The Evelyn Cabinet, by Domenico Bennotti (active 1630-50), Francesco Fanelli (active 1610-42). Ebony and gilt bronze mounts. England and Italy, c.1644-50. © Victoria and Albert Museum, London.
and flowers, often set in paragone.The process continued during the reigns of his successors, Ferdinando II (r. 1621-70) and Cosimo III (r. (1670-1723). From 1659 until his death in 1713, the leading cabinetmaker was Leonard Van der Vinne, whose most important work was perhaps the Vittoria della Rovere Cabinet (Florence, Palazzo Pitti), designed by Diacinto Maria Marmi and completed by about 1680. During the latter 30 years of Cosimo III’s reign, the artistic director was the sculptor Giovan Battista Foggini (1652-1725), whose most important work was the Elector Palatinate cabinet. His lesser work includes a pietre dure cabinet (fig. 3), posthumously acquired by Horace Walpole’s friend, John Chute in about 1740. The last and the largest cabinet to be made in the Galleria was the Badminton Cabinet, commissioned by the 3rd Duke of Beaufort in 1726, a year after Foggini’s death but showing much of his posthumous influence.The central plaque of the cabinet bears the signature of Baccio Capelli and a date of 1720. Baccio Capelli was one of the leading pietre dure specialists between about 1708 and 1746.The Kimbolton cabinet originally made for the Duchess of Manchester at Kimbolton Castle, also contains a pietre dure plaque, which is signed and dated 1709.
NAPLES AND BEYOND So treasured were these diplomatic gifts that other European kings and princes wanted to produce their own versions. Other Italian centres of production included Naples. In 1737 Carlo VII of Naples set up a manufactory, managed by the
Florentine Francesco Ghinghi (1689-1762), following the death of Gian Gastone (172337), the last Medici Grand Duke of Tuscany. After becoming King Carlos III of Spain in 1759, he established a royal manufactory at the Buen Retiro in Madrid in 1761, under the directorship of Domingo Stecchi, another Florentine.As early as 1588, Emperor Rudolph II set up his own manufactory in Prague, which was directed by Ottavio Miseroni of Milan (1567-1624) until his death. Cardinal Mazarin inspired enthusiasm for pietre dure within Louis XIV’s court, which was shared by his finance minister, Jean Baptiste Colbert.
Wanting to make France the European centre of the luxury goods trades, Colbert established a royal manufactory at the Gobelins, in Paris in 1667, which included a pietre dure workshop, staffed by Florentine specialists, among them Domenico Cucci. His most famous work was a pair of pietre dure cabinets (Alnwick Castle), originally made for Louis XIV between 1681 and 1682, and eventually acquired by the 3rd Duke of Northumberland in 1823.
Swags of fruit carved in semi-precious stones were a characteristic of Gobelins pietre dure, and were to be much prized in the 1820s by English ‘chinamen’, such as Robert Hume and Robert Fogg, and collectors, such as William Beckford and George Watson Taylor.
FLORENTINE PRODUCTION Patronage in Florence continued under the Hapsburg Lorraines, but Louis Siriès, the director from 1748 onwards, shifted the emphasis towards producing still-lives and landscapes in pietre dure that imitated paintings. His leading designers were Giuseppe Zocchi (1711-67) and, from 1771 onwards, Antonio Cioci, who specialised in still lives consisting of shells and porcelain till his death in 1792. In the aftermath of the French Revolution and Napoleon’s invasion of Tuscany in 1799, the manufactory in Florence adopted neo-classical Empire style designs, executed mainly by Carlo Carlieri and Giovan Battista Giorgi, the latter following the restoration of Ferdinando III as grand duke in 1814.With Tuscany’s incorporation into the newly-formed kingdom of Italy in 1859, what became the Opificio still enjoyed foreign royal patronage, supplied by Ludwig II of Bavaria and Tsar Alexander II of Russia, but almost none from the ruling House of Savoy.The highest standards were still maintained by Eduardo Marchionni, head of the Opificio from 1873 until 1923, and prizes were won at various international exhibitions. But traditional laborious handwork, that produced such exquisite results, did not lend itself to mechanisation.Today the Opificio serves partly as a museum and partly as a workshop, where traditional methods are still used, but efforts are concentrated on art restoration.
RECOMMENDED READING: Anna Maria Giusti: Pietre Dure – Hardstone in Furniture and Decorations (London, Philip Wilson Publishers, 1992). Alvar González Palacios: Il Tempio del gusto. Le Arte decorative in Italia fra classicismi e baroco. (Vicenza, Neri Pozza Editore, 2000) Anna Maria Massinelli and Jeanette Hanisee Gabriel: The Gilbert Collection. Hardstones. (London, Philip Wilson Publishers, 2000) Simon Swynfen Jervis and Dudley Dodd: Roman Splendour - English Arcadia.The English Taste for Pietre Dure and the Sixtus Cabinet at Stourhead. (London, Philip Wilson Publishers, 2015)
James Yorke is a former curator in the V&A’s furniture department.The Castle Howard collection will be auctioned at Sotheby’s London Old Masters and Treasures sale on July 8.
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