Lot 11
  • 11

WORKSHOP OF COSIMO CASTRUCCI (ACTIVE 1576-1602)BOHEMIAN, PRAGUE, 1590-1619 | Pietre Dure Relief with a Townscape

100,000 - 150,000 GBP
bidding is closed


  • Pietre Dure Relief with a Townscape
  • mixed marbles and hardstones, in a gilt bronze mounted tortoiseshell frame
  • relief: 26 by 35cm., 10¼ by 13¾in. 38 by 48cm., 15 by 18 7/8 in. overall


by repute from the Treasury of Rudolph II, Holy Roman Emperor (1552-1612)
with Bernard Steinitz, Biennale des Antiquaires, Paris, 2003;
whereby acquired by Jacques Rosenthal, Boulogne, France

Catalogue Note

The Castrucci was a family of Florentine goldsmiths and pietre dure artists active mostly at the court of the Holy Roman Emperor Rudolph II in Prague between the late 16th and the first half of the 17th centuries. The Emperor was a fervent admirer of the Florentine technique of pietre dure, first of all for his personal interest in these rare materials, perfect for his Kunstkammer taste, and, on the other hand, for his specific curiosity and the scientific-alchemical properties and magical virtues of stones: their magnificence was believed to reflect the beauty of the Universe and the divine greatness and might of God. For these reasons, he went to considerable efforts in order to attract important masters of this field to his court. The Emperor Rudolf eventually succeeded when he had the chance to win over Cosimo Castrucci taking advantage of a very rich commission to the Florentine workshops for an extraordinary table (now lost but depicted in a David Teniers the Younger painting at the Musee des Beaux Arts de Bruxelles). Cosimo Castrucci coordinated the liaise between Florence and the Imperial Court and, thanks to this role, he was eventually hired by Rudolph II himself. The Medici had a diplomatic interest in trying to develop their relationships with the Habsburg court and the artistic exchange was a political instrument in this sense, with a consequent mutual exchange of craftsmen and techniques. The first work signed and dated by Cosimo Castrucci for the Prague Imperial Court is a panel which bears the date '1596', now at the Kunsthistorisches Museum in Vienna (inv. no. KK 3037; published in W. Koeppe and Annamaria Giusti (eds.), op. cit., p. 219, no. 66). The Prague pietre dura workhop employed three successive generations of the Castrucci, from Cosimo to his son Giovanni and then his grandson, Cosimo di Giovanni, all distinguished by the virtuoso quality of their works, which originated from their goldsmith heritage. Giovanni Castrucci, of the second generation of lapidaries, seems to have been working with Cosimo at the Emperor's court since 1598 and he was appointed Kammer-Edelsteinschneider (Master stone-carver) in 1610. Cosimo and Giovanni's activity led consequently to the creation of a workshop which employed several craftsmen and assistants who worked under their constant direction and guidelines in a crescendo of quality during this period.

The present panels represent an extraordinary example of the most distinctive traits of the Castrucci: the goldsmith-like virtuosity in the combination of the different pietre dure and the unique creativity of the composition and of the use of colours. Differing from Florentine tradition, the Castrucci developed the landscape as main subject. The atmosphere was realized with incredible meticulousness, using several rare stones, some of which are specific to Prague and her environs: agate, chalcedony and Bohemian jasper were the most common. The scenes depicted were usually taken from important German and Flemish landscape paintings (which were in the collection of Rudolph II or whose artists were even active at his court), or, most frequently, engravings that could have been seen by the Castrucci at the Prague court. Pieter Bruegel, Paul Bril, Pieter Stevens and Aegidius Sadeler have all been sources of inspiration for the workshop; elements from all these artists are usually present in the Castrucci panels, varied in several solutions and compositions. 

In Prague, unlike in Florence, however, there no artists to provide chromatic models for the lapidaries or 'commessi'. The difficulty of relying mainly on monochrome engravings led paradoxically to an impressive creative effort and to the explosion of almost dream-like colour schemes, which we can admire today in works by the Castrucci. These palettes reflect the Northern/ Flemish soul more than the Italian one, especially for the chromatic tones used in the three usual subdivisions of the space: dark green and brown stones for the foreground, then the horizon in a lighter tone and, most typical, the greyish northern sky, not represented using lapis lazuli as in Florence, but with pale stones which give the impression of a milky opalescence, distinct from the azure skies of the Mediterranean. The use of different and successively lighter tranches of pietre dure results then in a skillful three dimensional, atmospheric and chromatic rendering of space, as it appears especially in the works attributed to Cosimo Castrucci, while more complex compositions with architectural elements can be linked to Giovanni's practice.

