Lot 4
  • 4

An Italian pietre dure mounted pewter inlaid rosewood and ebony cabinet, Roman, mid 17th century, on a George IV gilt-bronze-mounted gonçalo alves stand by Morel and Hughes, circa 1823, mounted with 17th century Florentine pietre dure plaques from the Grand Ducal Workshops

250,000 - 400,000 GBP
Log in to view results
bidding is closed


  • hardstones, pewter, rosewood, ebony, goncalo alves, gilt bronze
  • cabinet: 85.5cm. high., 111cm. wide., 38cm. deep; 2ft. 9¾in., 3ft. 7¾in., 1ft. 3in; stand only 99cm. high approx, 118cm. wide, 41cm. deep; 3ft. 3in., 3ft. 10½in., 1ft. 4¼in.
with a gilt-bronze balustraded gallery, the top with a rosewood veneered panel inlaid with pewter stringing similar to the sides above an arrangement of eight double-panelled drawers each concealing segreti centred by an architectural portico with a broken pediment above concealing a drawer, above a drawer mounted with an arched panel with a baluster vase and stylised scallopshell above flanked by gilt-bronze caryatids in drapery surmounted by composite Ionic and Corinthian capitals enclosing six secret drawers with one narrow drawer and a further drawer below with projecting blocks the front mounted by a c-scroll boss with a bust surmounted by three fleur-de-lis, the frieze applied with seven winged cherub terms, each drawer inset with hardstones inlaid in a geometric design within foliate cast gilt-bronze borders including lapis lazuli, various jaspers including Sicilian jaspers, cornelian, agate and calcedonia, the stand with a gilt-bronze border with a band of stylised foliage and geometric motifs, the frieze inset 17th century Florentine panels depicting parrots and a bird on fruiting branches within gilt-bronze foliate cast and beaded borders, each end with a roundel enclosing a stylised patera, on gadrooned and lobed turned tapering legs with foliate-cast gilt bronze collars, the leaf moulded platform with a mirrored back, the sides and base in pewter inlaid rosewood, the rear left leg of the stand with the inventory number in white 02042; some gilt-bronze mounts probably added by Morel and Hughes


The cabinet was probably acquired by Hugh,1st Duke of Northumberland (1714-1786) and his wife Elizabeth Percy (1716–1776) on their Grand Tour of Italy in 1773;
Thence by descent to Hugh Percy, 3rd Duke of Northumberland (1785–1847), who probably acquired the 17th century Florentine panels in around 1823, which were incorporated in the stand by Morel and Robert Hughes in 1823;
Thence by descent and formerly in the Print Room at Syon House, Middlesex.


After the death of the 1st Duke in 1786, a cabinet recorded in the Inventory of Northumberland House, 1786, p.17, in the Crimson Damask Room, may well be the present piece, reproduced here in fig. 1, (The Archives of the Duke of Northumberland at Alnwick Castle Sy.H.VI.2.d):
A large Ebony Cabinet with Doors and Drawers in front, inlaid with Stones upon a gilt frame 6.6.

The Inventory of the Effects at Northumberland House, London, 1847, p.63 (Alnwick Sy.H.VIII.1.b) lists in the Ante Drawing Room:
A costly Cabinet richly inlaid with lapis lazuli and a variety of scarce Marbles, birds fruit &c and Ormolu figures, fitted with numerous Drawers, on Rosewood Stand, and looking Glass back
This description reflects the fact that the cabinet had a stand made for it by Morel and Hughes in around 1823.

Helen, 8th Duchess of Northumberland, A Catalogue of Contents, Albury Park and 17 Princes Gate in the Collection of the Duke and Duchess of Northumberland, Privately Published,1930, where the cabinet is recorded  as `Cabinet mounted with panels of inlay in hard stones (pietra commessa), Italian 17th century'‘ and illustrated, reproduced here in fig. 2.


In overall good conserved condition. A magnificent example of a Roman 17th century pietre dure cabinet. Cabinet: The choice of stones is most attractive with some very minor losses, for example, there is a minor section of lapis lazuli missing on the second drawer on the left side of the cabinet as visible from the catalogue photograph which can easily be replaced. There is a rectangular section of the hardstone missing on the drawer below the narrow drawer to the left side which is visible from the catalogue photograph and on the same drawer there is evidence of a previous mount on one side of the blocks. There are some very minor sections of ebony moulding missing generally eg. on the central section of the narrow drawer beneath the caryatids which can easily be replaced and some old minor restorations generally to the ebony. The rear right winged cherub is missing, the leaf at the back of three of the cherubs is different to the rest but this is hardly noticeable. A section of the rear drawer lining on the back of the drawer in the central niche is now missing but this is only visible when the drawer is taken out of the cabinet. The left side of the cabinet is a liitle more faded than the rest and would benefit from a light repolish according to taste. Stand: There are some very minor hairline spilts in the veneer and very minor losses the rear right and left sides of the platform base. The left side of the frieze is slightly faded which can easily be repolished. There is a minor vertical split running all the way down the front right leg which would need filling. There are some old very minor restorations to the legs generally. The platform base has some scuffing, scratches and a horizontal construction crack which is opening up but can easily be filled. There is a minor section chipped off the vertical ebonised moulding framing the far right pietre dure panel but this has been touched up and is hardly noticeable.
"In response to your inquiry, we are pleased to provide you with a general report of the condition of the property described above. Since we are not professional conservators or restorers, we urge you to consult with a restorer or conservator of your choice who will be better able to provide a detailed, professional report. Prospective buyers should inspect each lot to satisfy themselves as to condition and must understand that any statement made by Sotheby's is merely a subjective, qualified opinion. Prospective buyers should also refer to any Important Notices regarding this sale, which are printed in the Sale Catalogue.

