The Plus Oultra writing cabinet of Charles V: Expression of the sacred imperialism of the Austrias

Ángeles Jordano


The “Plus Oultra” writing cabinet of Charles V on display at the Victoria and Albert Museum of London is an intarsia piece made by Italian craftsmen ca. 1532. This article examines the iconographic programme of the cabinet as an expression of the universal Christian empire of Charles V and the sacred imperialism of the Spanish Austrias. This programme is revealed in three scenes depicting the story of Gideon that decorate the outside of the cabinet fall front: the revelation of the angel to Gideon and the woollen fleece in allusion to the Order of the Golden Fleece of which Charles V was the grand master, the selection of the three hundred men, and the battle against the Midianites. These scenes are complemented by medallion heads of Roman emperors to portray Charles V as legitimate successor to the Ancient Roman Empire. The inside of the fall front is emblazoned with the emblems of Charles V: the Pillars of Hercules, the ‘Plus Ultra’ motto, Saint Andrew’s crosses and laurel motifs, while the allegorical figures of Temperance and Justice adorning the sides of the cabinet symbolise the virtues of a good governor. The fall front opens to reveal a set of drawers and doors decorated with one of the earliest examples of the vanitas: objects alluding to the fleeting nature of life and the pursuit of wisdom. From a stylistic standpoint, the scenes and decorative motifs of the cabinet suggest that it may have been made in the workshop of the Dominican friar Damiano da Bergamo which Charles V visited in 1529.

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How to cite: Jordano, 2012. The Plus Oultra writing cabinet of Charles V: Expression of the sacred imperialism of the Austrias. Journal of Conservation and Museum Studies 9:14-26, DOI:

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Published on 19 February 2012.

ISSN: 1364-0429 | Published by Ubiquity Press | Creative Commons License This work is licensed under a Creative Commons License.