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.
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