Lot 7
  • 7

An Italian gilt-bronze and gilt-brass-mounted pietre dure, ebony and palisander casket, Galleria dei Lavori, Florence last quarter 17th century

60,000 - 100,000 GBP
121,250 GBP
bidding is closed


  • ebony, pietre dura, gilt-bronze
the five pietre dure panels each featuring branches with flowers and leaves, tied with blue ribbons of lapis lazuli and gilt-brass border, the lid with gilt-bronze mounts at the corners with a double scroll motif and acanthus leaves, the four corners of the body of the casket with female heads above suspended festoons of foliage and fruit in hardstones, carved in the round, on scrolled gilt-bronze feet


Comparative Literature:
A. González-Palacios, Il Tempio del Gusto, Milan, 1986, pp 56, 57.

For a general approach to the argument from an English point of view and collecting, aswell as a list of some of the caskets in England, see the article by Simon Jervis, Pietre Dure caskets in England, Furniture History, XLIII (2007), pp. 245-265.  


Catalogue Note

Galleria dei Lavori, Florence

The Galleria dei Lavori was established in Florence at the end of the sixteenth century under the Grand Duke Ferdinand I.  Its owes its name to the series of rooms in which it was based on the first floor of the same building as the Galleria degli Uffizi and where its work continued until the early nineteenth century when operations were transferred to a large building near the Accademia di Belle Arti.  It is still there today although it is now known as the Opificio delle Pietre Dure and conservation makes up the bulk of its work.

The Galleria dei Lavori consisted of a number of studios or workshops for the carpenters, cabinet makers, woodcarvers, goldsmiths, draughtsmen, founders, metalworkers, gilders of various kinds and the hardstone carvers (or commettitori) who carried out the intricate work of 'fitting together' the pietre dure and marble (pietre tenere) compositions, as well as many other craftsmen who came from all over Europe.  At the time these two objects were made the workshops were under the artistic direction of the Florentine sculptor Giovanni Battista Foggini (1652-1725) who was appointed in about 1695, although he had for several years been court sculptor and architect to the Medici. The main objects produced in the Galleria dei Lavori were table tops with their bases which were made mostly of ebony, palisander and gilt-bronze.  There were also caskets, reliquaries and devotional objects of various kinds, cabinets and different items of furniture and, more rarely, trays and frames.  The most important pieces were made as gifts for members of the grand-ducal family or as furnishing commissions for their residences.  In some cases they were sent as diplomatic gifts to foreign princes or prominent courtiers; only rarely were objects sold to the public and when they were they would have been, with very rare exceptions, small items.

Text by Alvar González-Palacios:
The panels on this piece, which are entirely formed of pietre dure are of high quality and belong to a group, the design for which is datable to the early years of Giovanni Battista Foggini's activity at the Galleria dei Lavori.  They are in fact very similar, almost interchangeably so, to the panels on a casket sold in the Château de Groussay sale in 1999 which also featured flowers tied with lapis lazuli ribbons (see fig.1).  If we look at the profile of the Groussay casket, which does not have any bronze mounts and rests on brass bun feet, we can see that the shape and dimensions are very similar to this one.

As time went on the shape of the caskets made in the Galleria dei Lavori in Florence seems to have become more complex.  In some instances the lid no longer has the raised concave moulding seen here or in the example from Groussay, instead it has a flatter profile, while the overall shape changes with the gilt-bronze ornaments applied to the blunted corners of the casket so that it sometimes appears octagonal, as in the example from the Beauvau Craon collection (today in the Minneapolis Institute of Arts, see fig. 2) or that belonging to the Corsini family in Florence (see fig. 3).

The casket shown here represents an intermediate stage between the more restrained Groussay example (which has no gilt-bronze ornament) and the more elaborate examples in Minneapolis and Florence which have much more gilt-bronze ornament and more intricate floral design on the pietre dure panels.

Giovanni Battista Foggini is responsible for the design of the bronze ornament on the casket.  Several drawings by him for similar decorative solutions have survived showing both female heads and festoons of leaves and fruit comparable to those shown here. They appear to have been done specifically for this casket and are finished to a very high quality.