-under-glass.

  3. Peter: On second thought, why not gently suggest that the MFA have you reproduce a new base for the cupboard and display it with your upper case side by side with the surviving base.

    • “gently suggest that the MFA have you reproduce a new base for the cupboard and display it with your upper case side by side with the surviving base”

      This would be by far the best idea going…

  4. I think the long line squiggle is more symmetrical than you suggest and that there are two tulips. It is infuriating, however. Do you detect scribed guidelines, or is that simply a tideline left from brushwork?

  5. Good to hear you Trent. Also from the picture of the case’s side, it is clear to all including these antique eyes that some horizontal thingee existed at the bottom edge. So Peter thanks for doing your thing. I remember Benno Forman telling me to do my thing and get it down so somebody 20 years later could come along and straighten things out. But do it. He was referring to research writing but I am impressed how you have applied the same attitude to this reproduction. The beauty of reproduction is that you are not taking a precious incomplete surviving artifact and restoring in such a way as to obliterate what the next bunch can learn more from it. Your reproduction is not a copy, it is an essay. I do not emote to criticize the bunch before us who did what they did to what they found under a tree. Let us conserve the battered, when appropriate reproduce it, but do not destructively “restore.” Now that we are learning to join and decorate we can experiment, attempt to create anew, learn from the reproduction and wait for the next bunch to visit the battered remains. One last emotation. Museums have tended to display the good and the true only so long as it is also beautiful. I can think of some care worn battered artifacts that are buried in study collections that contain unique, challenging or exquisite examples of 17th Century joinery and decoration. The MFA is to be applauded for seting you upon this exciting venture. Perhaps they could also hang the original pictures of the cupboard and a slotted box asking all who wondered, “What do you think?”

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