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Chest over Drawers

Artist/maker unknown, American, Pennsylvania German

The flowering of Germanic arts to the north and west of Philadelphia is nowhere better demonstrated than in chests like this one made for Margretha Bladt in Bern Township, Berks County. Chests like this one were given to young men and women who were coming of age—perhaps turning twenty or twenty-one years old. Parents filled them with useful goods—blankets, socks, and embroidered bedding and towels—and would often glue to the inside of the lid painted documents called fraktur that recorded life events like one’s birth and baptism.

The painted decoration—remarkably well preserved here—is neatly arranged in tablets across the front, lid, and ends. The iconography centers on a large tulip flanked by rearing unicorns, which symbolize purity and power and were a common symbol in European coats of arms. Close study reveals the overall quirkiness of the decoration—zigzag borders, men on horseback, and crowned men growing out of tulip vines.


Object Details
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