Both the admiration for the Antique and archaeological discoveries in the 16th century stimulated a passion for marbles and rare stones that were previously synonymous with the splendour of Imperial Rome. The natural beauty of stones and their connection to the Roman past boosted the emergence of skilled marble-working workshops in Rome, with Florence developing its workshops soon after. However, by the early 17th century, the popularity of polychrome inlaid-marble decoration had spread from Florence and Rome to Naples, the largest and most important city in South Italy. Naples’ position as one of the centres for pietre dure further developed in 1738 when Carlos VII of Bourbon, King of Naples (later King Carlos III of Spain) established the Real Laboratorio delle Pietre Dure.
Neapolitan pietre dure found in local churches offered highly dramatic, innovative, colourful and bold designs, often covering entire pavements and walls. These impressive table tops transpose this same striking language to a secular function and are one of the best examples of their kind.
These exceptional matched pair of tables, previously owned by Arthur Ronald Nall-Cain, the 2nd Lord Brocket (1906-1967) assert their individuality by offering us different surface designs. Although influenced in design by Roman models, e.g. in the use of central oval alabaster medallions, the table tops diverge from those given their bolder scrolls, the choice of stones, the stylized cross motifs at their center and the thicker white marble framing filets.
Related examples include a top sold at Sotheby's Paris, B.B.S.: Un Hommage, 30 Jun 2016, lot 22 (€75,000) and another sold Christie’s London, The European Connoisseur, 5 December 2013, lot 53 (£110,500), the later in the manner of the Neapolitan sculptor and architect Cosimo Fanzago (1591-1678).
In many ways, the work of Fanzago relates to the aesthetic of the present table tops. Fanzago is considered to be one of the greatest figures of the Baroque period in Naples. His work is recorded in many local churches and can be characterized by the use of an astonishing variety of different marbles and stones cut and assembled in distinct ways.
During his lifetime, Fanzago continuously maintained his expressive language. He treated architecture as sculpture and rigorously dramatized ordinary natural motifs, thus leading to theatrical visual effects. As he visited Rome twice, from 1638 to 1650 and in 1652, it is also frequent to identify in his work hints of the Roman pietre dure vocabulary. Interestingly, proposition drawings of the altars in the Church of San Francesco di Paola and in the Church of SS. Trinità delle Monache, published in A.Bulifon. Da Sarnelli (1697) (reproduced in Cantone, G. Napoli Barocca e Cosimo Fanzago, Naples, 1984, p.37, p.43), feature motifs highly comparable to the one found at the centre of the present tops. Additionally, the designs of a flower vase in the Church of San Martino, of tightly drawn rosettes in the Church of Saint Teresa and of his numerous Church columns with large flowers recall the aesthetic of the present matched pair of table tops.
Lord Brocket and Bramshill House, Hampshire
The tables were housed along with Brocket's impressive collection at Bramshill House, Hampshire. Lord Brocket (1904-1967), a politician who worked hard to reach a peace settlement between England and Germany during the Second World War and a barrister educated at Eton College and Oxford University.
From a family that made its wealth from brewing, he purchased Bramshill House from the Cope family in 1935. Lord Brocket undertook structural repairs and made sure, in partnership with the National Trust, to preserve the park and building, which had been essentially built by Edward, 11th Baron Zouche of Harringworth (1556-1625). From its architecture to its interiors, the Jacobean country house breaths history, extravagance and wealth. Later bought in 1953 by the Home Office to be used as a police staff college, the house is itself easily recognizable by its prominent south facade with an entrance portico front between the truncated wings.
With a house of 36 rooms like Bramshill, Lord Brocket naturally furnished adequately his surroundings. Multiple photographs taken of Bramshill' interiors display a multitude of museum-worth works where Brocket’s taste for heterogeneity in interior decoration becomes evident.
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