Palácio do Correio Velho, Lisbon, May, 1991, lot 205
Vaz Pinto family, Casa do Burgo, Arouca, Portugal
With the dramatic contrast between the dark wood and the silvered mounts, the four rows of drawers, the central bombé section, the serpentine-front with corners carved with foliage and rich rocaille motifs and the heavily-carved low and wide feet, the present papeleira is an outstanding and iconic product of Portuguese craftsmanship of the eighteenth century; a period that saw the golden age of furniture making in Portugal where, by the mid-1700's, a clearly definable national style developed by the integration of English influences of the late seventeenth and early eighteenth centuries into local variants of continental Baroque. The distinctive and much-pronounced carved volutes of the canted front corners are typical of Portuguese rococo commodes and bureaux and most likely originate in the figural ormolu corner mounts, or espagnolettes, of late Louis XIV, Régence and early rococo commodes and bureaux plats from France. The fine, lace-like carving on the drawer fronts and the fall front are also adaptations of continental Baroque and Rococo decorative elements. Such shallow yet fine carving can be found, among others, on many Northern European pieces from the first half of the eighteenth century, particularly on those produced in Germany and the Netherlands. The decoration on the corners and the fall and drawer fronts demonstrates the range of carving possible for the physical and textural qualities of the wood that is characteristic of the most skilled Portuguese craftsmen. These are the features that, once merged on a form that is essentially more English than continental, make this lot quintessentially and distinctively Portuguese. The finely cast mounts of this bureau are most likely the product of the Real Fábrica dos Metais, the Royal Foundry in Lisbon. At a time of strict import regulations on metal, the foundry produced gilt bronze mounts that were used on furnishings of the highest quality. For basically identical mounts also attributed to the Real Fábrica dos Metais on a pair of commodes with more restrained carving in the English manner, see Sotheby's London, December 7, 2005, lot 183. Similar mounts also appear on a drop-leaf table illustrated in Museu Nacional de Arte Antiga, in the collection guide on Portuguese Furniture, Lisbon, 2000, p. 79, fig. 61. Comparably rich Portuguese rococo bureaux are rare and only a few comparable pieces have been offered on the international art market. For a similarly conceived miniature papeleira see Palácio do Correio Velho SA, Lisbon, May 20, 2008, lot 247. Two bureaux (called Brazilian) with much less ornate carving but of very similar overall shape and with identical drawer arrangements are illustrated Alfredo Taullard, El meuble colonial sudamericano, Buenos Aires, 1944, figs. 219 and 220.
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