- precious stones, pietre dure
Collection Henri Michel (1885-1981), Brussels, acquired from the above in 1962;
Thence by descent to the present owner.
Giusti, A. M., Pietre Dure, Hardstone in Furniture and Decorations, Belgium, 1992, p. 113;
González-Palacios, A., Il Gusto dei Principi, Arte di Corte del XVII e del XVIII Secolo, Milano, 1993, Vol. I, p. 395;
González-Palacios, A., Il Gusto dei Principi, Arte di Corte del XVII e del XVIII Secolo, Milano, 1993, Vol. II, pp. 419-432;
Massinelli, A. M., The Gilbert Collection, Hardstones, Italy, 2000, pp. 85-86;
Harris, E., The Genius of Robert Adam, New Haven and London, 2001, pp. 193-195;
Koeppe, W (Ed)., Art of the Royal Court, Treasures in Pietre Dure from the Palaces of Europe, Madrid, 2008, pp. 79, 85-101 and 340-341;
Jervis, S., & Dodd, D., Roman Splendour, English Arcadia, The English Taste for Pietre Dure and the Sixtus Cabinet, China, 2015, pp. 16-17.
These exquisitely executed pietre dure panels which, bring to life the playful characters from Jacques Callot’s (c. 1592–1635) Varie Figure Gobbi (1612-1622) (fig. 1) and Capricci di varie figure (c. 1617) (illustrated at SOTHEBYS.COM), belong to a small group of autograph works by the virtuoso talent Baccio Cappelli (d. circa 1751). Cappelli was one of the greatest lapidaries in the illustrious history of the Galleria dei Lavori, the Grand Ducal hardstone workshop in Florence founded by the Grand Duke Ferdinando I de’ Medici in 1588. The reverse of each panel is signed and dated - Baccius / Cappellius / Florentinus / FEcit / Anno / 1704 and Baccio Cappelli / Fecit anno 1706 in / Florenza respectively - placing the panels among the earliest known examples of Cappelli's oeuvre (for the latter inscription see fig. 2).
Baccio Cappelli - Painting in Stone
Cappellis had worked at the Galleria for generations. A Baccio Cappelli Sr. was employed in the Grand Ducal workshops under Cosimo II de’ Medici (1590-1621) and an Antonio Cappelli was active under Ferdinand II de’ Medici (1610-1670) (González-Palacios, op. cit., 1993, Vol. II, pp. 419-432). It is possible our Baccio Cappelli was his son. His works were treasured throughout Europe and a handful of signed pieces survive in the foremost collections in the world. The present panels are an unusual subject – Cappelli is better known for his landscapes or ornithological and botanical subjects – as demonstrated by two panels incorporated into the monumental Badminton cabinet which was made for Henry Scudamore, 3rd Duke Beaufort, for Badminton House (sold Christie's London, 9 December 2004, £19,045,250 and now in the Lichtenstein Collections, Vienna, ref. MO 1584). The central and top left panels are signed 'Baccio Cappelli Fecit 1720 nell Galleria dell S.A.R' and 'No. I Bacchio Cappelli Fecit' respectively (the latter is reproduced González-Palacios, op. cit., 1993, Vol. I, p. 395). Cappelli's panels for the Badminton cabinet pre-date the commission by several years as the Duke was only 13 years old in 1720 and yet to embark on his Grand Tour. A wonderful example of a pastoral scene by Cappelli is the central panel mounted into the Kimbolton cabinet which is signed and dated 'Baccio Cappelli fecit Anno 1709 Fiorenze'. The cabinet was made by Mayhew & Ince in 1771 after a design by Robert Adam for the Duchess of Manchester at Kimbolton Castle, Huntingdon, as a vehicle to display Cappelli's majestic scenes (now in the Victoria and Albert Museum, London, ref. W.43-1949). It is interesting to observe that the central panel of the Kimbolton cabinet is similarly framed within an arch and dates to a comparable period of production to the present panels. Finally, an octagonal plaque of the Annunciation in the Museo dell' Opificio delle Pietre Dure is signed 'Baccio Cappelli / fece lanno 1727' (reproduced González-Palacios, op. cit., 1993, Vol. I, p. 395). The signatures to the reverse of both the Badminton and Annunciation panels are certainly by the same hand as the present lot (see ibid., p. 395 and fig. 3 for comparison).
Cappelli was trained in the long established techniques which the Galleria had founded its reputation on and continued the tradition into the 18th century. The first stage in preparing the present panels would have been to make a full-size working drawing from Callot's original etchings. Paper cut-outs, traced from the drawing, were then glued to selected slices of stone. The stone pieces were placed in a vice and laboriously cut with a bow-saw, before being placed face down on a flat surface. A single piece of slate was stuck to the back of the design to form a support when it was turned over. Finally, the front of the plaque was rubbed smooth with fine abrasives, creating the polished finished.
Jacques Callot - Paupers and Princes
Born in Nancy in 1592, Callot was one of the great innovators in the still relatively young art of etching and prolific in his output; he produced some 1,400 prints in his lifetime. Callot represented beggars, gypsies, soldiers, actors, and the ladies and gentlemen of the European courts with a caricaturist’s eye that evidently appealed to the commessi makers of the Galleria. The grotesque characters from his Varie Figure Gobbi (1612-1622), a sixteenth-century travelling troupe of performing dwarfs who performed at the court of Cosimo II during Callot’s time there, have been applied to other hardstone works including, among others, a Florentine table top at Versailles (Giusti, op. cit., p. 113) and a pair of table tops formerly the collection of Edmund de Rothschild at Halton House (now in the Gilbert Collection in the Victoria & Albert Museum, London, ref. MM213) (Massinelli, op. cit., pp.85-86). None of the aforementioned examples can match the level of skill and sophistication to which the present lot is executed, further proof that Cappelli produced some of the most superbly cut and carefully assembled pietre dure panels ever made.
Engineer, collector and scholar of scientific instruments since 1930, Henri Michel’s collection was acquired by shipping magnate J. A. Bilmeir, who later donated it to the Museum of the History of Science of Oxford University, including some instruments made by Michel himself. An authority in his own right, Michel was the author of the seminal Traité de l’Astrolabe, 1947 and was member of Académie Internationale d'Histoire des Sciences.
See extended catalogue note at SOTHEBYS.COM