An Italian engraved mother-of–pearl, ebony and ivory inlaid walnut and marquetry `grottesche', panel inlaid with the motto of Emanuele Filiberto, Duke of Savoy (1528-1580), probably Piedmontese mid 16th century
- walnut, mother-of-pearl, ebony and ivory
Most probably Emanuele Filiberto, Duke of Savoy (1528-1580), son of Carlo II, Duke of Savoy
European Private Collection
Frans Defour, Belgische Meublekunst in Europa, Drukkerij, p. 67.
Peter Fuhring, Design in Art, Drawings for Architecture and Ornament, The Lodewijk Houthakker Collection, Vol. I, London,1989, pp.163 figs.124,125, 127 and p.165, fig.130.
The presence of the motto on this panel, Spoliatis Arma Supersunt (For those who have been dispossessed, retaliation is the only response) adopted by Emanuele Filiberto, would seem to suggest that it was almost certainly commissioned by the Duke or that it was at the very least once part in his collection.
Emanuele Filiberto (8th July 1528–30th August 1580):
The motto on this panel, Spoliatis Arma Supersunt was adopted by him, when he finally convinced his father Carlo II, il Buono, to permit him to fight alongside his uncle Charles V, against France. Despite the fact that Carlo II supported François I of France in Pavia, the latter did not show any sign of recognition for this assistance and on the contrary, he dispossessed Carlo II of almost all his land. Emanuele Filiberto's mother was Beatrice d' Aviz, sister in law of Charles V. The name Emanuele was given to him in honour of his grandfather, the King of Portugal and since then it became a dynastic name of the House of Savoy. Furthermore, the motto was also incised on the sword of Emanule Filiberto depicted on the bronze equestrian monument ( 1838) by Carlo Marocchetti in Piazza San Carlo, Turin.
Emanuele Filiberto, known as "Testa di ferro", due to his military career, was Duke of Savoy from 1553 to 1580. He became duke upon the death of his father, although the vast majority of his hereditary lands had been occupied and administered by the French since 1536. However, he continued to serve the Habsburgs in the faint hope of recovering his lands, and served his maternal first cousin King Philip II as Governor of the Netherlands from 1555–1559.
In this capacity he personally led the Spanish invasion of northern France and won a brilliant victory at Saint-Quentin in August 1557. He was an impercunious suitor to the future Queen Elizabeth I. The Treaty of Cateau Cambrésis between France and Spain (1559), restored the duchy to Emmanuel Philibert and he married Margaret of France (1523–1574), daughter of King Francis I of France and sister to King Henry II. Their only child was Charles Emmanuel I Duke of Savoy.
Following his uncle's, Henry I of Portugal, death (31st January 1580), Emmanuel Philibert fought to impose his rights as a claimant to the Portuguese throne. The latter spent his rule regaining the territories that had been lost in the costly wars with France. A skilled political strategist, he took advantage of various squabbles in Europe to slowly regain territory from both the French and the Spanish, including the city of Turin. He also moved the capital of the duchy from Chambéry to Turin and replaced Latin as the duchy's official language with Italian.
This extremely beautiful and highly unusual table top represents the Italian interpretation of the `grottesche' (grotesque) style in the 16th century. The style was derived from Roman antique decoration which was rediscovered during the Renaissance in Nero's Golden House in Rome. The ruins were known as `grotte' from whence the term `grotesques' derived. This grottesche style and type of inlay with ivory and mother-of pearl on a walnut ground was also used to decorate arms and armour at this period.
Raphael was one of the earliest proponents of such decorative schemes utilising them as part of the decoration in Cardinal Bibbiena's stufetta in the Vatican and he used them throughout the Vatican logge around 1519. The Ancient Roman grotesques comprised medallions and tablets filled with painted scenes or cameos and compartments in an interlocking design. By the middle years of the 16th century, the grotesques had spread from Rome and Italy to the rest of Europe.
One of the earliest examples of decoration with grotesques and a bower, is the ceiling in the Sala delle stagioni nella torre sud, Vinovo, in Piedmont, reproduced here in fig. 1.
It is also worthwhile considering various designs for wall and ceiling decorations incorporating grotesques by Perino del Vaga (1501-1547), who was responsible for the decoration of the new appartment of Pope Paul III, in the Castel Sant'Angelo, in Rome, illustrated by Fuhring, op. cit., p.163, fig.127. It has a female grotesque at the top suspending drapery above a plinth with birds and there are also geometric reserves, terms and masks, as on the present table top. Also see the same author op. cit., p.165, fig.130, circle of Perino del Vaga for a design for the grotesque decoration of a lunette, circa 1540-50, reproduced here in fig. 2. It has swans, winged cherubs and a female term surmounted by an owl and leaping goats and scrolling foliage as on this table top.
The taste for grotesque decoration also permeated Northern Europe and influenced designers and ornamentalists. This can be seen in an engraving for grotesques with a similar leafy bower, by Cornelis Floris (1514-1575), illustrated by Defour, op. cit., p. 67, reproduced in fig. 3.