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Work of Art: Wardrobe

Subject Area(s): Social Studies, Math, and Art

Lesson Objectives:

Students will:

  • Examine the form and function of furniture in New Spain
  • Learn about the origins of marquetry
  • Discover the influences of other countries on marquetry in Puebla, Mexico


Look at the work of art

Link to the image in the exhibition

Examine the Form and Function of Furniture

Wardrobes and chests of drawers provided opportunity to store and organize clothing. First manufactured in France during the eighteenth century, these large pieces of furniture kept goods in order and safe. With the exception of gun cabinets, pieces of furniture specifically for storing collections and goods did not exist. Wardrobes became very popular by the eighteenth century and were manufactured in a variety of styles; some were more restrained and geometric and others were monumental in proportion and richly decorated.

  • What are the features of this particular wardrobe?
  • What words would you use to describe the style of this particular wardrobe?

Learn about Marquetry

The surface of this wardrobe is decorated using a technique called marquetry. Using inlays (setting an image into a depressed ground) or veneers (thin slices of expensive material applied to the surface of a lesser material) of wood, images are formed to create an overall pictorial design. In this wardrobe, the front is decorated with geometric shapes in dark and light shades of wood.

Look carefully at the design of this item.

  • What shapes do you first notice?
  • In what ways are the shapes set apart from one another?
  • How has the artist differentiated central panels from borders? The top from the bottom?
  • Note the lock on the exterior of this wardrobe. Looking at the exterior, what do you think the interior looks like? Remember: the contents of this wardrobe would have been expensive.

Curriculum Connections:

Social Studies:

This wardrobe was made in the town of Puebla, about 60 miles from Mexico City. Puebla was the principle city of colonial Mexico. Because it was established by the Spanish in 1531, Puebla is the most European-looking colonial city and was thoroughly planned by the Spaniards.

Research the history of marquetry in Spain and the history behind its eventual arrival in Mexico. Why is the particular art form so important to the Spanish? How does a wardrobe like this one reflect the importance of woodworking in colonial Mexico? Given its function and the detail in appearance, why would producing a single craft be advantageous for a village like Puebla?

Discuss with students the concept of creating objects or furniture to preserve items of value.

Ask students to talk about mementos that are valuable to them.

What kinds of objects would they choose? What would they place these items in? Have students create and decorate miniature chests for their keepsakes using plain boxes with lids.

Have students look carefully at the wardrobe and take note of the geometrical designs the artist has chosen to include.

  • Where do you see vertical and horizontal lines?
  • What shapes can you detect on the doors, the sides, and the top?
  • Do different kinds of patterns appear?

Have students draw on paper a design for an original piece of furniture that could be used in their own homes. The design should incorporate a variety of shapes and angles.

  • What elements should there be a focus on?
  • How do the shapes determine size, function, and decoration?
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