The ancient Roman art of pietre dure was revived in 16th and 17th century Florence under the Grand Ducal workshops of the Medicis family, in particular during the reigns of Cosimo I (1569-74), his son Francesco (1574-87), and Cosimo's brother, Ferdinand I (1587-1609). Through various periods of progress and decline, production and appreciation of this marble work, called commessi, experienced a further renaissance in the 19th century. During this period, Florentine pietre dure table tops often re-interpreted the naturalistic designs of the Grand Ducal workshops, employing detailed and meticulous floral designs, combined with figures, birds, neoclassical motifs or fruit, all of which appear on this richly inlaid example. The use of a ground of Belgian black marble, valued for its deep black colour and smooth grain, is also typical of pietre dure table tops in the 19th century. Examples from this period were regularly featured at international exhibitions and were repeatedly awarded prizes.
Pietre dure tops were rarely signed, but instead bore a paper label to the underside printed with the name of their creator. Sadly, in the majority of cases, as the glue has dried out over the years, so the labels have fallen off, now making firm attributions difficult. Stylistically, however, the present lot relates closely to a table top by Gaetano Bianchini, exhibited at the Exposition des produits de l'industrie de toutes les nations, Paris, 1855, and sold Christie's East, 30 April 1992, lot 273 ($57,500) and again in these rooms, 24 April 2001, lot 180 ($82,250). The delicately shaded scrolling acanthus and use of silver-backed coloured glass to give the three dimensional effect of grapes, berries and pomegranate seeds, are distinctive elements of both tops.
Born in the early years of the 19th century, Gaetano Bianchini studied at the Accademia di Belli Arti, Florence, whilst simultaneously serving an apprenticeship at the Galleria dei Lavori of the Opificio delle Pietre Dure. By 1846, having established a successful business, Bianchini was elected a member of the Conservatory of Arts and Crafts, which brought together the best craftsmen of Florence and the wider Grand Duchy. Employing many Russian immigrants trained at the imperial factory at Peterhof, the direct competitor of the Florentine mosaicisti, Bianchini's firm participated in all of the most important international exhibitions of the 1850s and 60s, including Crystal Palace in 1851, Florence in 1854 and again in 1861, Paris in 1855 and London again in 1862. On Gaetano's death in 1866, the firm was taken over by his two sons, Telemaco and Antonio, and the business continued until 1884.