Northern European tourists and collectors in the 1600s and 1700s eagerly acquired pietre dure (hardstone) plaques and mosaic scenes produced by Roman craftsmen on trips to Italy. When the travelers returned home, they had these souvenirs mounted onto boxes and furniture.
The hardstone plaques on this pair of cabinets all date from the late 1600s; they were probably made by Italian craftsmen working in Paris at the Gobelins Manufactory. Because of their value and continued popularity with collectors, these plaques were mounted in cabinets specially designed to hold them, nearly one hundred years after their creation.
The catalogues of two sales held during the French Revolution describe this cabinet. William Beckford, a wealthy English connoisseur of hardstones, probably purchased it in the late 1700s. He may have ordered another cabinet made to match it, with identical gilt bronze mounts and dimensions.