Alvar Gonzales-Palacios, 'Las colecciones reales Espanolas de mosaicos y piedras duras', Museo Nacional del Prado, Madrid, 2001, pp. 249;
A. Gonzalez-Palacios, Mosaici e pietre dure, Milan, Fabbri, 1982;
A. Gonzalez-Palacios, Il Gusto dei Principi, Milan, 1993;
M Perry, 'A Renaissance Showplace of Art: The Palazzo Grimani at Santa Maria Formosa, Venice' Apollo, April 1981, pp. 215-221
Among the inlaid renaissance Roman table tops that have been recorded and studied in recent years, this one stands out for its refinement and the novelty of composition, which enhances the wide range of archaeological marbles employed. Within these, some are particularly rare, the Alabastro marino used for the rectangular sections of the frieze, and the Lumachella astracane of the central ovate which hails from present day. Highly unusually and perhaps unique is the pair of luminescent octagons that appear in the centre of the table. Made of two beautiful examples of a rare Alabastro tartarugato it is unlike most Roman tables dating from this period, which are usually centred on one oval stone.
The wide outer borders contains fourteen framed pieces of intricately veined stones surrounded by military trophies - swords, sabres, daggers, bows-and-arrows, axes, horns, trumpets and drums. Military trophies and armoured figures can also be found in, amongst others, the Don Rodrigo Calderon table top in the Prado. Which is similar to a further table top with military borders including stylised roman shields and cartouches was sold Sotheby's, New York, 5 November 1998, lot 393 (fig.3). As can be seen in the illustration of this table, the wide outer border encasing a smaller rectangular framed central section bears reference to the offered table.
Another unusual element of this top's motifs are the six grotesque armoured figures displayed along the longitudinal sides and angles of the top, sort of "terms", each crowned by a diadem of fine late-mannerist invention. The torso and head of these impressive figures are made with two different sections of white alabaster, which is a material often used for its tenderness. It can be supposed that the alabaster was originally used to take advantage of its transparency and has been painted from the back in order to define the essential lines of the figure. A similar technique using transparent alabster has been employed on the iconic and celebrated Farnese Table to chiaroscuro the alabaster lilies and corollas which hem the wide plates. This has been attributed to the renowned but mysterious Jean Meynard called il Franciosino, the most famous "master of plates" active in Rome in the '60s and '70s of the sixteenth century. The temptation to attribute the Grimani Roman table to him as well would be strong, as this piece stands out for the inventive quality, fineness and intricacy in composition, and the preciousness of the materials employed, traits that would all lead us to think of a demanding client and an artist worthy of his expectations.
The inlay of antique coloured marbles had thrived in Rome throughout the 16th century and beyond. The Eternal City promoted archaeological discoveries and excavations amidst the quest for rare and beautiful stones and marbles from southern Italy, Greece, Africa and Asia Minor, which once embellished adorned the majestic private and public buildings and temples of Imperial Rome. Records of some of these marble inlaid buildings have survived, but table tops, which were expensive luxury commissions, seem to have not been recorded in the same manner. With columns and fragments of every kind of marble and coloured stone found deposited everywhere in the city, Renaissance artisans would collect these, cut them accordingly and use them to decorate the churches, palazzos, monuments and furniture. Chronologically it has proved very difficult to establish a clear time line for the production of renaissance Roman inlaid marble table tops. While there are records of artisans working for the Grand Ducal workshops in Florence. Rome, on the other hand, was a plenipotentiary of different craftsmen working for a much wider client base and so it is far harder to determine artisans.
The relationship between Florence and Rome is also an important factor in to this study. In 1563 Ferdinando I d'Medici was made a Cardinal and until he relinquished the position, having been made Grand Duke of Tuscany in 1588, he spent a considerable amount of time surrounded by the antique marbles of the Eternal city. His patronage of hard stone inlay has already been stressed but it is important to note that the years spent in Rome would have been one of the driving inspirations for the Grand Ducal workshops founded on his return to Florence, highlighting the mutual development of this art form.
