Lot 3
  • 3

An Italian antique marble inlaid black lacquer and parcel-gilt tabernacle mirror frame, Venice, late 16th century

40,000 - 60,000 GBP
bidding is closed


  • paint, pine, poplar, marble
  • 120.5cm. high,74.5cm. wide, 13.5cm. deep; 3ft. 11½in., 2ft. 5¼in., 5¼in.
of architectural form, the rectangular plate beneath a broken pediment with dentil moulding above a geometric antique marble inlaid frieze including nero antico and alabastro, flanked by columnar supports with a conforming frieze to the base, the black lacquer ground profusely decorated with parcel-gilded arabesques


Comparative literature

Hans Huth, Lacquer of the West, The History of a craft and industry, 1550-1950, The University of Chicago Press, 1971, pl. 14;
Alvar González-Palacios, Il Tempio del Gusto, Milan, 1986, p. 337, fig.719;
T. Newbury, G. Basacca, L. Kanter, Italian Renaissance Frames, The Metropolitan Museum of Art, New York, 1990, p. 56, fig. 27;
T. Newbury, Frames and Framings, Oxford, 2002, p. 10.


In overall good conserved condition. The colour overall is slightly darker more natural and attractive than in the catalogue photograph. Evidence of old minor woodworm which appears to be no longer active. Some of the small hardstone roundels have been replaced with coloured glass. Old very minor marks and chips and losses to decoration and to the hardstones. Some minor retouching to lacquer decoration. There are construction cracks at the joints as visible from the catalogue photograph which can either be filled or left and there has been an attempt in the past to fill the one in the top right corner of the border to the mirror plate which has opened up again. There is a minor 3cm section of moulding missing from the left side frieze on the top which is undecorated. There are some very minor losses to the carving on the apron surrounding the antique marble roundel as visible from the catalogue photograph. There is some surface dirt which would benefit from a light clean according to taste.
"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

This beautifully preserved frame of unusual large dimensions belongs to a rare group of artefacts which were decorated in a method known as lacca da Venezia (Venetian lacquer-work). The term is used to described an elaborate technique developed by Venetian craftsman towards the mid-16th century to embellish precious objects and pieces of furniture. Delicate golden arabesques were painted onto a black ground between layers of varnish, sometimes balanced with motifs painted in translucent glazes over a light ground known as moresques. The patterns were intended to emulate Turkish and Persian lacquer and metal-ware which had become highly prized in the West. The full effulgent effect of these objects must have been spectacular in the candle lit chambers of 16th century Venetian interiors.

Venice’s position on the Adriatic made it the perfect point of departure for European expeditions to the East, and ever since Marco Polo set off on his voyage of discovery in the 13th century, it became a hub for the trade of goods and exchange of ideas between the East and West. Venetian lacquer-work appears to have been produced for a relatively short period between the second quarter of the 16th century and the first quarter of the 17th century, reaching its zenith in circa 1600. The brief window of production, coupled with the considerable cost and skill levels involved, not to mention their fragility, mean that few examples of Venetian lacquer-work are known to have survived intact to the present day.

The idiosyncratic combination of lacca da Venezia, with panels of jewel-like marble inlay, as seen on the present lot, can be found on a variety of exceptionally fine pieces of late Renaissance furniture and musical instruments, in particular on small domestic and luxury items such as book bindings, caskets, cabinets and frames. Most famous amongst this latter group are the frames associated with the portraits of the school of Corneille de Lyon (d. 1575) which stylistically relate closely to the present lot (fig. 1). This series of portraits date from circa 1580 providing a useful guide as to the date of their frames. 

Whilst most of these frames tend to be used to display pictures, they were originally made to house mirrors, although intact examples are extremely rare. The distinct architectural form of these 'tabernacle' frames is in the Italian Renaissance style and they are often enhanced with colourful marble panels cut as roundels, squares and cabochon which evoke the façades of the Venetian palaces from the early 16th century. The form derives from the niches that peppered classical temples such as the Pantheon in Rome, but the Renaissance 'tabernacle' frame replaces the statue of a deity with that of the reflection of the onlooker.

Similar Venetian examples can be found in the collections of the Victoria & Albert Museum, London, the Louvre, Paris, the Art Institute of Chicago, the Museum of Fine Arts Boston, Metropolitan Museum of Art, New York and the Ashmolean Museum, Oxford.