17th Century pietra dure table top
Lot 10
An early 17th century Roman polychrome pietre-dure table top
Sold for £48,000 (US$ 81,003) inc. premium
Lot Details
An early 17th century Roman polychrome pietre-dure table top
the rectangular top inlaid with various marbles including breccia di Sciro, cipollino rosso, Nero antico, Verde antico, Semesanto, broccatello di Spagna, alabastro fiorito and lapiz lazuli, 158cm x 105cm (62" x 41.1/2").

Footnotes

  • The rectangular top is composed of a slab of white marble, inlaid with polychrome stones edged with borders arranged to form a geometrical decoration in the centre and a band with cartouches around the perimeter.
    In the centre of the table top is a rectangular area, the centre of which is a large oval slab, bordered by a moulded octagonal frame with four concave sides. Outside the frame, inscribed in the concavities of the sides are four circular elements ending in a scroll; these are the elements that connect with the rectangular frame that marks off this central area of the surface.
    The broad outer-band that runs along the perimeter of the table features a sequence of 16 cartouches with curled contours: the four on each of the long sides and the two on the short sides are identical in shape, with a horizontal development, while the four cartouches in the corners are in the form of shields.
    The polychrome marbles used are all of archaeological provenance, as was customary in the tables made in Rome in the late sixteenth and early seventeenth century. However, in this case the antique materials are distinguished by the expertise with which they are utilised and by the rarity of certain of the stones. Among these, for example, is the breccia di Sciro, a brecciated marble originating from the Greek island of Skyros, used for the gilded ground in which the large oval slab is inscribed and the two trapeziums on the short sides of the central 'carpet'. This stone has a fairly vast range of speckling, veering from purple to yellow and flesh tones; the variety featured here is quite rare, characterised by a ground of a fine gilded yellow traversed by purple veins and pinkish sections.
    Also rare is the Cipollino Rosso veined marble, originating from Iasos in ancient Asia Minor, used in the corner cartouches of the perimeter frieze, where we can admire the vivid red-violet colour veined with white and grey. Similarly evocative are the colours of the large oval of African marble, rarely found in large pieces and in a central position as in this case. Originating in reality from Teos, in what is now Turkey, it is cited by Pliny the Younger as marmor luculleus, since it was introduced to Rome in the first century BC by the great aesthete Lucullus. This central area is then completed by the Nero Antico, or Aquitaine marble, used in the rectangular frieze and for the large scrolled circles.
    The range of stones used in the table includes other types comprised in the cartouche border, these too archaeological fragments: we can recognise the Verde Antico in the ground; the Semesanto in the small cartouches that link the larger forming an uninterrupted chain; the Broccatello di Spagna of the borders of the cartouches, encircling an internal element of Alabastro Fiorito, the gilded and russet veinings of which echo more intensely the shades of the surrounding broccatello.
    The only “modern” stone is the lapis lazuli, which was particularly appreciated in the sixteenth century and is hence almost always present among the predominantly archaeological marbles of the Roman inlays, as also confirmed by the famous Farnese table. In this table, the vibrant azure of the lapis lazuli is used to dot the cartouches and for a sort of stylised bud at the four corners of the table; it is then more visibly present in the four ogival elements which, from the edging of Semesanto, link up at right angles with the central oval.
    The “lapidary” and chromatic quality of the table is matched by the harmonious elegance of the composition, which in the austerity of the central area appears to be directly inspired by the architectural inlays. These were the incunabula of the rebirth of the ancient opus sectile in mid-sixteenth-century Rome, and provided the inspiration for table tops on more than one occasion. In the central ground of this table too we can discern the architect’s ratio in the spatial and “monumental” flavour of the composition, and in the ingenious efficacy of the design that binds the individual elements in an organic continuum. It is no coincidence that the pair of circular elements – ending in a scroll and tangential to an octagon – that dominate the central carpet are very similar to those to be found in several mural inlays in the chapel of Palazzo Altemps in Rome, executed between 1603 and 1617 (cf. in A. Gonzàlez Palacios, Las colleciones reales espanolas de mosaicos y piedras duras, Madrid 2001, fig. on page 79).
    The cartouche frieze is dominated by the more graphic and ornate style that was also evident from an early stage in sixteenth-century Roman inlay. Nevertheless, the most direct and faithful resemblances are to a work of certain Florentine origin: the famous table top created in the grand ducal manufactory of Florence for the viceroy of Naples, Duke of Osuna, and completed in 1614 (cf. in Splendori di pietre dure, exhibition catalogue edited by A. Giusti, Firenze 1988, cat. 32, pp. 150-151; A. Gonzàlez Palacios 2001 cit. cat. 10, pp.85-88).
    I have already noted on other occasions how the cartouche border of the Florentine table is of a characteristically Roman flavour; the fact that the same design, so similar as to suggest a derivation from the same "carton", recurs in this table which I consider to be of Roman manufacture, or at least undoubtedly of Roman culture, confirms how very closely meshed were the relations between the Roman inlays and the Florentine mosaics, at least up to the second decade of the seventeenth century.
    Running along outside the cartouche frieze on the Florentine table is a slender edge strip in Giallo antico marble: it seems plausible that this table too may have had a similar border, where it is now seen to be chiselled along the edge of the four sides. This does not appear to be a recent operation, possibly implemented to adapt the table top to a support of different dimensions. Otherwise the table appears to be substantially intact, with very few tiny losses and without any evident integrations, except possibly for a few minuscule inserts of lapis lazuli of a slightly different shade. The central oval is fractured but stable; one of the corner “shields” in cipollino is traversed by a fracture that has created a slight height difference between the two parts. Numerous fine cracks in the stone are visible in various sections. On the rear the slab of white marble constituting the table top shows no signs of tampering, and reveals a mesh of a pale grey veining that would suggest an Apuan origin.

    Annamaria Giusti

    Annamaria Giusti, who has examined this tabletop in person, is Director of the Museum of the Opificio delle Pietre Dure, Florence.

    Literature:

    Enrico Colle, il Mobile Barocco in Italia, arredi e decorazioni d'interni dal 1600 al 1738, 2000, Milano.
    Annamaria Giusti, Pietre Dure, L'arte europea del mosaico negli arredi e nelle decorazioni dal 1500 al 1800, 1992, Torino.
    Annamaria Giusti, Pietre Dure and the Art of Florentine Inlay, 2006, London.
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