The scagliola looking glass forms part of a distinct group of English Baroque scagliola furniture and works of art attributed to the workshop of the Italian craftsman, Baldassare Artima, working in England in the late 17th century most notably for John Maitland, and his spouse, Elizabeth (née Murray), the Duke and Duchess of Lauderdale at Ham House, Surrey, and for Henry Mordaunt, 2nd Earl of Peterborough at Drayton House, Northamptonshire.
Notable related scagliola pieces from this group attributed to or in the manner of Artima and his workshop includes,
• The scagliola chimneypiece, hearth and window-sill slabs in the Queen’s Closet, created for Queen Catherine of Braganza, Charles II’s consort, at Ham House. These were supplied by Baldassare Artima to the Duke and Duchess of Lauderdale in 1672-3 together with a pair of circular scagliola slabs (now in the Long Gallery at Ham House). Bills in the Ham archive record payments amounting to £48 to Artima between June and September 1673 followed by a separate payment two years later for repairs. A further reference to a 'table’ of 'Inlaid marble’ (whereabouts unknown) suggests that Artima may also have been responsible for other scagliola furniture at Ham House (C. Rowell, 'Scagliola by Baldassare Artima Romanus at Ham House and Elsewhere’, ed. C. Rowell, Ham House 400 Years of Collecting and Patronage, New Haven and London, 2013, pp. 206–207).
• An ebony cabinet inlaid with scagliola panels from the collection of the Haldane family of Gleneagles, Perthshire (until 2008). The cabinet’s provenance suggests the possibility that it was made by Artima for the Duke and Duchess of Lauderdale in the same period that he decorated the Queen’s Closet, at Ham, the cabinet subsequently passing to the Haldane family; in 1765 and 1766 there were two marriages between the Maitland (Lauderdale) and Haldane families. The 1674 inventory for the Lauderdale mansion of Lethington, East Lothian (now known as Lennoxlove) refers to an Indian cabinet, lists an Italian marble table and a pair of inlaid stands in the Duchess of Lauderdale’s bedroom; it is possible that this set was formerly at Ham House in 1673 as much furniture was moved between properties; now only the pair of scagliola slabs remain. Furthermore, this inventory lists, 'A fine looking glass with frame of painted flowers’ (whereabouts unknown), offering the tantalising possibility that this refers to a scagliola looking glass, part of Artima's commission for the Lauderdale's, perhaps the mirror offered here (ibid., p. 210 and pp. 218–220).
• A looking, table and pair of torchère stands at Drayton House, Northamptonshire, bearing the arms of Henry Mordaunt, 2nd Earl of Peterborough, KG (d. 1697), and almost certainly made for him by Artima in circa 1675-1685 (ibid., pp. 208–210).
• A table at the Victoria & Albert Museum formerly at Warwick Castle (W.12-1968); this table is attributed to Artima and his workshop (ibid., p. 208).
• A looking glass with similar frame but lacking cresting, sold anonymously, Sotheby’s, London, 6 July 2010, lot 1 (£30,000 including premium).
• Another cabinet, sold anonymously, Sotheby’s, London, 7 December 2010, lot 7 (£82,250 including premium).
• A table-top at Sizergh Castle, Cumbria, made in 1708 for Winifred Trentham, Lady Strickland (d. 1725), widow of Sir Thomas Strickland.
• The Poulett monument commemorating John, 1st Baron Poulett (d. 1649), and his son, 2nd Baron (d. 1665) in St. George’s church, Hinton St. George, probably in situ by 1669 (ibid., p. 210). This is almost certainly the earliest example of British scagliola, and was probably Artima’s first commission (ibid., p. 211).
BALDASSARE ARTIMA 'ROMANUS'
Artima added the suffix 'Romanus’ to his signature, and the Ham House household accounts for 24 June 1673 list 'Paid Baldassare Artima Romane…’ suggesting the craftsman originated from Rome (ibid., p. 206). There is, however, no comparable Roman scagliola of the mid-to late 17th century, and it is likely Artima trained elsewhere. Anna Maria Massinelli suggests he trained in Reggio Emilia before moving to England, based on stylistic similarities with works from Carpi (ibid., p. 213). The Lord Chamberlain's archive shows that on 30 July 1670, Artima and his former assistant, Diacinto Cawcy, were sworn into the King’s Company of players, one of two royal theatre companies founded in 1660 under the sponsorship of Charles II. In the accounts dated 9 September 1671 the pair was described as 'Seene-Keepers’, undoubtedly responsible for the creation of three dimensional theatrical scenery possibly using 'stucco’ work and scagliola (ibid., p. 217). The closure of the company in 1672 and a disagreement between Artima and Cawcy over a debt from 1671 saw the two men part ways. Artima remained in London while Cawcy appears to have moved to Suffolk (ibid., p. 218). By 1681, Artima is recorded as a 'servant’ or clerk of works to Sir John Williams of Minster Court, Thanet, Kent, and lately deceased of 14 St. James’s Square; in his role as clerk he would have been responsible for payments to craftsmen for the refurbishment of Sir John’s properties. In 1686, Artima was belatedly paid £8 for a chimneypiece for Queen Mary of Modena, consort of James II, in 'her Majesty’s little Bedchamber’ at Whitehall Palace, which had a 'frame wrought out of stucco made like the Genoue [Genoa] table’, hence possibly scagliola (whereabouts unknown) (ibid., p. 218).
Both Artima and Cawcy employed common traits in their work, the handling of leaves and flowers 'minutely fronded at the edges’, spiralling plant tendrils, cornucopias stuffed with fruit and vegetables, red and white ribbon ties with tapering ends, butterflies and birds, flower and fruit sprays in various combinations (Rowell, op. cit., p. 208). But Artima’s work is smaller in scale, and he was undoubtedly more accomplished than Cawcy whose work is generally 'coarser in execution’ (A. Bowett, 'New Light on Diacinto Cawcy and the Barrow Monument’, Proceedings of the Suffolk Institute of Archaeology and History, 2012, vol. 42, pt. 4, p. 426). Cawcy also used a distinctive turquoise colour in his scagliola and its absence in the mirror offered here adds further to the attribution
'THE ART OF MOONSTONE'
Scagliola has been described as 'l’arte della pietra di luna’ (the art of moonstone) because its principal component crystalline gypsum or selenite when held to the light evokes the colour of the moon (ibid., p. 206). It was made to imitate the more costly pietre dure, and was probably first practiced in Antiquity undergoing a revival in Reggio Emilia in the 16th century. More flexible in design and less expensive to produce, scagliola was inspired by crafts such as embroidery, lace-work, inlaid ivory, and pastiglia used to veneer boxes and cassoni. Seventeenth century accounts at Ham House describe the technique as 'Counterfett Marble’. Thus, it was the craftsmans intention to 'deceive the eye, not only in imitation of the objects depicted but also by appearing to be made from inlaid hardstones and veined marbles’ (ibid., p. 204), a form of 'visual play with the real and unreal’ favoured in the 17th century (ibid.).