The chest bears the arms of Conrad-Albert Charles, Duke d'Ursel (1665-1738), created Duke d'Ursel by Emperor Charles VI on 19 August 1716 and Duke of Hoboken in on 24 April 1717 (J.B. Rietstap, Armorial General, vol. II, p. 963 and Ruvigny, Titled Nobility of Europe, p. 1483). In 1713 he married Princess Eleonore of Salm (b. 1678), daughter of a Bavarian family with connections to most European courts. He finished his long military career as Govenor of Namur, Belgium. The 16th-century family seat, D’Ursel Castle, Antwerp, underwent major remodelling under Conrad-Albert, between 1713-1714 led by the French architect Jean Beuacire. The castle remained the family’s summer residence until 1973 when it was sold by Henri, 8th Duke d’Ursel (1900-1974). Since 1994 it has been in the care of the province of Antwerp. Although a large section of the original collection has been loaned to the province of Antwerp for display in the rooms, some pieces must have left the collection in the 1960s.
This Chinese Export lacquer coffer is a legacy of the early 18th-century trading activities of the Dutch East India company. As a nobleman of significant rank, it is probable that the Duke d’Ursel received this coffer on or around the time of his elevation to the dukedom, and that the arms were painted on shortly after to celebrate his new position.
BENACRE HALL, SUFFOLK
Benacre Hall, Suffolk, seat of the Gooch family, is a Palladian house designed by Matthew Brettingham (who had worked for Lord Leicester at Holkam, Norfolk) in 1763 for Sir Thomas Gooch, 3rd Bt. (1721-1781). Large parts of Benacre were seriously damaged by a terrible fire in 1926 but thankfully the ground floor was largely spared and the contents were saved by the heroic efforts of estate workers and local villages who carried furniture, works of art and paintings out onto the front lawn. However, the 11th Baronet (1903-1978) was forced to undertake the enormous and expensive task of consolidating the old structure and re-building were necessary. His son, Thomas Gooch, 12th Bt., had developed a keen eye for fine art and antiques from his twenties onwards, which continued upon his succession in 1978, when he began returning the restored interiors to a more traditional Georgian decorative scheme. Many of his purchases, including this chest, came from high-end and well-respected dealers such as Mallett, and were used to ‘embellish the principal rooms at Benacre’ (J.M. Robinson, ‘Benacre Hall, Suffolk’, Country Life, 1 June 2000, p. 129.). Indeed this chest was one such ‘new’ addition and stood at the foot of the main staircase. The house and contents were sold upon the 12th Baronet’s death and the house divided into apartments.
Coffers such as these were also imported to England by the East India Company. Sir William FitzHerbert, neighbour and close friend of the Duke of Devonshire, had significant contacts and business relations with the East India Company through their holdings in Barbados and Jamaica, and owned a closely-related coffer on a lacquer stand which was sold from the FitzHerbert family collection at Tissington Hall, Derbyshire, Christie's, London, 22 January 2009, lot 513. A related pair of coffers was ordered from China by Sir Francis Wyndham, Bt. of Trent, Somerset, proudly bearing the Wyndham coat-of-arms. Wyndham, M.P. for Cambridge from 1727 to 1741, was elevated as Lord Montfort, Baron of Horseheath and the coffers ultimately came to Adare Manor, Co. Limerick, Ireland through the marriage in 1810 of Caroline Wyndham to Windham Quin, later 2nd Earl of Dunraven. A further related coffer-on-stand in the collection of the Earls of Verulam, Gorhambury, Hertfordshire is illustrated in M. Jourdain and R.S. Jenyns, Chinese Export Art in the Eighteenth Century, Middlesex, 1985, p. 86, fig. 26.