This striking pair of neo-classical commodes, with their elegant architectural outlines further emphasized by the sumptuous and almost black rosewood, contrasted with light bands and medallions of exquisite marquetry, stand as testaments to Giuseppe Maggiolini’s virtuosity, combining technical skills with an exquisitely refined and understated elegance.
These commodes formed part of what was rightly considered one of the most important collections of furniture by Giuseppe Maggiolini. Assembled by the passionate connoisseur and collector, Dr. Enrico Restelli, in the first decades of the 20th century, and displayed at his villa in Cuggiono, Brianza, the significance of this particular pair of commodes was further underlined by the inclusion of one of them in the exhibition commemorating the bicentennial of the birth of the celebrated Lombard cabinetmaker Maggiolini. Held at the Palazzo Sormani Andreani, in Milan, from November to December 1938, the exhibited commode still bears the exhibition label, though erroneously numbered no. 54, while it later appeared in the printed catalogue as no.96:
n.96 CASSETTONE a un cassetto e ribalta in palissandro intarsiato in acero, mogano, pero e bosso. Nella fronte, ovale con figura allegorica classica (Pomona?) al centro di vasto campo, segnato da fascia di semplice disegno geometrico e da cornice sporgente piatta. In alto, greca entro gola, ricorrente nei fianchi. Nei fianchi, rosone inquadrato come sopra. Gambe tronco coniche scanellate. Piano di marmo Bardiglio. 93x115x56. Espositore, Dott. Enrico Restelli – Cuggiono.
The decorative scheme of these striking commodes with their Greek key frieze is well-documented by the existence in the archival collection of sketches and drawings by the Maggiolini workshop of two preparatory watercolour drawings signed by Girolamo Mantelli depicting the allegory of Spring (R.M. Inv. C 74) and Summer (R.M. Inv. C. 79) whose design had been masterfully inlaid by Maggiolini with delicate marquetry to the front façade of both commodes. These designs by Girolamo Mantelli, as discussed by Giuseppe Beretti and Alvar Gonzàlez-Palacios, ‘show that predilection for the bucolic and the neoclassical taste that reminds the style and ideas of Angelica Kauffmann’ (G. Beretti, A. Gonzàlez-Palacios, Giuseppe Maggiolini. Catalogo ragionato dei disegni, Milano, In limine, 2014, p. 265). Girolamo Mantelli was a discreet painter, based in Milan, mainly active as an engraver and was closely related to Giuseppe Maggiolini, to whom he supplied drawings for intarsias. His beautiful engravings feature in ‘Raccolta di Disegni incisi da Girolamo Mantelli di Canobio sugli originali esistenti nella Biblioteca Ambrosiana di mano di Leoanrdo da Vinci e dei suoi scolari Lombardi’ (Collection of drawings engraved by Girolamo Mantelli based on the original ones existing in the Ambrosiana Library by Leonardo da Vinci and his Lombard pupils), published in 1785. Girolamo Mantelli was also the designer of an engraved cartouche used, in some rare cases, by Giuseppe Maggiolini as a signature on his furniture. It depicts two putti sketching an architectural view on a wooden board. This cartouche is reminiscent in style and subject to the frontispiece of the above cited book of drawings published in 1785.
The bold and contrasting yet restricted design of these commodes differs slightly from Maggiolini’s usual oeuvre. While they preserve the classical architectural constructional elements of his furniture, including the shallow frieze drawer, the panelled and sliding fronts that conceal long walnut-lined drawers, as well as the turned tapering and fluted legs, they denote an ornamental rigueur and a somewhat austere character. Most of the surface is veneered with carefully laid dark Indian rosewood (palissandre des Indes) with careful attention taken to the disposition of the veining of the veneer to create a precise decorative scheme. It is highlighted by contrasting light veneers used as foliate borders (on a amaranth ground) and particularly the visually powerful Greek key to the frieze drawer, the foliate paterae to the sides and above all, the two oval cameos inlaid in the centre of the facades representing a seated Flora, emblematic of Spring, leaning against an urn and holding a flowered garland, and a seated Pomona, emblematic of Summer, resting against an oak tree and holding in one hand a cornucopia filled with fruits and in the other sprigs of wheat. Maggiolini intelligently contrasts the severity of form with delicate inlay resembling embroidered lace or a grisailles cartouche within foliate borders framing front and side panels.
The quality of the inlay to the cameos, which are derived from Mantelli’s drawings, allow a favourable comparison with the furniture supplied to the Napoleonic court, in particular to two commodes executed for the Emperor's bedroom, commissioned by Francesco Melzi d'Eril in 1804 (see G. Beretti, Giuseppe Maggiolini, l’officina del Neoclassicismo, Milan, Malavasi, 1994, p.172 and following), as well as a large commode, with inlays after designs by Andrea Appiani, which was sold at Finarte, Milan, 12 April 1989, lot 361 (see G.Beretti, Op.cit., 1994, p.203 and following). A plausible dating for the present commodes would, therefore, be the very beginning of the 19th century when Napoleon was crowned in Milan and the Imperial Court established in that city. It is exactly at that period when Giuseppe Maggiolini combined the delicacy of his usual inlays in the Louis XVI manner with the essence of the fashionable Empire style, which was both austere and almost martial.
These masterpieces of Lombard cabinetmaking formed part of one of the most interesting and important collections of furniture by Giuseppe Maggiolini, put together during the early part of the 20th century. A passionate connoisseur and collector, Dr. Enrico Restelli, had gathered together an impressive number of pieces by Maggiolini in his villa at Cuggiono, Brianza near Milan. These pieces were subsequently studied and researched by Giorgio Nicodemi (d. 1967), Director of the Raccolte d’Arte del Comune di Milano, and by the celebrated scholar Giuseppe Morazzoni (d. 1964). It is interesting to note how many pieces Dr. Restelli lent to the 1938 exhibition, with no less than eight works from his collection recorded in the accompanying exhibition catalogue, including one commode of the present pair, listed as no. 96, with the other Maggiolini pieces from Dr Restelli’s collection listed in the exhibition as numbers: 40, 44, 48, 64, 67, 96, 108 and 112-113). After the death of Dr Restelli, his estate – this pair of commodes included - remained within the family, thereby preventing a dispersal of this superb collection.
Interestingly, Christie’s forthcoming sale ‘Noble & Private Collections’ on 2 and 3 November 2016 will feature further lots from the collection of Enrico Restelli, including a bed composed of Chinoiserie panels by Giuseppe Maggiolini (n.40 in the 1938 Maggiolini exhibition); two side chairs (ns.112 and 114 respectively in the 1938 exhibition); and an intriguing side cabinet closely related to the present commodes, which featured as n. 97 in the 1938 exhibition, described as: n.97 COMODINO negli stessi legni e con disegno analogo al cassettone. 82x42x36 Espositore c.s. .
Christie’s is grateful to Dr. Giuseppe Beretti for his help in preparing this catalogue entry.