Urgent conservation work is about to begin at a National Trust mansion on one of Europe's most important pieces of furniture.
The cabinet is clad in multi-coloured pieces of polished marble
Photo: National Trust/Bill Batten
The 13ft high Pope's Cabinet, worth between £8m and £12m, is housed at Stourhead House in Wiltshire.
It is thought the piece dates from the late 16th century and was created for the family of Pope Sixtus V.
It is feared that without urgent repairs, the ebony and gilt bronze cabinet could eventually collapse.
The spectacular-looking cabinet is clad in multi-coloured pieces of polished marble, alabaster and semi-precious stones.
The facade resembles a Roman baroque church with doors and windows, which are actually cupboards and drawers, and within which are numerous secret compartments.
With cracks appearing, the National Trust has called in top conservator, Colin Piper, who will carry out complex conservation work to the cabinet in situ at Stourhead House.
As well as carrying out the conservation work, he is hoping to discover more about the origins and history of the cabinet.
Although it is known it was brought to England from Rome in the mid-18th century, it is not clear exactly where and when it was originally made.