An Italian antique marble inlaid black lacquer and parcel-gilt tabernacle mirror frame, Venice, late 16th century
- paint, pine, poplar, marble
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.
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Whilst most of these frames tend to be used to display pictures, they were originally made to house mirrors, although intact examples are extremely rare.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.