An Italian antique marble and pietre dure table top, Granducal workshops, Florence, Late 16th Century
By repute, the present table top then acquired by the present owner at a sale of the contents of the Piedi family in Pontremoli, whose palace faced the Cavalli family palace,
Private European Collection.
Anna Maria Giusti, Pietre Dure, Hardstones in Furniture and Decorations, London, 1992.
Alvar González-Palacios, Las Colecciones Reales Españolas de Mosaicos y Piedras Duras, Madrid, 2003.
Arch.Claudio Giumelli, Il Feudo di Ferentillo nel tempo di Alberico I Cybo Malaspina, Symposium Ferentillo, 30th-31st May 2008;
Il Molto Magnifico et Excellentissimo Messer Pietro Cavallo da Pontremoli, Modena, 2009;
Various authors, La Chiesa e il Convento di San Francesco di Pontremoli, Mulazzo, 1974;
Nicola Zucchi Castellini, Pontremoli-Dalle origini all'unità d'Italia. Il dominio spagnolo, Pontremoli, 1976.
Ferdinando I de Medici (1549-1609) in particular, Cardinal in Rome for a considerable time, familiarized himself with the Roman models during that time, which he then championed in Florence, alongside the more typical production which included naturalistic representations of flowers and birds which in turn became the trademark of the Granducal workshops. However, it is not easy to ascertain the place of manufacture for these pieces alla maniera di Roma, knowing that Florentine mosaicists were working in Rome around 1570-1580. The taste for these tops is still evidenced in public Florentine collections today, where mosaics ‘in the Roman style’ exist, but with attribution remaining uncertain. A table designed in the same spirit to the current mosaic, now at Museo degli Argenti, Florence, is a good example of the difficulties of attribution to one of the two cities (fig. 1). Nevertheless, the presence on the current example of certain peculiar stones and of the coat-of-arms of the Cavalli family from Pontremoli in Tuscany make the Florentine origin of this table undisputed.
In particular, the eight ovals (four on the corners of the outer border, and four disposed at cardinal points in the inner border) are made of a kind of jasper (Diaspro di Barga), a red silicean stone with white patches, which is found in the town of Barga (Garfagnana, Tuscany) a territory that at that time was under the dominion of the Medici family, and which was used exclusively by the court in Florence. Large blocks of this stone arrived in Florence between the end of the 16th century and beginning of the 17th century to be used in the vast project of the Cappella dei Principi, promoted by Ferdinando I. This stone was already used under the dukedom of Francesco I, as documented by the great connoisseur Agostino del Riccio in 1597, who, in his Istoria delle Pietre writes: ‘’si trovano pezzi grandi, come si vede quelli che faceva condurre il Gran Duca Francesco in Firenze, e pigliano gran lustro e son sodissimi; e detti diaspri gli trovo’ maestro Frqncesco Mazzeranghi da Barga, semplicista del Gran Duca Francesco’’ (Agostino del Riccio, Istoria delle pietre, ed. by R. Gnoli and A. Sironi, Torino, 1996, page 236).
Furthermore, the presence in the inner border of Gabbro d’ Impruneta, excavated South of Florence and only used locally, confirms the Tuscan manufacture for this fine table top.
The Cavalli Family
The coat-of-arms in the centre of the table refers to the Cavalli family of Pontremoli, a medieval town in the province of Massa Carrara (Tuscany). Aptly, two horses (cavalli in Italian), flank the family emblem. The Cavalli arrived in Pontemoli in 1446 from the nearby Mulazzo, which was under the dominion of the Malaspina family. The increasing wealth of the family (politically linked to the Ghibellines) is documented in the local archival papers of 1508, 1533, 1559 and 1588, with the name of Pietro Cavallo (d. 1615) appearing in the latter. It was Pietro Cavallo who was indeed responsible for the family fortunes and he was kept in high esteem by the Grandukes of Tuscany who addressed him as ‘ Molto magnifico et Eccellentissimo Messer Pietro Cavallo da Pontremoli’. Amongst other important engagements, (fiscal matters, criminal law, etc.) in the shadow of Medici family, he was summoned to the Florentine court to educate Cosimo II (1590-1621). In between the dukedom of Ferdinando I (1549-1609) and his son Cosimo II, the Cavalli family was ennobled by the Order of the Cavalieri di Santo Stefano. Examples of marble coat-of-arms of the Cavalli family survive locally, amongst other places, in the local church of San Francesco (fig. 2) and on the wall of the Castle of Pontremoli, the latter most probably removed from the doorway of the family palace in the town centre.
Considering the link between Pietro Cavallo and the Medici court, it seems highly plausible that the present very fine table could have been a tribute gift to Messer Pietro. Nonetheless, the lesser quality of inlay of the coat-of-arms, inset in a square of the Ligurian Verde Genova (as a stone not in use in the granducal Workshops, and on the contrary excavated in the nearby Liguria ) could imply that the arms as well as the centre of the table were added locally and commissioned by the proud receiver of the gift and, due to the lack of the elm above the arms, before the family was ennobled.