Medicine Chest Belonging to Pope Paul V

Augsburg, ca. 1600, ebony, partial pine veneer; gilded silver and iron fittings; glass bottles, some with gilded silver necks and lids; red silk and velvet lining, edge trimmings with gold thread; adhesive paper labelling; Inv. no. F 256; purchased in 1935 from the Albert Figdor Collection, Vienna

This medicine chest purportedly belonged to Cardinal Camillo Borghese (1552–1621), who became Pope Paul V in 1605. The inscriptions on the inside of the case are written in Alemannic German, indicating the origin of the doctor or apothecary who was charged with filling the chest. Medicine chests of this kind first came into use around the year 1600. They were primarily fabricated in Augsburg. The two goldsmith marks on one of the silver clasps also suggest this site of origin, as well as the Augsburg pine cone, and the master’s mark of Hans Georg I Brenner (ca. 1564–1632).    

Unfortunately, only a few of the chest’s glass bottles have been preserved, though the nature and volume of the missing contents is revealed by the labels. The chest had previously suffered various forms of damage, both to the wooden body and to the lining. The surfaces of the case and the lining were heavily stained and there was significant damage to the hinges and mechanisms. The ebony veneer and carved mouldings had become partially detached from the wooden body, with some sections missing altogether. A large portion of the mouldings had been lost. The textile lining had come loose in many areas, and was badly punctured on the lid. Both the fire-gilded iron and silver fittings and the silver thread of the trimming were heavily corroded. The restoration work focused primarily on conservational measures. In order to achieve a finished, overall impression, the missing mouldings and broken sections on the wooden body were replaced and cracks filled in.

Funding: The restoration work was supported by the Julius-Lessing-Gesellschaft, Verein der Freunde des Kunstgewerbemuseums Berlin e.V.

Conservator-restorers involved: Ulrike Herrklotsch, Berlin (textiles); Franziska Kierzek, Kunstgewerbemuseum (glass); Klaus-Dieter Pelz, Kunstgewerbemuseum (wood)