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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!
Sinclair’s vargueño originated from Spain. It 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.
Gareth Fitzwilliam, of Mandeville’s auction house, described it succinctly:
“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; you will see a tall, narrow one at the top in the middle, and two smaller ones at each bottom corner of the cabinet. There are elaborately carved, iron claw-shell drawer pulls. Rarely, too, do we see a vargueño with the original walnut stand. The whole piece is exquisitely built from the hardest example of walnut.”
The vargueño in "The Rosario" is unusual, and I think quite unique for the late 16th-century, since it has a much later, delicate stand design; this type only became fashionable much further on into the century - this vargueño craftsman was definitely a very skilled cabinet maker, ahead of his time.
Vargueños are thought to have been first designed in Bargas (they are also known as Bargueño writing desks) during the early 15th-century in the Toledo region, south-west of Madrid. They were popular throughout the 16th-, 17th- and 18th-centuries.
Today, if Mandeville’s really existed, an auction price you would have to pay for a high-quality example of a vargueño - that had actually been on the Spanish Armada galleon, Nuestra Señora del Rosario, and within the cabin of Don Pedro de Valdés... and contained hidden Tudor documents - would be… well… an eye-watering amount – a reaction that undoubtedly beset Xavier Nathanial Sinclair, when he heard how much Victor had paid for his vargueño!