The Gimani Dynasty
The Grimani family, one of the most illustrious Venetian dynasties, rose to the heights of political and clerical power in Venice during its golden age in the late 15th and 16th centuries. By 1600 the then head of the family Marino Grimani (1532 - 1605) was the Doge and the family was established in not one but two of the city's greatest palaces, The Palazzo Grimani di Santa Maria Formosa and the Palazzo Grimani di San Luca on the Grand Canal. It was in these two buildings that they displayed their great collections which included the foremost group of antiquities ever to have been assembled in the Lagoon, together with cameos and gems, Venetian and non-Venetian paintings and outstanding works of art including the famous Grimani Breviary (now in the Biblioteca Marciana, Venice). In political terms nothing underlines better Marino Grimani's aspirations for the city than his prolonged battle with the Papacy as he attempted to severely limit its power in the Republic. Equally nothing underlines better the lavishness of his lifestyle and sophistication as his coronation as Doge in 1595 accompanied by the outstanding music of Giovanni and Antonio Gabrielli and that of his wife Morosina Morsini-Grimani as Dogaressa two years later in 1597, revealed in the woodcut by Giacomo Franco (BM. 187. 1209. 473) (fig.4)
The patriarch of the family Antonio Grimani (1434 – 1523) whose legendary business acumen built a vast fortune off the back of the Venetian spice and textile routes, was made Capitano da Mar (1494) and later Doge (1521- 23).
The next generations assumed high positions in the Venetian republic and in Papal Rome, taking active roles in contemporary politics and maintaining control of the rich patriarchate of Aquileia for more than a century. The first major collector of the family was Antonio's son Cardinal Domenico Grimani (1461 – 1523) an elected senator of Venice and Cardinal of San Marco under Pope Julius II; he was an erudite scholar and aesthete. Following his death Domenico passed it to his protégé and nephew Cardinal Marino Grimani (1489 – 1546) on the condition that it would be gifted along with the vast majority of his extensive collection to the Republic of Venice in his will.
One of Marino's (1489-1546) two younger brothers, Giovanni, born in 1506 also entered the church and was appointed Bishop of Ceneda in 1520 aged 14. His ecclesiastical and political activities were in the main devoted to the city of his birth and through accumulated wealth he was able to clear his brother's debts in 1546. In doing so he saved for the family and then for Venice itself the celebrated collection of antiquities that had been seized by his bankers. These antiquities with Giovanni's own collection, formed during a long life - he died when he was 87- were housed in his palace the Palazzo Grimani di Santa Maria Formosa. The Roman table top in particular is a reflection of this prevalent antiquarian taste which dominated the aesthetics of the Grimani collection.
The third of these brothers Girolamo (1496-1570) had a secular career as a Venetian politician serving consistently on The Council becoming a wealthy merchant. His success led him in the latter part of his life to build the second Grimani palace, the Palazzo Grimani di San Luca which abutted the Grand Canal. It was his aforementioned son Marino (1532-1605) who further cemented the families pre-eminent position in the city, becoming through extensive bribery, the families second Doge in 1595. He was in a fortunate position of not only being heir to his father but also to his uncles.
Marino Grimani (1532-1605) was perhaps the most celebrated member of his family and its second Doge. His election in 1595 to this office was greeted with enormous celebrations. His wealth and his popularity amongst the people of Venice turned the occasion into one more reminiscent of such ceremonies in the city's opulent past. Marino's tenure as Doge saw the reduction of Papal power in Venice and the widening of its foreign policy with envoys being sent both to the court of Mahommet lll in Constantinople and to James Vl in Edinburgh.
