An Italian Renaissance style carved marble chimney surround<BR />fourth quarter 19th century
Lot 1157W
An Italian Renaissance style carved marble chimney surround
after a model by Giuliano da Sangallo (Florentine, circa 1443-1516) in the Palazzo Gondi, Florence
fourth quarter 19th century
Sold for US$ 56,250 inc. premium
Lot Details
An Italian Renaissance style carved marble chimney surround
after a model by Giuliano da Sangallo (Florentine, circa 1443-1516) in the Palazzo Gondi, Florence
fourth quarter 19th century
The upper section with a large panel carved in relief with scrolling foliage, flowers and birds and centered by a medallion depicting Zephyr abducting Chloris, flanked by a putto with avian wings and another with butterfly wings, each standing on a plinth inscribed M.D, surmounted by a rectangular plaque carved with the Harvey family motto SERVATE FIDEM CINERI (Keep the promise made to the ashes of your forefathers), the mantel carved with the Triumph of Neptune, flanked by trophies and supported by pilasters richly carved with masks and foliage.
height 101in (256.5cm); width 75 3/4in (192.5cm); depth 13 1/4in (33.5cm)


  • Provenance:
    The Benjamin Thaw Mansion, Morewood Place, Pittsburgh

    The design of this fireplace surround is based on a monumental fireplace in the Palazzo Gondi in Florence, designed by Giulano da Sangallo (circa 1443-1516), the preferred architect of Lorenzo the Magnificent and other important figures of the Florentine Renaissance. The style of its decoration was impressive for its time, prompting the 16th-century art historian Giorgio Vasari to write, "[da Sangallo] built among other things a fireplace richly embellished with inlay work and so varied and beautiful in its components that nothing similar has yet been seen, nor any other with such abundance of figures." Only the lower section (mantel and supports) of the present fireplace is based on the Palazzo Gondi model; the upper section appears to be an invention of the stone carver employed to produce the fireplace for the Thaw Mansion.

    Benjamin Thaw (1859-1933) was the son of William Thaw and Eliza Burd Blair. William Thaw amassed a colossal fortune, mainly from the Pennsylvania Railroad, and the Thaw family was one of the most socially prominent in the nation by the turn of the century. Benjamin Thaw built his mansion at 5010 Morewood Place in Pittsburgh in 1899, a luxuriously appointed three-and-one-half story construction with twenty rooms, eight baths and a six-car garage. He apparently initially wished to purchase the actual Gondi fireplace surround for his home, an offer which the Gondi family declined. They did allow him to send someone to sketch their fireplace, however, in order to make a reproduction. The fireplace was carved and shipped to Pittsburgh for the then-enormous sum of $15,000 – over thirty times the average annual salary of the day.

    One of the guests who could certainly be found standing near the fireplace at some of the many social events that the Thaws organized in their home was Benjamin's half-brother, Harry Kendall Thaw (1871-1947). A child of William Thaw's second marriage to Mary Sibbet Copley Thaw, Harry was unstable and given to fits of temper from childhood. As an adult, he led a singularly excessive and erratic existence, marked by substance abuse, mental and physical cruelty to others, and wild spending sprees – it is said that he lit his cigars with hundred-dollar bills.

    Around 1901, Harry Thaw became enamored of a young chorus girl and artist's model, Evelyn Nesbit. After a somewhat unorthodox courtship involving psychological and physical sequestration and abuse, the couple was married on April 4, 1905. Before their betrothal, Evelyn confessed to her husband-to-be that she had been deflowered by the famed architect Stanford White when she was sixteen.

    Thaw had been nurturing a hatred of Stanford White for some time already, blaming the prominent New York citizen for blocking his admission to every Gentleman's Club of New York City. His bride's admission ultimately served to convert this dislike into an obsession, and on June 25, 1906, during the finale of a stage show on the rooftop of the Madison Square Garden (one of the most famous buildings designed by White) Harry Kendall Thaw shot Stanford White at a distance of two feet, killing him instantly. He stood over the body of the man he had just killed, brandishing the gun and shouting, "I did it because he ruined my wife! He had it coming to him. He took advantage of the girl and then abandoned her!"

    The subsequent trials (the first resulted in a deadlocked jury) were remarkable for the sensationalism surrounding them, possibly not equaled until the 1995 murder trial of O.J. Simpson. Thaw's mother, accustomed to covering up Harry's misdeeds with money in order to protect the family's reputation, spent a reported half-million dollars on the defense team. The trials marked the first time in American jurisprudence that a jury was sequestered, and the first attempt at a defense centered on a plea of temporary insanity (Harry's mother would not countenance any Thaw being publicly declared insane). Thaw was eventually acquitted by reason of insanity, and sentenced to life incarceration at an asylum for the criminally insane. Retried and acquitted in 1915, Thaw was arrested shortly thereafter for the kidnapping, whipping and sexual assault of a nineteen-year-old boy, Frederick Gump. He was found insane once again and incarcerated, only to be released again in 1924. Thaw subsequently lived in Virginia and Florida until the age of 76.

Saleroom notices

  • Please note that due to the comprehensive nature of the de-installation process of this lot, Bonhams has made arrangements for the removal of lot 1157 on Tuesday April 30, 2013. All subsequent dismantling, transport and storage fees will by assumed by the buyer of this lot. Please contact Bonhams for any further inquiries. Storage of this lot after April 30th will be at Cadogen Tate Fine Art Storage Limited.
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  1. Karl Green
    Specialist - European Furniture and Works of Art
    580 Madison Avenue
    New York, United States 10022
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