Spanish Vargueño / Bargueño bureau

The text below is a description of the bureau by Joanna Ślaga from the JU Museum.
The tactile graphics have been made by Lech Kolasiński, a painting artist. Thanks to the graphic adaptations blind and partially sighted persons are able to become familiar with the exhibit through touch.

Vargueño bureau

Spain, Castile; early 17th century
Painted and inlaid wood
Size: height 73 cm; width 112 cm
Purchase of the JU Collegium Maius Museum

    Cabinets of the Vargueño type are Renaissance bureaux very characteristic of the Iberian Peninsula, with their heyday in the sixteenth century. Thanks to their Oriental nature, high decorative value and utility such furniture was hugely popular up until the second half of the 1800s.
   Vargueño bureaux were primarily used for storing correspondence and precious little items. That was possible due to the many diminutive drawers as well as the space hidden behind the front wall. The front was a movable board, which, when lowered, could be used as a writing table. Such pieces of furniture were supported on high rounded wooden structures, table bases or equally decorative trunks. Vargueño were typically made of walnut and adorned with bone and metal. They were usually MUDEJAR ornaments, a combination of European and Arab motifs. Such bureaux were both glamorous and quite practical pieces of furniture. They tended to be treated as furniture for travellers.

Description of the bureau from the collection of the JU Museum

The bureau has a cuboid shape and is a wooden rectangular chest with the front wall that can be opened. The chest front is mounted on hinges thanks to which the doors or the movable top can be lowered or put up. The interior side of the front is smooth, making the surface usable as a writing top.
    The exterior side of the front (i.e. the chest front) is adorned with panels, boards of wood or plywood, which - when mounted on a piece of furniture - make a part of its structure or become a decorative element. In the case of the bureau discussed here, the panels are arranged symmetrically and have various geometrical shapes (rhomboids and hexagons). The panels are slightly convex and filled with metal open-work featuring a geometrical and plant ornament as well as images of lions. The background is red silky velvet.
The central position is taken by a decorative hexagon with a key-hole. Adjacent are metal elements resembling pendants of the shape of small columns which keep the chest frame together with a hatch, making a highly ornamental lock.
    The front and side walls as well as the corners are additionally adorned with metal fixtures. The right and left walls of the chest feature wrought-iron metal handles, movable handgrips, mounted on panels of the shape and look made uniform with the frontal ornaments.
Inside the chest, there are as many as 19 little drawers and niches with doors of various sizes. In the case of such bureaux, extra spaces were sometimes added, cubbyholes between the drawers and the back wall of the bureau. The diminutive drawers and doors of the cubbyholes are sculpted, bone-inlaid and gilded. Virtually all the drawers have a handle shaped like a little shell. The decorations are very rich and ornamental, with Oriental touch.
    The bureau is placed on a wooden puente base, a type of a frame, not connected with the piece of furniture itself at all. The bureau rests on that base whose structure also makes it possible to freely lower the bureau front.

Photography by Grzegorz Zygier, JU Museum

Photography by Grzegorz Zygier, JU Museum

Tactile adaptation of the bureau front

Tactile adaptation of the bureau front

Tactile adaptation of the bureau front and side together with the base

Tactile adaptation of the bureau front and side together with the base

Tactile adaptation of the bureau interiorTactile adaptation of the bureau interior

Tactile adaptation of the lock settingTactile adaptation of the lock setting