Catalogue Note

Comparative Literature:
Alvar González-Palacios, Il Tempio del Gusto, Roma e il Regno delle Due Sicilie, Vol. II, Milan 1984, page 94, plate 185.
Enrico Colle, Il Mobile Barocco in Italia, Arredi e Decorazioni d'interni dal 1600 al 1738, Milan, 2000, p. 95, no. 18.
Anna Maria Massinelli, The Gilbert Collection, Hardstones, London, 2000, pp. 38-40, no. 4.

The Provenance:
This magnificent architectural cabinet inlaid with pietre dure in a geometric design is one of a distinct group of Roman 17th century pietre dure inlaid cabinets which were highly prized not only at the time of their commission but also later on by Grand Tourists in the 18th and 19th centuries, other examples of which are in renowned public and private collections. The Northumberland Collection almost certainly deserves the accolade of containing the finest collection of hardstone mounted cabinets in England due to the acquisition of the French Royal cabinets by Domenico Cucci (see post). This together with the Lot 11, were probably acquired for Northumberland House on Trafalgar Square in London by Sir Hugh Smithson, later 1st Duke of Northumberland (1714-1786) and his wife, Elizabeth Percy (1716– 1776), on a Grand Tour of Italy in 1773. The Duke and Duchess had some similarities in their artistic tastes. However, the Duke made his own collection and in 1733, he made a Grand Tour of Italy (before his marriage in 1740), which greatly influenced his more classical tastes when he visited Rome, Venice, Vincenza and Milan.

This impressive cabinet has been further enhanced by the addition of a George IV stand by Morel and Hughes, the same makers who added the stands for the Cucci cabinets, carved in gonçalo alves mounted with 17th century Florentine panels depicting birds on fruiting branches so typical of the production from the Grand Ducal Workshops.These panels may well have been acquired by the 1st Duke and/the Duchess or subsequently by Hugh Percy, 3rd Duke of Northumberland (1785-1847), which were then mounted by Morel and Hughes in 1823, when they made the present stands and the Florentine pietre dure mounted cabinet (see Lot 11 ).

The cabinet:
The foundation of the appeal of Roman pietre dure inlaid cabinets to English Grand Tourists was rooted in the archaeological discoveries in Rome in the 16th century, which fired a burning enthusiasm for Antiquities. Rome became a magnet for discerning collectors and antique marbles began to be employed on Roman works of art.The desire to emulate the art of Ancient Rome, together with the Mannerist cult of precious materials (of which Rome had an abundant supply) combined towards the middle of the 16th century to give rise to the Roman inlaid marble works known as commessi (from the Latin committere, to join together). The distinctive feature of these elaborate cabinets was their structure which included characteristic elements of Mannerist architecture, for example, a pediment, pilasters, columns on a façade concealing secret drawers.

There were large numbers of highly skilled craftsmen in 17th century Rome, many of whom were Lombard in origin, although the attribution to specific makers for these cabinets (also known as studioli) used to store precious collectors' items still remains unresolved. As Alvar González-Palacios op. cit., states the names of possible cabinet makers for these types of cabinets, such as Giacomo Herman, who was regarded as the best ebanista in Rome at that time executing pieces for the Pope and the Emperor. Other names recorded by Alvar González-Palacios are the Germans-Giovanni Sigrist, Giovanni Falgher (Falker), and the Italians-Niccolo Cavallino and Remigio Chilazzi.

The beauty and rarity of these cabinets is in no small measure due to the stunning contrast of the colours and brilliance of the various precious hardstones and the sumptuous gilt-bronze ornamentation. The Roman taste in pietre dure inlaid works differed from that which was predominant in Florence in that it was dominated by abstract geometrical compositions in transparent stones such as jasper, rather than naturalistic or figurative motifs such as flowers and birds, with the intrinsic decoration being in the natural decorative effect of the stone markings itself typical of the Tuscan production.

Related Cabinets:
The present cabinet in terms of its grandeur and sophisticated symmetrical design and execution can be included in the group of the most lavish Roman 17th century cabinets with rich inlays of lapis lazuli, agates and jaspers which are as follows:

1. A cabinet formerly in the collection of Princess Ruspoli di Poggio Suasa, sold Treasures, Princely Taste, Sotheby’s London, 6th July 2011, lot 3 (£668, 450), reproduced here in fig. 3.  

