This extraordinary commode, with its exotic combination of carved ebony panels imitating Chinese lacquer and opulent use of naturalistic brass inlay on a ground of tulipwood and padouk, can be firmly attributed to the cabinet-maker José Canops, active at the Royal Spanish workshops in Madrid from 1759, under the influence of the Neapolitan designer Matteo Gasparini (d.1774). Its graceful proportions and sophisticated designs demonstrate the Spanish court style developed by King Carlos III (1716-1788) for the New Royal Palace of Madrid. It is almost certainly one of four commodes supplied to the celebrated and exotic Gabinetes de Maderas Finas de Indias for the personal office of the king.
CARLOS III AND THE NEW ROYAL PALACE
When Carlos III, son of King Philip V of Spain and Elizabeth Farnese, acceded to the Spanish throne in 1759 he was determined to create a royal palace in Madrid appropriate one of the world's great powers. The Madrid royal Alcázar had been devastated by fire in 1734, and Carlos set out to not just continue the renovation needed for a functioning royal court, but also to create sumptuous improvements and decoration like that of the other important world powers.
GASPARINI, CANOPS AND THE TALLERES REALES
King Carlos III embarked on several ambitious building projects for the palace and brought numerous renowned artists to Spain, such as Giovanni Battista Tiepolo (1696-1770), Anton Raphael Mengs (1728-1779), and Matteo Gasparini. Gasparini, who possibly traveled to Spain from Italy in the King's entourage, quickly assumed the rank of pintor de camera, and was entrusted with the artistic direction of some of the most prestigious rooms in the Spanish Royal palace.
Gasparini coordinated and supervised the creation of the rooms, having been appointed the director of the Royal workshops, or Talleres Reales. The Royal workshops included three factions, Embroidery (Bordadores), Bronzes (Bronces) and Cabinetmaking (Ebanistería).
Among the artists in the Royal workshops of the Spanish court was the talented Liègeois ébéniste José Canops, who is first mentioned in the Royal ledgers in 1759. Canops collaborated with Gasparini on the opulent decoration of the Cuarto del Rey, for which he executed a rare suite of ormolu-mounted marquetry seat-furniture. Together, they were responsible for the lacquer-inlaid marquetry furniture and paneling in the Gabinetes de Maderas Finas de Indias or Cabinet of Fine Exotic Woods, which was completed in the late 1760s and largely dismantled in the early 19th Century. Canops' marquetry furniture emulated French prototypes, which were admired throughout Europe during the 18th Century, however, with Gasparini, he developed a uniquely individual Court style for Carlos III at the Palacio Real de Madrid (F. Nino Mas, P. Junquera de Vega, Palacio Real de Madrid, Madrid, 1985, p. 235).
OTHER COMMODES OF THIS MODEL
A nearly identical commode formerly in the bedchamber of Queen Maria Luisa de Parma, wife of Carlos IV and now in the Royal residence at Zarzuela, is illustrated L. Feduchi, Colecciones Reales de Espana: El Mueble, Madrid, 1965, fig. 330, although the brass-inlaid birds on the frieze are mirroring those on the present commode. Another nearly identical example, with the bird inlay in the same position as the Heinz example, is illustrated Mueble Español Estrado Y Dormitorio, pp. 310-311, fig. 76 as part of the collection of the Patrimonio Nacional.
Another related example (Patrimonio Nacional, inv. 10069951), with circular handles in the more neo-classical taste is now in the Palacio del Pardo and is illustrated J. Ferrero, The Royal Palaces of Spain, New York, 1997, p. 186; further, it is illustrated alongside a similar but smaller commode from the Palacio Real in Madrid (Patrimonio Nacional, inv. 10090042), in P. Benito García et. al., Carlos III Majestad y Ornato En Los Escenarios Del Rey Ilustrado, Madrid, 2016, pp. 331-333, figs. 121-122.
The differences in handles could be attributed to the different broncistas who were active in the Royal workshops at the times the commodes were made. The bronzes of the commode with identical handles to the present example are attributed to Juan Bautista Ferroni, while the bronzes of the example in the Palacio del Pardo are attributed to Antonio Vendetti.
The Inventario de Carlos III for the Palacio Real de Madrid, October 1776, lists seven commodes in the Cuarto de Rey, separated by three smaller gabinetes which form the Gabinetes de Maderas Finas de Indias: Despacho de S.M. (A10), Despacho secreto de S.M.(A11) and Gabinete verde (A12). In this inventory, no comodas are listed in the Despacho de S.M., however, two commodes are listed in the Gabinete verde (no. 48), and a larger commode (no. 52) and four additional commodes (no. 53) are listed in the Despacho secreto de S.M (José Luis Sancho, “Función y decoro. El mobiliario del Palacio Real de Madrid bajo Carlos III” Librosdelacorte.es, 2018, pp.270, 288). According to Professor Ángel López Castán from the Universidad Autónoma in Madrid, the Heinz commode is one of the set of four large commodes created for the office of King Carlos III in the Gabinetes de Maderas Finas de Indias in the Royal Palace of Madrid.
THE LATER HISTORY
Although little is known about this commode's whereabouts in the 19th century, it was part of the early 20th century stock of Henry Duveen, New York, who with his brother Joseph were the world’s leading art dealers during the first quarter of the 20th century. However, the records of The Duveen Brothers preserved at the Getty Museum fail to mention the commode, which may indicate an early purchase of the commode by George Fisher Baker (1840-1912), the co-founder, president, chairman and largest shareholder of First National Bank, now Citibank. The underside of the marble top on this commode is inscribed, ‘Go Baker / 258 Madison’, indicating that this commode was in Baker’s private collection at his Manhattan residence, 258 Madison Avenue.
Ángel López Castán, "La ebanistería madrileña y el mueble cortesano del S.XVIII (I)", Anuario del Departamento de Historia y Teoría del Arte, Universidad Autónoma de Madrid, 2004.
Ángel López Castán, “Mattia Gasparini. Trayectoria vital y profesional de un artista veneciano al servicio de Carlos III”, Anuario del Departamento de Historia y Teoría del Arte, Universidad Autónoma de Madrid, 2017.
J. Hernandez Ferrero, The Royal Palaces of Spain, New York, 1997.
We would like to thank Professor Ángel López Castán for his assistance in researching this commode.