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The Rosario's Vargueño

Oh, the vargueño! If it had been a chess piece and not a portable writing desk within The Rosario’s story, it would have risen from being an unassuming pawn to a powerful Queen, full of surprises and capable of changing history!

Watercolour painting of a Spanish timber portable, travelling writing desk with drop-down front, decorated drawers on a stand
Watercolour painting of a Spanish timber portable, travelling writing desk (a vargueno)

Sinclair’s vargueño originated from Spain. The travelling writing desk exhibits Mudéjar ornament and a combination of European and Arab motifs, beautifully and skillfully constructed by the famous cabinet maker to King Philip II, Hernando Ramos. The intricate geometric, decorated, and distinctively Spanish desk and matching stand was given as a gift by Philip II to Commander Don Pedro de Valdés of Gijón, who led the Andalucian Squadron during the Spanish Armada invasion of England in 1588.

The following is Gareth Fitzwilliam's description of the vargueño, at Mandeville’s auction house:

“It has a fall-front, iron-mounted and bone-inlaid drop-down lid. The gorgeous interior has ten gilt wood compartment drawers of the same size and five side-hinged doors. There are elaborately carved, iron claw-shell drawer pulls. Rarely do we see a vargueño with the original walnut stand. The whole piece is exquisitely built from the hardest example of walnut.”


Vargueños are thought to have been first designed in Bargas (also known as Bargueño writing desks) during the early 15th century in the Toledo region, southwest of Madrid. They were popular throughout the 16th-, 17th- and 18th centuries.

The vargueño in The Rosario is unusual and unique for the late 16th century, since it has a much later, delicate stand design; this type became fashionable much further on into the century. The vargueño's craftsman - Agustín Solucio - was a very skilled cabinet maker, ahead of his time.

Today, if Mandeville’s vargueño existed that had been on the Spanish Armada galleon, Nuestra Señora del Rosario, and within the cabin of Don Pedro de Valdés... and contained hidden Tudor documents, it would be… well… an eye-watering amount to buy – a reaction that undoubtedly beset Xavier Nathanial Sinclair when he heard how much Victor had paid to secure his vargueño!


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