E. Colle, "Ebanisti e mobilieri toscani dell'Ottocento, L'artigianato del legno a Prato", Prato, 1988, pp. 29-30
A. González-Palacios, Il tempio del gusto: Le arti decorative in Italia fra classicismo e barocco. La Toscana e l'Italia settentrionale, Milan, 1986, p. 186, fig. 406
A. M. Massinelli, Scagliola: l'arte della pietra di luna, Rome, 1997, pp. 68-69
Enrico Colle, in his note for Sotheby's 2006 catalogue, mentions the possibility of this chimneypiece stemming from one of the two foremost scagliola workshops of early 19th century Tuscany: that of the Della Valle family and that of Carlo Paoletti. Pietro Della Valle was a student of Lamberto C. Gori in Florence around 1780, where he is likely to have learnt the art of scagliola which he later imported to Sicily. One relatable scagliola-inset chimneypiece still in situ and attributed to Gori is at Palazzo Landolfini, Florence.
The offered fireplace is decorated with multicoloured motifs arranged within a dark background. This type of decoration can be found on several scagliola produced in Tuscany towards the end of the 18th century. Such motifs were used to contour still-lives, vases with flowers, 'antique' scenes and landscapes whose pictoresque taste would have called upon the Leghorn workshop of the Della Valle and that of Carlo Paoletti.
From the research conducted, it would seem that the use of inserted scagliola decoration on a marble surface was much appreciated in Tuscany. Such examples can be found in Florence in the Palazzo Pandolfini where, at the end of the 18th century, Lamberto Gori reproduced the central panel of the antique relief depicting 'La danza delle ore' already produced a first time in 1772 for the Grand Duke Pietro Leopoldo. Another Florentine follower of Gori was Carlo Punto who demonstrated the ability to depict subjects - in part derived from contemporary pieces of pietre dure or copies of ancient vases - against a white carrara marble.
There is very little information about the production of scagliola during the late 18th to the early 19th century throughout Italy. In both the kingdom of the Two Sicilies and Rome, two centres of art whose achievements in the use of decorations mainly derived from antiquity, similar decorations such as the one placed at the front of our fireplace have been produced. In Florence too (for example in the Gori workshop and in the Galleria dei Lavori) they were using prints of classical sculpture and vase painting and this type of decoration was initiated by Della Valle family of Roman origin.
In fact, Leon Dufourny in his diary wrote that during his visit to Palermo he came in contact with Pietro La Valle [Della Valle], marble cutter in Porta Maqueda, son of Filippo La Valle roman sculptor' versatile and able craftsman in the treatment of 'la scagliola imitando qualcosi tipo de marmo,' maker of gilt bronzes and capable 'di lavorare stucchi e marmi.' On the 15th of april 1791 Dufourny went into the chapel of Santa Nicola dei Crociferi which at the time was in thecourse of being built, and thus had the opportunity to see the work of Pietro Della Valle and his sons 'romani che per lungo tempo hanno lavorato alla manifattura di scagliola che si trova al campo Vaccino.'
Pietro Della Valle, as the sources confirm, was the student of Lamberto Christiano Gori in Florence around 1780. He is known to have earned the merit of initiating the first scagliola manufacture in Sicily (i.e. a vase in marble and stucco in the Palazzo of Palermo) and later in Leghorn. Filippo Della Valle, one of the sons of Pietro was also established in this city. He was already active with his father in the first years of the 1790s and by 1805 he took the direction of the Florentine workshop. Filippo benefited from the patronage of Maria Luisa di Borbone, the queen of Etruria, who commissioned several decorative bronzes and vases decorated 'all'antica.'
A few years before, the sons of Filippo would also have been introduced to the profession. Pietro and Giuseppe Della Valle, the eldest of whom demonstrated a particular interest in painting, worked for a certain period in conjunction with the painter Giuseppe Terreni. The skills he developed there noticeably ameliorated the artistic level of production, which would determine the success of the workshop during the Italian Restoration.
In light of this exposition it is possible to place the origin of our fireplace in one of the two aforementioned workshops. As we have seen, they both turned out specializing in the work of marble and scagliola, materials which characterized the grottesca style typical of Tuscany between the 18th and 19th century.
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