Tuscan, late 18th / early 19th century
Anna Maria Massinelli, Scagliola l’arte della pietra di luna, Rome, 1997, p. 68-69, 190
Alvar Gonzàlez-Palacios, Il tempio del gusto. Le arti decorative in Italia fra classicismi e barocco. La Toscana e l’Italia settentrionale, Milano, 1986 p. 186 fig. 406
Enrico Colle, “Ebanisti e mobilieri toscani dell’Ottocento, L’artigianato del legno a Prato, Prato 1988, pp. 29-30
Text by Enrico Colle
For further bibliographic references and photographic comparisons please contact the department.
The offered fireplace is decorated with multicoloured motifs arranged within a dark background. This type of decoration can be found on several scagliola produced in Tuscany towards the end of the 18th century. Such motifs were used to contour still-lives, vases with flowers, “antique” scenes and landscapes whose picturesque taste would have called upon the Leghorn workshop of the Della Valle and that of Carlo Paoletti.
From the research conducted, it would seem that the use of inserted scagliola decoration on a marble surface was much appreciated in Tuscany. Such examples can be found in Florence in the Palazzo Pandolfini ( Fig. 1) where, at the end of the 18th century, Lamberto Gori reproduced the central panel of the antique relief depicting “La danza delle Ore” already produced a first time in 1772 for the Grand Duke Pietro Leopoldo. Another Florentine follower of Gori was Carlo Punto who demonstrated the ability to depict subjects – in part derived from contemporary pieces of pietre dure or copies of ancient vases – against a white Carrara marble.
There is very little information about the production of scagliola during late 18th to early 19th century throughout Italy. In both the kingdom of the Two Sicilies and Rome, two centres of art whose achievements in the use of decorations mainly derived from antiquity, similar decorations such as the one placed at the front of our fireplace have been produced. In Florence too ( for example in the Gori workshop and in the Galleria dei Lavori) they were using prints of classical sculpture and vase painting and this type of decoration was initiated by Della Valle family of Roman origin.
In fact Leon Dufourny in his diary wrote that during his visit to Palermo he came into contact with Pietro La Valle [Della Valle], marble cutter in Porta Maqueda, son of Filippo La Valle roman sculptor” versatile and able craftsman in the treatment of “la scagliola imitando qualcosi tipo de marmo,” maker of gilt bronzes and capable “di lavorare stucchi e marmi.” On the 15th of April 1791 Dufourny went into the chapel of Sante Nicola dei Crociferi which at the time was in the course of being built, and thus had the opportunity to see the work of Pietro Della Valle and his sons “romani che per lengo tempo hanno lavorato alla manifattura di scagliola che si trova al campo Vaccino.”
Pietro Della Valle, as the sources confirm, was the student of Lamberto Christiano Gori in Florence around 1780. He is known to have earned the merit of initiating the first scagliola manufacture in Sicily ( i.e.a vase in marble and stucco in the Palazzo of Palermo) and later in Leghorn. Filippo Della Valle, one of the sons of Pietro was also established in this city. He was already active with his father in the first years of the 1790s and by 1805 took the direction of the primordially Florentine workshop. Filippo benefited from the patronage of Maria Luisa di Borbone, the queen of Etruria , who commissioned several decorative bronzes and vases decorated “all’antica.”
The inventory of the Palazzo Pitti of 1815, states “due vasi a Campana di scagliola verniciati di nero i figuria rossi in diverse attitudini, con due piccole maniglie a ciascuno dalle parti,” together with two other copies named “all’etrusca,” the first depicting “a figurine e animali, con suoi manici simili alti ciascuno s.3,” the second, a little larger and adorned with “figurine rosse” erected on “fondo nero” in imitation of antique buccheri. These were created after the plans of the designer Angiolo Volpini who had supplied him “otto lucidi levati dall’ opera de vasi etruschi” and “tre disegni in contorni tradotti dal grande in piccolo.
A few years before, the sons of Filippo would also have been introduced to the profession. Pietro and Giuseppe Della Valle, the eldest of whom demonstrated a particular interest in painting, worked for a certain period in conjunction with the painter Giuseppe Terreni. The skills he developed there noticeably ameliorated the artistic level of production, which would determine the success of the workshop during the Italian Restoration.
In light of this exposition it is possible to place the origin of our fireplace in one of the two aforementioned workshops. As we have seen, they both turned out specialising in the work of marble and scagliola, materials which characterised the grottesca style typical of Tuscany between the 18th and 19th century.
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