In 1560 Marino and his brother married sisters: Morosina and Angela, the joint heiresses to the great Morosini fortune. This was to swell the Grimani coffers significantly in 1575 on the death of their father. Trained as a lawyer Marino took up important Government positions both in Brescia and Padua before returning to Venice and serving on The Council of Ten. In 1585 he was one of the city's ambassadors to the Holy See attending the coronation of Sixtus V in Rome where, interestingly he took in his entourage the architect Scamozzi. After this Roman visit he travelled on to Florence at the aforementioned invitation of the Venetian Grand Duchess, Bianca Cappello, wife of the Grand Duke Francesco de Medici. There after returning to Venice he took up appointments including the Governorship of Padua and the second most important position in the city The Procuratorship of St Marks. He was again in Rome in 1592 attending the coronation of Clement Vlll. Three years later he was elected Doge. As has been noted his period of office was characterised by independence for the Republic and a strong foreign policy. Marino died in 1605 leaving his palaces and collections to his family and these survived largely intact until the overthrow of the Republic by Napoleon and the subsequent absorption of the city by Austria in the early 19th century.
THE TABLES IN VENICE AND THE VENETIAN PALACES OF THE GRIMANI
It is highly likely that these tables were originally displayed in the Palazzo Grimani di Santa Maria Formosa, (now The Museo di Palazzo Grimani) from where they were certainly displayed at the time of their purchase in 1829. The palace had become the property of Marino Grimani in the early 16th century. It had been originally been acquired in the late 15th century by Doge Antonio Grimani. For over forty years, commencing in 1532, it was transformed into one of the greatest Venetian palaces, first by Vittore and then by Giovanni Grimani. The most notable of Venetian architects, Sansovino, Serlio, Palladio, Sanmicheli and Ruscone were all employed there. Its size was doubled and in its final form it was both a demonstration of the family's power and wealth, paid homage to the family's forebear in the Sala Doge Antonio, and was so arranged to specifically display the family's collection of antique marbles.
Each of the rooms of the palaces speak to the family's passion for antique marbles and hard stones which are mirrored in the two tables. The visitor would enter through a doorway sculpted by Alessandro Vittorio and then would emerge into a large internal courtyard, in the style of a Roman palazzo, with marble colonnaded loggias. A large vaulted staircase led up to the piano nobile, it's ceiling frescoed by Frederico Zuccaro with religious allegories surrounded by grotesque work. On gaining the first floor a large open corridor led to the first of the parade rooms, Il Cameron D'Oro (The Large Gold Room) entered through a vast marble portal. From this room could be glimpsed on axis the famous Tribuna. Passing under another great portal of coloured marbles the visitor would enter the most extravagant room of all, The Tribuna. Here architecture, normally reserved for the externals of a building, is deployed in the most extreme way, reflecting such Mannerist exuberances as the rooms of the Palazzo del Te and the Capella Medici. The floor was inlaid with coloured marbles, deep pink and cream, a radiating pattern set within a square: the walls with niches and brackets for displaying antiquities were constructed in a variety of marbles and stones. It is no exaggeration to say it one of the greatest 16th century rooms in the city, even though now it no longer contains the staggering 130 pieces of antique sculpture that it was arranged to display.
Beyond in the next corner of the palazzo was the room reserved for honouring Doge Antonio Grimani. Here coloured marbles were used to great effect: sheets of the material, with fine graining, was surrounded by stucco frames. Although no evidence has come to light as to where the tables stood in the palazzo, as will be seen later in this note they were clearly placed in positions of honour as when they came to be sold in the 1820's their bases were retained and copies made of their tops so that their disappearance would not be noticed. What can be seen today when visiting the palazzo (or viewing the video of it on www.palazzogrimani.org/video) is that these marble tables are consistent with the lavish use of marble to be found in the palace and that the appearance of the ancestral crest on the table top accord with the ancestor "worship" that is a hallmark of the building.
