Lot 38
  • 38

A pair of Italian scagliola panels by Enrico Hugford, mid 18th century

Estimate
80,000 - 120,000 GBP
Sold
bidding is closed

Description

  • pine, stone
  • 50cm. high, 76cm. wide; 1ft. 5¾in., 2ft. 6in.
one depicting Castel Sant’Angelo, Rome, with barges on the river Tiber and figures on the bank, signed opus E.H.M. Vallom and the reverse inscribed Henricus / Hugford; the other depicting Palazzo del Quirinale, Rome, with figures and men on horseback, monographed D.E.H. and the reverse inscribed OPVS HENRI HVGFORD / MON. VALLISVMBROSE, in carved giltwood frames

Provenance

Bianco Bianchi (1920-2006), Florence;
Thence by descent

Literature

Anna Maria Massinelli, Scagliola, L’arte della pietra di luna, Rome, 1997, figs. 36 & 38, pp. 56-57

Catalogue Note

Comparative Literature
John Fleming, ‘The Hugfords of Florence (Part I)’, The Connoisseur, Vol. 136, July-December 1955, pp.106-110.

These charming scagliola panels rank among the finest examples of Enrico Hugford’s (1695-1771) known oeuvre and are the largest recorded panels by him (fig. 1). Masterpieces of the technique, whereas all of Hugford’s other recorded landscapes are capriccio - architectural fantasiesthese rare vedute are faithfully based on etchings depicting two historic Roman buildings, namely Castel Sant’Angelo and Palazzo del Quirinale. In Anna Maria Massinelli’s monograph on scagliola – using the Bianco Bianchi collection as its backbone - she describes the present panels as the ‘cupolavori’ of Hugford’s output (Massinelli, op. cit., p. 28). Characterised by his use of pastel hues, the panels engender the appearance of a gouache under glass, with the highly polished surface creating an exceptionally smooth and translucent finish. Hugford employs numerous painterly devices to elevate the scagliola panels to virtuosi works of art. The architectural detail and perspectives are accurate and true. The foreground is enlivened by the activities of the local populace. The contrast of light and shadow draws the viewer into the scene, both of which are imbued with the soft tones of Hugford’s native Tuscany. Interestingly, the sources of these vedute were probably drawn from Abbey Vallombrosa’s vast library of prints at the request of an exacting patron. The Castel Sant’Angelo panel is after an etching by the Italian draughtsman and printmaker Stefano della Bella (1610–1664) (fig. 2), but tantalisingly, the inspiration for the Palazzo del Quirinale panel remains a mystery as it does not feature in the della Bella catalogue raisonné, nor does it correspond exactly to compositions by other artists.

Enrico Hugford, the Abbot of Vallombrosa (1695-1771)

The enigmatic Enrico Hugford and his brother, Ignazio (1703-1778), were eminent figures in the Florentine art-world of the mid-18th century. Born to English parents, their father Ignazio Hugford was a staunch Catholic and left London with his wife in circa 1686 to forge a new life in Papal Italy. A watchmaker by trade, Ignazio Hugford Snr settled in Florence where he obtained the post of ‘Aiutante di Onore’ (Honorary Aide) in the court of Grand Duke Cosimo III de’ Medici (1642-1723). It seems the clement Tuscan climate suited him, for as late as 1756 we find Robert Adam (1728–1792) sending him his prized gold pocket watch for repair as ‘its disease was little known by the Roman watchmakers’ (Fleming, op. cit., p. 106). It was not the last time one of the Adam brothers would cross paths with a Hugford of Florence. Enrico’s brother Ignazio was a prolific if somewhat second rate painter, who distinguished himself as a connoisseur and collector. Several paintings from his collection now adorn the walls of the Ufizzi, Florence. In 1760, whilst staying in Florence with Ignazio, James Adam (1732–1794) reflected on the architectural uses of scagliola in his journal. ‘The scagliola is curious’ he writes ‘and could be made to answer different purposes; for instance, for columns resembling different marbles, for tables resembling mosaic work, and for most elegant floors for baths and low apartments, or for linings to any place damp, etc.; and likewise for imitating different marbles in cabinet work, and such like things’ (Fleming, op. cit., p. 106). It is conceivable that James Adams’ exposure to scagliola during his time with Ignazio had some bearing on its use in several of Robert Adams’ famous interiors.

