The Walpole Cabinet, made by William Hallett for Horace Walpole in 1743. Rosewood and ivory. This cabinet hung in Walpole’s ‘Tribune’ at Strawberry Hill, his Gothick fantasy home/museum in Twickenham, London. You can still visit Strawberry Hill and you can see the cabinet at the Victoria & Albert Museum in South Kensington.
In the 18th century, a young gentleman or gentlewoman’s education was not considered complete without embarking upon a Grand Tour of the major cultural sites of Europe. Good taste, meant knowing the greatest achievements of classical antiquity in art, architecture and sculpture. The ancient Greeks were recognised to have perfected order and harmony, so the Parthenon and they Acropolis were high on the list of sites to see. Many travellers didn’t make it quite as far as Greece, so the major Classical structures in Rome; the Colosseum, the Pantheon and the Roman Forum were the climax of their tour. Again, this is a vast and fascinating subject, so space, of course, dictates that I barely scratch the surface here. Horace Walpole was son of the first British prime minister; Sir Robert Walpole. Horace, and his 'very intimate friend' Thomas Brand were lucky enough to go on a two year Grand Tour through Italy and France when they were both 23 in 1740.
Horace made sketches, wrote letters and collected souvenirs, as was typical of gentlemen on the Grand Tour. His souvenirs included carved ivory heads of classical and biblical figures. When he returned home to England he enthusiastically commissioned the cabinetmakers William Hallet of Great Newport Street, London, to make a wall cabinet to display his collection. The pediment on the top might relate to his father’s house, Houghton Hall, which was being designed at the time by William Kent. On top of this pediment James Francis Verskovis made miniature ivory statues (copied from Michael Rysbrack’s originals) of Horace’s three artistic heroes: the architects Inigo Jones (1573-1652) and Andrea Palladio (1508-80) and the famous sculptor François Duquesnoy (1594-1644). Ivory souvenirs from Horace’s Grand Tour were fixed to the outside and painted minutes were hung inside.