Whilst it is tempting to associate these tables with the palazzo Grimani Santa Maria Formosa there is an alternative location. A palace built by Marino Grimani's father Girolamo, the Palazzo Grimani di San Luca on the Grand Canal, which over the next two hundred and fifty years, was to divide the family between two lines differentiated according to their respective palazzos. The Palazzo was initially commissioned from the architect Michele Sanmicheli. Following Sanmicheli's death in the 1550's the responsibility fell to Giangiacomo de' Grigi. Its great and, for Venice, highly unusual classical façade with three tiers of Corinthian columns, rears up above the Grand Canal near the Rialto. The initial building was completed by the 1570's but Marino employed Rusconi and Scamozzi to finish and decorate the palace thereafter. Although its original interiors were destroyed in the 19th century they must have been magnificent providing as they did accommodation for both the Duke of Mantua and Ladislao Vll of Poland in the 16th century. The Grimanis of palazzo San Luca suffered an enormous economic decline following The Treaty of Campo Formio in 1797 selling the vast majority of their collection, possibly to their relatives in Santa Maria Formosa, although research into this is still being undertaken. A further palace on the Grand Canal in San Polo, Venice called Palazzo Marcello was also owned by the Grimani family however it was inherited by Piero Grimani's wife in 1732 and so unlikely to have ever held the tables. What is certain is that by the 1820's the tables were both in the Palazzo Grimani Santa Maria Formosa as the Palazzo Grimani di San Luca was sold by the family to the new Austrian Government between 1816 -18 after which it was converted into the General Post Office (and subsequently into the Venetian Court of Appeal).
The sale of the tables: Venice 1829
Given the paucity of the Grimani archives it has not been able to accurately ascribe a date at which time the tables entered their collection - although research is in the process of being carried out. However, as the Florentine table is so clearly linked to the Grimani family and fits stylistically with the Grand Ducal workshops output of the early 17th century, it is unquestionable that it entered the Grimani collection at this time. Less can be inferred for the Roman. However, that they would sit comfortably amongst the works of art commissioned or bought by Marino and his family can be inferred from those elements that remain in situ from this period in Palazzo Santa Maria Formosa. It is of course of note that Marino's ambassadorial duties, taking him to both Rome and Florence meant that he would have encountered the new ambitious design schemes which were being practiced in both cities at the same time. It is very plausible to suppose that it was during Marino's two visits to Rome in 1585 and again in 1592 he would have seen and bought the Roman table top as his trips tie in with the dates of manufacture of the table. Marino's re-decoration of the Doge's palace, his and his wife's patronage of both contemporary and antique art and his inordinate wealth all add to this theory.
The tables remained in the Grimani family standing in one of their palaces, the Florentine top certainly for over two hundred years. During the 17th and 18th century, the family took a less active role in the administration of the city. Focusing their attention primarily on the development of theatres and Opera houses which still fill the city today (for example Teatro Malabran). By 1806 the palazzi and their contents had descended to Michele Grimani (c. 1780 – 1865). To cope with the financial crisis, visited on most of the Venetian noble families following Napoleon's invasion and the subsequent end of the Republic, he made sales from the collections, not only these tables but for instance Antico's Bust of the Young Marcus Aurelius now in the collection of the J. Paul Getty Museum (fig.5) (see Leonard N. Amico, "Antico's Bust of the Young Marcus Aurelius", The J. Paul Getty Museum, Journal, vol.16, 1988, pp. 95-104). He disposed of the Palazzo Grimani di San Luca to the new Austrian Government in 1816 and retrenched to the Palazzo Grimani di Santa Maria Formosa.
Whilst researching the tables a most revealing discovery was made in the uncatalogued Warwick Papers now housed at the Warwickshire County Record Office. Not only did full details of their purchase emerge but also confirmation that both tables were bought from the Grimani palace in Santa Maria Formosa. The correspondence includes letters and bills between Lord Warwick, his agent Richard Bingham, his bankers, Hoare's, the British Consul in Venice, William Money, and a Venetian agent, Angelo Mongaldo.
The third Earl and the Countess of Warwick visited the continent in 1828. From their surviving foreign account book covering 1828 -9 (CR 1886 Box 788/23) it can be inferred that they arrived in Venice, travelling from Vienna, by the 25th October 1828. They subsequently travelled on and were in Florence by the 22nd November. During that short Venetian period Lord Warwick had clearly made contact with the British Consul William Taylor Money and acquainted him with his wish to buy marble to floor the newly restored Great Hall at Warwick Castle which was in the process of being rebuilt by Ambrose Poynter. The Warwicks do not seem to have returned to Venice, spending the winter in Florence and the spring in Naples and Rome before slowly returning to England via Geneva and Paris. This helps to explain the extensive correspondence concerning the marble floor and the purchase of our tables which extends to 1830 when Lord and Lady Warwick were back in England.
