News | Published: Fri 9 May 2014

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Behind the secret doors

"Do not touch" a familiar sight on delicate furniture in historic collections. Now drawers and cupboards in the Fitzwillliam that tantalisingly beg to be opened are going to reveal their secrets as white-gloved guides hold a series of three behind the scenes events.

On Wednesday afternoons throughout May, Margaret Clarke senior technician in the Fitzwilliam Museum’s Applied Arts Department and clock expert Brian Jackson of the British Horological Institute will be unlocking and exploring the cases of some of the most curious furniture and clocks in the Museum.

A lot of the items being explored were designed for their secrets to surprise and delight the viewer; such as a Flemish painted cabinet from 1640, with a hidden perspective compartment filled with arched mirrors and a chequered floor, creating the illusion of a tiny room.

But many are also designed with practical purposes in mind. Two of the Museum’s beautiful neo-classical urns in Gallery 3 that look purely ornamental have an unusual domestic function.

To tell the story of these urns, Margaret will be showing design and pattern books from the mid to late 1700s from furniture makers Chipendale, Hepplewhite and Sheraton. These books were early forms of the shopping catalogue; the elite and up-and-coming middle class socialites could browse the most in-vogue designs and select which ones to have made and what special modifications they could afford.

The course will tease out some of the personal histories of these objects, such as renaissance cedar-wood cassone chest once belonging to William Morris.

The Museum also has a noteworthy collection of longcase clocks, with one or more majestic grandfather clocks keeping time and chiming the hours in many of the galleries. Brian Jackson will be introducing some of the most interesting of these, such as a beautiful astrolabe grandfather clock, showing the phases of the moon, the rising and setting of the sun, the months and the tides.

Behind the doors and inside the drawers runs on Wednesdays 14, 21 and 28 May from 14:30 to 15:30. Booking essential. To register your interest please contact 01223 332904 or email education@fitzmuseum.cam.ac.uk. Places will be confirmed on receipt of payment. £25 (£15 concessions and Friends of the Fitzwilliam Museum).


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