Scagliola in the hands of Enrico Hugford was elevated to an altogether higher plane, though it was some time before he could devote himself entirely to perfecting the art-form. Born in Florence on 19th April 1695, he began his novitiate as a Benedictine monk at the age of fifteen and entered the Abbey Vallombrosa on 27th April 1711. Hugford was an exemplary novice. Described as ‘much addicted to solitude and manual labour’ he evidently had the requisite attributes to master the labour intensive art-form (Fleming, op. cit., p. 106). However, his artistic talents did not emerge until he transferred to the Abbey of Saint Reparata at Marradi in 1723, whose close proximity to nearby selenite quarries made it a centre of scagliola production. Following several years of training under the monks at Marradi, Hugford moved to Abbey of Vallombrosa where he spent twelve years as Novice Master before succeeding Padre Bruno Tozzi – the botanist responsible for introducing the potato to Italy - as Abbot in 1743. He lived out the rest of his days in solitude in the Romitotio delle Celle at Vallombrosa.

Hugford’s prodigious talent ensured his reputation quickly spread to Florence and beyond, no doubt promoted by his well-connected brother. Popular with English Grand Tourists, the famous aesthete Horace Walpole (1717–1797) referred to a commission of table tops in a letter to Horace Mann (1706-1786) in 1747, remarking ‘if the original friar can make them, I shall be glad’ (Fleming, op. cit., p. 106). Despite his growing fame, Hugford remained eremitic in his way of life. In a humorous episode, Grand Duke Pietro Leopoldo (1747–1792) visited Hugford's cell on 29th June 1750 to admire the master at work. When asked whether he missed contact with the outside world, Hugford responded, ‘only once did I feel a desire for human company, and then it lasted but a second’ (Fleming, op. cit., p. 107).

The Art of Moonstone

Rendered from a plaster of powdered selenite, scagliola became known in Italy as l’arte della pietra di luna because of the way the mineral recalls the colour of the moon when held up to light. A technique dating back to Roman times (lapis specularis) it was developed in the late 16th century as an inexpensive substitute to marble. Two centres of excellence emerged for the production of scagliola towards the end of the 17th century; the court of Maximillian I, Prince Elector of Bavaria (1573-1651) and the monastic communities in Reggio Emilia. As the technique became honed by skilled artisans its fluidity and versatility allowed them to draw from a host of decorative arts, emulating pietre dure, embroidery, lace-work, inlaid ivory, pastiglia stucco and even oil paintings. Eventually, the medium came to be prized as much, if not more, than marble itself.

Scagliola reached its apogee under Hugford whose closely guarded method is described in an unpublished account of his pupil and prodigy, Lamberto Gori (1730–1801). ‘This material’, Gori writes ‘called scagliola or Specchio d’asino (selenite) is calcinated or reduced to a friable condition by heat, ground into a very fine powder and then made into a paste which can be rolled out into slabs of various shapes and sizes. When the slab of paste hardens the surface is indented according to the design or patterns to be depicted, and then inlaid with a fresh paste mixed with whatever colours are needed for the picture. Only with extreme application and patience can such painstaking work be brought to completion and perfection. The object of this technique is to emulate the art of painting by representing in coloured scagliola and with an equal degree of naturalism, landscapes, seascapes, flowers, fruits animals, etc., and even, which is to be most wondered at and admired, the human figure itself. When completed, the surface of the scagliola picture can be polished and all trace of the inlaying technique is thus concealed. Indeed, scagliola pictures have often been mistaken for paintings under glass. Scagliola is so hard that is can be used for floors and so durable that it is often used for tombs and church monuments. But it’s most attractive quality is the high polish which lends it so delicate and precious an appearance’.

Bianco Bianchi (1920-2006)

The art-form was much neglected for most of the 19th and 20th century and the legacy of craftsman such as Hugford almost perished. The role of the Bianco Bianchi in its revival has been paramount.  A skilled practitioner himself, he founded the Bianco Bianchi workshop in the 1960s (fig. 3), which is now continued by his children Alessandro and Elisabetta. An avid collector and connoisseur, his pioneering work around the subject has done much to expand academic knowledge on scagliola. The present panels took pride of place in the Bianchi museum which houses their unique collection. Bianchi pieces are found in a number of contemporary collections – notably Gianni Versace commissioned the workshop to produce a series of tops emblazoned with his famous crest – helping to keep the art-form alive for the enjoyment of future generations.

A related pair of scagliola capricci by Hugford sold Sotheby’s London, From the Collection of Prince and Princess Henry de la Tour D’Auvergne Lauraguais, 3 May 2012, lot 40 (£91,250).

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