The main comparison with the present panels is found in a table top in commesso di pietre dure at the Museo degli Argenti of Florence, with particular reference to the central panel (published in Giusti, 1992, op. cit, p.167, fig. 90). Other comparisons can be the Landscape with a Chapel and a Bridge, the Landscape with the sacrifice of Isaac, the Landscape with an Obelisk and the Landscape with flaming sky, all of which are held in the collections of the Kunsthistorisches Museum in Vienna (Inv. nos. KK 3037, 3411, 3397, 3039; all illustrated in W. Koeppe and Annamaria Giusti (eds.), op. cit., pp. 219-225, nos. 66-69). See also the panels from the gilded bronze and hardstone chest and a table top, both in the Liechtenstein collections, Vienna (illustrated in Giusti, 1992, op. cit., p. 154, 162, figs. 81 and 87). Note also the inserts in the ebony cabinet from the Museo dell'Opificio delle Pietre Dure in Florence (cf Giusti, 1992, op. cit., p. 158, figs. 84-85) and the table cabinet from the collection of the Los Angeles County Museum of Arts (cf Giusti, 1992, op. cit., p.164, fig. 88).

A comparable panel in pietre dure, attributed to Cosimo Castrucci, was sold in these rooms on July 9th 2002, lot 64.

A. P. Giulianelli,  Memdegli intagliatori moderni, Livorno 1753, p. 141; J. R. Füssli,  AllgemKünstlerlexikon, Zürich, 1779, p. 144; G. J.Dlabacž,  Allgemeines Künstlerlexikon für Böhmen..., Prague 1815, no. 296; J. Arneth,  Die Cinquecento-  Cameen und Arbeiten des Benvenuto Cellini und seiner Zeitgenossen im k- kMünzund Antikenkabinette zu Wien, Vienna, 1858, p. 30; G. K. Nagler,  Neues allgemeines Künstlerlexikon, II, Münich, 1835, p. 144; Die Monogrammisten, II, Münich, 1860, p. 183; F. Kenner,  Cameen und Modelle des XVIJahrhunderts, in  Jahrbuch der kunsthistorSammlungen...  in Wien, IV, 1886, pp. 15, 21; W. Boeheim,  Urkunden und Regesten...,  ibid., VII, 1888, p. CCXXVI, nos. 5554 (Cosimo); X, 1889), pp. XV, XVII, XVIII, nos. 5645, 5672, 5685 (Giovanni); H. Modern,  Paulus van Vianenibid., XV, 1894, p. 75; H. Zimmermann,  Auszüge aus den Hofzakamurechnungen...,  ibid., XXIX, 1910, p. V, no. 19517 (Giovanni); K. Chytil,  La couronne de Rodolphe II, Prague 1921, p. 26; F. Eichler-E. Kris,  Die Kameen im KunsthistorMuseum in Wien, cat. Kunshistorisches Museum, Vienna, 1929, p. 28; J. Morávek, Nov ĕ  objeven ý  inventá ř  rudolfinsk ý ch sbírek na Hrad ĕ Pra ž ském, Prague, 1937, p. 11; E. Neumann,  Florentiner Mosaik aus Prag, in  Jahrbuch der kunsthistorischen Sammlungen in Wien, LIII, 1957, pp. 157-202  passim; B. Bukovinská,  Dal š í florentské mosaiky z Prah- y, in  Um ĕ ni, XX, 1972, pp. 363-370; L. Bartoli-E. A. Maser,  Il Museo dell' Opificio delle pietre dure..., Florence; C. W. Fock,  Der Goldschmied JBylivelt aus Delft und sein Wirken in den Mediceischen Hofwerkstatt in Florenz, in  Jahrbuch der Kunsthistorischen Sammlungen in Wien, LXX, 1974; A. M. Giusti, Pietre Dure. L'arte europea del mosaico negli arredi e nelle decorazioni dal 1500 al 1800, Florence, 1992; A. M. Massinelli, The Gilbert Collection: Hardstones, cat. Gilbert Collection, London, 2000, p. 29-31; W. Koeppe and Annamaria Giusti (eds.), Art of the Royal Court: Treasures in Pietre Dure from the Palaces of Europe, exh. cat. Metropolitan Museum of Art, New York, 2008, pp. 219-225, nos. 66-69