William Vile, ‘Jewel cabinet’, 1762, Royal Collection Trust

This sumptuous object, often seen as William Vile's masterpiece, was the single most costly piece of furniture Vile made for either the King or Queen. Placed in the Queen's private apartments in the south-east angle of St James's Palace, the jewel cabinet was part of the expensive refurnishing of St James's undertaken by Vile (with his partner John Cobb) following the King's marriage in 1761. Two years later, by which time the focus of royal interest had shifted to Buckingham House, the cabinet had been moved to the Queen's new bedchamber there and Vile then supplied a marbled leather cover for it at a cost of 9s 6d. Vile's bill for the cabinet describes it as 'very handsome . . . made of many different kinds of fine Woods', and alludes to the most distinctive feature as follows: 'all the Front, Ends and Top inlaid with Ivory in Compartments and neatly Engraved'. The use of engraved ivory decoration, which includes Queen Charlotte's coat of arms on the hinged top and trophies emblematic of Fame or Victory and Plenty on the doors, is virtually without parallel in English furniture at this (or any) date and suggests some familiarity with continental practice - Italian or German - within Vile's workshop.

Image rights: © Royal Collection Trust / HM Queen Elizabeth II

Made for Queen Charlotte (£138 10s.; PRO LC9/308, no.8 qtr to Christmas 1762); her daughter, Princess Mary, Duchess of Gloucester (d.1857); (?) George 2nd Duke of Cambridge, (?) by whom given to his sister, Princess Mary Adelaide, Duchess of Teck (d.1897); by descent to her grandson, George, 2nd Marquess of Cambridge, from whom bought by his aunt, Queen Mary, 1951 (£5,000).

About William Vile

English, c. 1700 - August 22, 1767, Somerset, United Kingdom, based in London, United Kingdom