The first surviving letter related to these purchases was written in French by Angelo Mongaldo to the Earl on 15th June 1829. He offers His Lordship treasures from the Grimani Palace accompanied with drawings and descriptions including the pietre dure and marble inlaid tables. On the 7th July Lord Warwick's agent Richard Bingham wrote from London confirming the arrival of the five coloured drawings and descriptions of inlaid tables. It does not specify from where each top came, however, the bundle of correspondence within the Warwick Record Office suggests that they were all offered from Palazzo Grimani di Santa Maria Formosa. The number of tables purchased by the 3rd Earl is also unclear however in Kendal's 1853 inventory he describes that 'between the Windows a Table of Pietra Commessa worked into Flowers in which the Lapis Lazuli is introduced' this could account for the table to the bottom right of the page, although it has since passed out of the collection of the Earl's of Warwick and its whereabouts is unknown. Also unknown is the whereabouts of the other two tables, no. 1 and no. 2 in the bill of sale, the watercolour of one remains and is reproduced below. Within the Warwick archive four of the watercolour drawings remain (reproduced here), two of which, as stated, are of the tables offered, both inscribed: From the Palazzo Grimani (CR1886 Box 393/3). There are also corresponding descriptions of the tables written in Italian (CR1886 Box 818/26) and a list of prices (reproduced fig. 6) in which the Florentine top is described as one of the richest and most splendid works of this kind of the 16th century. The two most expensive offered were:
no.4 Florentine Table 210 Louis
no.5 Roman Table 120 Louis
A further letter arrived from Mongaldo dated 23rd July 1829 encouraging Lord Warwick to make the purchase. Mongaldo writes that the tables " are now the principal ornamentation of the Grimani Palace and Mr Money thinks they would add to the estate of Warwick Castle and ........ charge you to make the purchase". The negotiations over the tables were conducted alongside the purchase and shipping arrangements for the marble floor. Money himself had written on 17th July giving the cost of crates that would be needed and this is followed by further letters in August and October concerned with the shipping of the marbles. By the end of the year the shipments had been made and in January Money was having to write to the Earl reminding him that payment was outstanding. It wasn't however until August 1830 when the money was forthcoming. There is a letter from Hoare's Bank confirming the release of £220.15s. from Lord Warwick's account on 14th to pay for his Venetian purchases.
At some point Lord Warwick or his agent must have written to Money asking why the bases had not accompanied the table tops. On 30th November Money replied "I (am pleased) that the whole of the paving Marble and the Slabs are now at Warwick Castle and that which ( I am ) gratified to learn they offer perfect satisfaction". He goes on "with respect to Legs and Stands of the tables, the facts are these – wounded pride would not allow the Grimani family to sell them thus they are standing in their palaces, supporting false tables – the same thing occurred when I bought a table from the Zenobi family, under the circumstances I propose that I should endeavour to get exact drawings of the exact legs & stands, according to which your Lordship may have others made in England"(CR1886 393/3) In the event Lord Warwick decided to obtain his own stands and by 1847 when the table tops were on display in the Gilt Drawing Room and The State Bedroom at Warwick Castle they were on their current stands.
The letters reproduced on the next pages describe in incredible detail the offered table tops at the time of their purchase in 1829 from the Palazzo Grimani di Santa Maria Formosa. They not only lyricise the phenomenal quality of the tops but also make reference to the types of marble and hard stone used in their production. Reproduced with their corresponding watercolours they offer an unprecedented first hand insight into the artistic taste and correspondence of the Grand Tourists.
"It is difficult to say what is the most admirable: if it is the abstraction of the design or its perfect execution. If it is the prodigious number of precious pietre dure or their clever arrangement. One cannot imagine something to be executed so magnificently. Furthermore it presents an historical memorial to the conspicuous Grimani family for whom the commission would have been made. A truly princely work.
