Chest over Drawers

Attributed to John Bieber, American, 1768 - 1825. Made for Magdalena Leabelsperger, American, 1772 - 1844.

Made in Lehigh County, Pennsylvania, United States, North and Central America


Tulip poplar, pine, painted decoration; brass, iron

53 x 30 1/2 x 24 inches (134.6 x 77.5 x 61 cm)

Curatorial Department:
American Art

* Gallery 115, American Art, first floor (Johnson Gallery)

Accession Number:

Credit Line:
Purchased with the Thomas Skelton Harrison Fund, the Fiske Kimball Fund, and the Joseph E. Temple Fund, 1982

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During the eighteenth century, huge numbers of immigrants from German-speaking Europe settled in rural counties of Pennsylvania. At a geographic and cultural remove from the English-influenced styles of Philadelphia, these settlers preferred artistic traditions from their homeland, including the decorative painting seen on this chest. One of the most elaborately ornamented examples known, the chest features hearts and stars laid out with a compass, freehand-drawn flowers, and sponged backgrounds. The construction of this chest is unusually skilled; it was probably made by the joiner John Bieber of Salisbury and Oley Townships for the twenty-year-old Magdalena Leabelsperger of Berks County in anticipation of her marriage.

Additional information:
  • PublicationPhiladelphia Museum of Art: Handbook of the Collections

    Wooden storage chests, consisting of an open box with a separate lid or a lidded box-over-drawers, are among the earliest forms of Germanic household furniture found in North America, and could be adapted for additional use as seating or a table. As part of the continuation of this tradition, rural Pennsylvania German craftsmen combined earlier joinery techniques with the ornamental painting styles of central Europe to produce a wide range of decorative and utilitarian chests throughout the late eighteenth and early nineteenth century. These chests were often presented to a bride as part of her dowry, and this example, one of twenty-one in the Museum's rich Pennsylvania German collection, was made in 1792 for the marriage of Magdelena Leabelsperger of Berks County, Pennsylvania. The entire surface of this chest, which is the most ornate of a group of chests attributed to John Bieber, is decorated with traditional Germanic motifs executed in various painting techniques, including faux graining, sponge decoration, and compass-inscribed geometric designs, upon architecturally derived panels reminiscent of European models. Jack L. Lindsey, from Philadelphia Museum of Art: Handbook of the Collections (1995), p. 264.

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