mid 17th century
with a balustraded gallery surmounted by six flower-filled baluster vases above three frieze drawers above a central cupboard door centred by a scrolled boss and a profile cameo flanked on either side by a pair of Spanish portor and jasper columns with gilt-bronze Corinthian capitals opening to reveal a removable section containing three drawers above a further three drawers, flanked on either side by three drawers inlaid with geometric motifs, within gilt-bronze foliate border, the plain sides inlaid with pewter stringing above a breakfront base with three further drawers, the apron carved with an alternating ebonised and parcel-gilt band of acanthus and stylised egg and dart, the later stand with a frieze inlaid with pewter stringing with a patera mounted at each corner on six square tapering legs, similarly inlaid with pewter on gadrooned tapering feet, the drawers panelled with a quarter-veneered ground inlaid with a geometric motif in jasper within a Sicilian jasper border, six of the drawers with later oak trays; the whole veneered in lapis lazuli, various jaspers including Sicilian jaspers, cornelian, breccia, agate and calcedonio; the cabochons and cameo probably applied later; some replacements to bronzes
Gérard Gallet (1934 – 1999), interior decorator and designer.
Collection of Princess Ruspoli di Poggio Suasa.
Alvar González-Palacios, Il Tempio del Gusto, Roma e il Regno delle Due Sicilie, Vol. II, Milan 1984, page 94, plate 185.
Enrico Colle, Il Mobile Barocco in Italia, Arredi e Decorazioni d'interni dal 1600 al 1738, Milan, 2000.
Anna Maria Giusti, Pietre Dure, London, 1992, page 28, fig. 12.
Anna Maria Giusti, Splendori di Pietre Dure, L'Arte di Corte nella Firenze dei Granduchi, Florence, 1988, page 49, plate 5.
Musei e Gallerie di Milano Museo Poldi Pezzoli, Ceramiche-Vetri Mobili e Arredi, Milan, 1983, p. 359, plate 28-for a related cabinet.
This very fine and impressive architectural cabinet, published here for the first time, forms part of a group of Roman 17th century pietra dura inlaid cabinets now in various Private and renowned Public collections. The beauty of these pieces lies in the contrast of the colours and brilliance of the various precious hardstones and the sumptuous gilt-bronze ornamentation.
Archaeological discoveries in the 16th century fired an enthusiasm for all things Antique. Rome became a magnet for discerning collectors and antique marbles began to be employed on Roman works of art. The desire to emulate the art of Ancient Rome, together with the Mannerist cult of precious materials (of which Rome had an abundant supply) combined towards the middle of the 16th century to give rise to the Roman inlaid marble works known as commessi (from the Latin committere, to join together).
There were large numbers of skilled craftsmen in 17th century Rome, many of whom were Lombard in origin, although the attribution to specific makers for these cabinets (also called studioli) used to store precious collectors' items, still remains unresolved.
The Roman taste in pietre dure inlaid works differed from that which was predominant in Florence in that it was dominated by abstract geometrical compositions in transparent stones such as jasper, rather than naturalistic or figurative motifs such as flowers and birds with the intrinsic decoration being in the natural decorative effect of the stone markings itself.
As Alvar González-Palacios op. cit., states, the names of possible cabinet makers such as Giacomo Herman who was regarded as the best ebanista in Rome at that time executing pieces for the Pope and the Emperor. Other names recorded by Alvar González-Palacios are the Germans, Giovanni Sigrist, Giovanni Falgher (Falker), and the Italians Niccolo Cavallino and Remigio Chilazzi.
The present cabinet, in terms of its grandeur, can be included in the group of the most important 17th century cabinets with rich inlays of lapis lazuli, agates and jaspers which include:
1. The Hamilton Palace Cabinet, Christie's, 17th June 1882, lot 996 which is of similar monumental form and composition with the addition of a superstructure on the cresting but the same balustraded gallery with urns and Corinthian columns and similar reclining figures on the pediment of the central cupboard door, reproduced here in fig.1.
2. A cabinet in the Sala dei Paesaggi, Galleria, Palazzo Colonna, Rome, dating from the mid 17th century on a similarly large scale but much more ornate and on an elaborate blackamoor base, by Frank I and Dominikus Stainhart (1670-1680) reproduced by Colle, op. cit, p. 95, no. 18.
3. A cabinet formerly in the Demidoff collection, Palace of San Donato, Florence, which was sold at Sotheby's, Monaco, 20th June 1992, lot 810, reproduced here in fig. 2., it shows the same parcel-gilt wooden base.
4. The William Beckford cabinet sold Sotheby's, New York, 7th December 1991, lot 87, subsequently sold in these Rooms, 10th June 1998, lot 20. This cabinet also had similar reserves to those upon the present piece.
5. The cabinet, dating from the mid 17th century, although the most elaborate ever produced and on a much larger scale than the offered piece, known as the `Pope's Cabinet' in the Cabinet Room at Stourhead, Wiltshire. According to tradition the cabinet once belonged to Pope Sixtus V.
Other examples of Roman 16th/17th century cabinets, although of less elaborate design are in the following major collections:
-A cabinet from a private collection in Rome, reproduced in Alvar Gonzáles-Palacios, op. cit., page 94.
-A cabinet at Syon House, Middlesex.
-A pair of cabinets in the Long Gallery at Castle Howard, Yorkshire.
- A cabinet in the Kunsthistorisches Museum, Vienna, illustrated in A.M. Giusti, op. cit.p. 28, fig. 12.
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