The magical effect created by this admirable design cannot be appreciated without seeing this distinguished work. Any description cannot fully convey the reality. From perhaps the 2000 pieces that make up this immense work there is not one that that is not perfectly suitable be it in colour or in shape to the location in which it is placed nor can one spot the slightest interruption in the fitting together of these various tiny parts. It will be quite difficult to establish whether it would be the very rare materials or the masterly division of the sections, of which we seem to have lost all trace of, or whether it would be the perfect execution which one could not find more highly finished, that would be of greatest merit. Its state of conservation is such that it presents not only all the liveliness of innovation but also a solidity that defies the centuries"
"...and these were inlaid in the 16th century by the Florentine artist following an admirable design made of trophies, arabesques and large square, oval and round stones that form a sumptuous collection.' The number of pieces used in this immense work is immeasurable. The conservation, the joints of the mosaic of the pieces and the polish are perfect"
Extract from letter No. 5 describing the Roman table.
THE ENGLISH OWNER: HENRY GREVILLE, 3RD EARL OF WARWICK (1779 -1853)
The 3rd Earl of Warwick was the only surviving son of George, 2nd Earl of Warwick (1746 – 1816) and his second wife Henrietta Vernon. Born in 1779 he grew up to witness his father's prodigious activities as a collector, which eventually led to his bankruptcy in 1806. The great castle at Warwick, architecturally transformed by his grandfather was filled by his father with an extraordinary range of treasures: paintings by Rubens and Van Dyck; works of art including classical antiquities such as the famous Warwick Vase (The Burrell Collection, Glasgow) purchased through Lord Warwick's uncle Sir William Hamilton; and magnificent furniture. Fortunately the onset of personal bankruptcy did not affect the collection as it was entailed in 1806. The inventory taken that year gives a mouth-watering account of the contents of the state rooms in the castle (CR1886 464). In the same year the Prince Regent made a visit: one very significant collector visiting another. Unfortunately Lord Warwick could not meet the Prince because of his parlous financial state so it was his son who had become the 3rd Earl who conducted him round. The Morning Chronicle reported on 9th September that "His Royal Highness went through all the apartments and viewed, en virtuoso, the valuable collection of pictures which had been from time to time placed in the noble residence. The whole arrangement of which is perfect in character with the sublime antiquity of the structure".
The 3rd Earl would certainly have been up to the task of conducting the Prince around. Not only would he have been familiar with his father's acquisitions but also through his education at Eton, Winchester and Edinburgh and subsequent Grand Tour would have gained a familiarity with such cultural treasures. Indeed his Grand Tour had been a more broadening experience than might have been the case owing to the Napoleonic wars. For not only did he manage to visit both France and Italy during the Peace of Amiens, he also toured to Russia and as far east as Constantinople, from where he returned to England in 1803. Thereafter he entered Parliament sitting for the town of Warwick until his father's death in 1816. In the Commons he was a supporter of William Pitt and gave his backing to the early moves to abolish slavery.
It was whilst in Venice in 1828 that Lord Warwick made, or renewed, the acquaintance of William Henry Money the youngest son of Captain William Money, a director of the East India Company. Money had entered Parliament in 1816 for the constituency of Wootton Bassett. He like Warwick supported measures to bring about the abolition of slavery. A decade later as a consequence of financial difficulties of his estates in Java, Money renounced his seat and took up paid diplomatic work as Consul to the Lombard States, based in Venice. It was here two years later that he encountered Warwick and assisted in the marble floor for the castle's Great Hall and these two tables.
Interestingly the Warwick's were not the only ones to be grateful to Money. Clearly he had considerable influence in a high level in the city of his adoption. In 1832 Sir Walter Scott visited Venice on his peregrination through Italy. His biographer John Macron recorded in his Life of Sir Walter Scott, 1833- 4, p.144 that "Mr Money, British General (in Venice), whose hospitality is extended to all his English & I might even add to every foreigner. Sir Walter expressed himself particularly happy there "...." Wherever he wanted to go to the British Generals gondola took him. He expressed a wish to see the Arsenal which was conveyed to the Admiral commanding by Consul Money and the Admiral received him as a Prince". This chapter of Anglo Venetian relation sadly came to an end with the death of Money in the following year.
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