European Sculpture & Works of Art

Discoveries: Two Pietre Dure Panels by a Famous Florentine Master

By Mark Stephen

D iscovered from a routine online valuation enquiry from a Belgian client, these panels were considered important enough to be included in Sotheby's July 2018 Treasures sale where they exceeded the top end of the estimate to realise £75,000 including premium. Their importance lies not only in their technical skill and decorative appeal, but also the fact they are signed and dated by Baccio Cappelli, a famous lapidary from the Florentine Grand Ducal workshop under the direction and patronage of the Medici dynasty.

Made of pietre dure (hard stone), they were created by cutting and polishing mineral slices chosen for their colours and striations into the desired pattern and fixed to a slate background. The mineral specimens complement each other in a harmony of colours, and what is particularly striking is the way the striations in the yellow stone represent the rucks in the sleeves of the woman and the cloudy pale blue agate forms soft clouds in the sky. The blue lapis and the red mineral contrast with the softer banded agates.

Copied from the prints of Jacques Callot, specifically the grotesque characters from his Varie Figure Gobbi (1612-1622), a 16th-century travelling troupe of performing dwarfs who performed at the court of Cosimo II, the figures are found in other pietre dure of the period including a table top at Versailles and a pair of table tops from the collection of Edmund de Rothschild (now in the Gilbert Collection in the Victoria & Albert Museum, London, ref. MM213).

They belong to a small group of autograph works by Baccio Cappelli. From a family of lapidiaries, all employed in the Ducal workshops, Cappelli is known for creating the pietra dura found in other notable commissions including the monumental Badminton cabinet, made for Henry Scudamore, 3rd Duke Beaufort, for Badminton House. A pastoral scene by Cappelli is the central panel mounted into the Kimbolton cabinet which is signed and dated 'Baccio Cappelli fecit Anno 1709 Fiorenze'. The cabinet was made by Mayhew & Ince in 1771 after a design by Robert Adam for the Duchess of Manchester at Kimbolton Castle (now in the Victoria and Albert Museum, London, ref. W.43-1949). It is interesting to observe that the central panel of the Kimbolton cabinet is similarly framed within an arch and dates to a comparable period of production to the present panels.

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