 2.  A rare double-fronted cabinet formerly in the Demidoff collection, Palace of San Donato, Florence, which was sold at Sotheby's, Monaco, 20th June 1992, lot 810 (3,000,000FF). This had gilt-bronze sirens on the base similar in conception to those on this cabinet, reproduced here in fig. 4.

3. The William Beckford pietre dure cabinet sold in these Rooms,10th June 1998, lot 20 (£170,000), with eight panelled drawers surrounding a central niche with a vase and similar gilt-bronze figures on a more elaborately mounted raised pediment, reproduced here in fig. 5.

4. The Hamilton Palace Cabinet, sold Christie's, London, 17th June 1882, lot 996, described as `An Italian cabinet of the 16th century...From the design of M. Angelo’, which is of similar monumental form and composition with the addition of a superstructure on the cresting, reproduced here in fig. 6.

5. A pair of cabinets in the Long Gallery and a single one in the Museum Room at Castle Howard, Yorkshire.

6. The cabinet known as the `Pope's Cabinet' in the Cabinet Room at Stourhead, Wiltshire dating from the mid 17th century, although the most elaborate ever produced and on a much taller scale than the offered piece. According to tradition the cabinet once belonged to Pope Sixtus V.

7. A cabinet in the Sala dei Paesaggi, Galleria, Palazzo Colonna, Rome, dating from the mid 17th century,  by Frank I and Dominikus Stainhart (1670-1680), although on a much larger scale and much more ornate on an elaborate blackamoor base, reproduced by Colle, op. cit,  p. 95, no. 18.

The Morel and Hughes stand:
The unusual stand for this Roman cabinet was part of a commission undertaken by the Royal cabinet-makers, Morel and Hughes who supplied stands for many of the hardstone and marquetry cabinets in the Northumberland Collection in the 1820’s. This cabinet was mounted as was the cabinet- Lot 11, with 17th century Florentine pietre dure plaques depicting birds on fruiting branches, the latter having probably been acquired by Hugh Percy, 3rd Duke of Northumberland during his Grand Tour and around the time he acquired the celebrated pair of `Cucci cabinets’, made by Domenico Cucci at the Gobelins Factory for Louis XIV's apartments at Versailles. Morel and Hughes provided stands for the Cucci cabinets in 1823 as well as carrying out other works the Duke’s collection. 

The Florentine panels are typical of the production of the Grand Ducal manufactory which had been founded by Ferdinando I de’Medici in 1588 and were highly sought after by aristocratic patrons on their Grand Tour. The use of botanical and naturalistic motifs has been well documented towards the end of the 16th century as being highly esteemed and collectable both at Court and amongst aristocratic patrons. These panels are often stated to be in the manner of Jacopo Ligozzi (b. 1547 Verona, Italy, d. 1627 Florence, Italy) the designer, draftsman and painter at the Court of the Medici. 

The Duchess and her Collections:
Elizabeth Percy, 1st Duchess of Northumberland (1716–1776) was an extraordinary women of her time, she was worldly, had a keen intellect and an unerring eye. She travelled extensively and detailed all her experiences in her lively diaries. A central figure at court, becoming in 1761, Lady of the Bedchamber to Queen Charlotte, a post she held until 1770. This exalted position afforded her many opportunities both through her exposure to other luminaries and the great Royal Collections. She was an avid recorder of what she witnessed and the objects she saw around her and those in the possession of others. Her extensive diaries, a collection of extracts of which were edited by James Grieg, The Diaries of A Duchess, London, 1926, give a tantalising glimpse into her world.

She listed all of her own acquisitions in a series of unpublished books which run to some eight separate volumes (Archive of The Duke of Northumberland, Alnwick Castle, DNP MS 122-127). Two volumes are particularly interesting Vol. V; Cameo’s, Intaglias, Bas Reliefs, Bronzes, Busts, Statues and Vol. VIII; Petrifications, Fossils, Ores, Sparres, Christales, Earths, Woods, Marbles, Gems etc. These demonstrate not only a love of collecting in the Kunstkammer tradition (in this respect her trips, in the early 1770's, to the Low Countries and Germany are noteworthy) but also a keen interest in hardstones and minerals and one can only speculate if the offered lot was acquired due to her fascination with these ancient and exotic materials. The lustrous hardstones and jaspers on this cabinet must have so delighted her–especially as her other possessions which utilised these materials were extensive. She was also to visit Italy with the 1st Duke, in 1773, perhaps it was on this trip that she acquired this cabinet. Her buying on her own trips to the Continent was certainly extensive. Many of her possessions are listed after the death of the 1st Duke in the 1786 Inventory of Northumberland House ((Sy.H.VI.2.d), in series of her own rooms on the river front of this London Mansion. These special spaces included the ‘Museum Room’ and the ‘Crimson Drawing Room’ in which this Roman Cabinet is listed, A large Ebony Cabinet with Doors and Drawers in front, inlaid with Stones upon a gilt frame. Perhaps this cabinet lent itself perfectly for the storage of some of the Duchesses other treasures, as there are other pieces listed in these rooms in which she kept her items from her beloved ‘Museum’, and surely this magnificent cabinet would have taken pride of place.