Vincent Laloux, Bruxelles.
Post Lot Text
A PAIR OF MARBLE AND ORMOLU-MOUNTED EBONY COLLECTOR'S CABINETS
Each with a rectangular breakfront marble top, above a door inset with a lapis lazuli panel and enclosing shelves flanked by uprights decorated with classicaly draped female figures holding floral garlands, the sides decorated with lyre-shaped ornaments, alterations, the lapis-lazuli panels associated
This pair of cabinets of minéralogie demonstrates the passion for marble and hard stones which was revived during the neoclassical period. In the first instance, this trend stems from the Grand Tour. Many patrons travelled to Italy, where they bought or ordered objects and furniture which gave prominence to marble and hard stone, from the more modest to the most exceptional -like the Badminton cabinet-. In his Voyage d'un français en Italie (published in 1769), Joseph Jérôme de Lalande tells us that "a very clever marble mason, Antonio Minelli (...) makes tables from 170 types of marble, eight palmes long by four wide, which are lined with fleur de pêcher marble, a type of marble which is very pleasant to look at; they cost only 25 sequins. This same marble is used for a table made up of pieces in the style of Florentine hard stones, which is only worth 50 sequins. The latter was made for Monsieur Cotel de Grand-Maison, a rich and inquisitive connoisseur who had collected beautiful things for several years".
This trend can also be explained by the passion for collections and for the cabinet of curiosities. One cabinet in particular springs to mind: the mineralogy cabinet, given by King Gustav III of Sweden to the Prince of Condé in 1774. The Prince used this piece of furniture for his collection of minerals.
For the majority of these pieces, marble is used as much for it's aesthetic value as for its didactic quality.
One of the most emblematic works to come out of this fashion for mineralogy is undoubtedly the table of Saxe Teschen, given to Baron de Breteuil, in 1779, by Marie-Therèse, Empress of Austria. This table, work of the Dresden court jeweler, Johan-Christian Neuber, has an oval top paved with hundreds of hard stones, semi-precious stones and petrified wood.
On this subject, Bergeret de Grancourt writes in his Voyage d'Italie (published in 1773-74), "We had diner with Monsieur de Breteuil, ambassador of Malta and a keen enthusiast in all kinds of art. He had in his possession precious marbles and stones, of which he had been a keen collector for fifteen years".
Another example of this style can be found in Jean-Francois Leleu's remarkable secrétaire à abattant, decorated with two hundred and forty five different types of marble. This piece (sold at Christie's, Monaco, 17 June 2000, no 364) is illustrated in J. Dubarry de Lasalle, Utilisation des marbres, Dourdan, 2005, p. 65.
The fashion for meubles de mineralogy and for furniture which uses hard stone and marble outlived the period of Louis XVI and continued throughout the 19th Century, a period that was witness to such highlights as the Beckford cabinets (Safra collection, sold Sotheby's, New York, 3 November 2005, lot 190).