This superb marble-topped commode, conceived in the George III Franco/Romano style, splendidly evokes 'Grand Tour' connoisseurship and antiquarianism of the 1770s.
In 1771 the Duchess of Manchester employed the architect Robert Adam to design for her a cabinet for the display of Italian landscape plaques of marble intarsia or pietra dura. Probably like those on this commode, they were retrieved from an earlier Italian or German cabinet, and had been executed in 1708 by the Florentine mosaicist Baccio Capelli at the grand ducal workshops in the Uffizi. Like the Manchester cabinet, this French fashioned commode with its colourful Italian vignettes, would have been appropriate furnishing for a contemporary bedroom apartment hung with Roman landscape prints.
This commodes's ormolu-framed plaques are incorporated into a tripartite faade, that is artistically scrolled in an Apollo-bow form, with nests of three drawers framing a recessed commode compartment surmounted by a frieze drawer. The large plaque on the commode-door depicts a Neopolitan harbour with a lighthouse, while the other panels depict villas in well-wooded landscapes. Natural fossils contribute a wooded effect to the precious agate, which G.E. Rumphius in D'Amboinische Rariteitkamer, Amsterdam, 1705 described as 'Florentine agate'. Such plaques feature on a number of early 18th Century North German secretaires and cabinets (see H. Kreisel, Die Kunst des Deutschen Mbels, Munich, 1970, vol. II, figs. 186, 114 and 88).
The commode's canted and serpentine-trussed angles are ormolu-enriched with ribbon-guilloches suspended between acanthus-wrapped cartouches and the acanthus-wrapped volutes of the feet. It is parquetried in front with a richly-figured veneer of rosewood rayed up from the centre of each section; while large medallions at the sides display golden lozenged compartments.
The canted recess pilasters are festooned with ivory 'Ceasar' medallions, entwined with a black and white chequer ribbon-guilloche suspended from reddish ribbon-bows. Such Ceasar or Emperor heads also serve to embellish the contemporary Rockingham medal-cabinet, which was veneered in ebony and described as 'Beautifully inlaid with Marbles etc.', according to the 1782 inventory of the Rockinghams' Mayfair house (N. Penny, Catalogue of European Sculpture in the Ashmolean Museum, vol. II, no. 159).
This form of serpentined and ormolu-enriched commode had been popularised around 1760 by Pierre Langlois Senior (d. 1767) bniste of Tottenham Court Road. He also made lacquer-veneered 'Chinese landscape' commodes, which then well suited the Chinese floral-papered bedroom apartments. Langlois Senior is credited with the manufacture of a marble-topped commode with 'Italian landscape' pietra dura plaques encrusted in the faade. The latter, formerly in the possession of Frank Partridge and Sons, London, is illustrated in P. Thornton and W. Rieder, 'Pierre Langlois, Ebniste', The Connoisseur, vol. CLXXIX, 1972, p. 107, fig. 5). Another pair of marble-topped commodes, attributed to Langlois and displayed at Buckingham Palace, are parquetry veneered with lozenged-compartment tablets relating to the medallions on the sides of this commode.
Its foliated mounts date from around 1770, and the pattern was adopted by the celebrated Marlborough cabinet-maker, Henry Hill, for a marquetry commode that he supplied to the Duke of Somerset (L. Wood, Catalogue of Commodes, London, 1994, no. 4, fig. 55).
However this magnificent commode is more likely to be the work of Pierre Langlois Junior (d.1781), who succeeded to his father's Tottenham Court Road establishment. In the 1770s he worked in near proximity to the Stockholm-trained bniste Christopher Fhrlohg (d.c. 1787), who traded as 'Cabinet-Maker in the Modern, Grecian and Chinese Taste'.
This commode's original top is likely to have been marquetry-inlaid and brass-banded like that of a closely related commode formerly in the collection of Sir George Bowyer, 7th Baronet (d. 1883). The latter, similarly ormolu-mounted and displaying pietra dura plaques of birds, fruit, flowers and a central flower-vase, is recorded as having been presented by Sir George to a Miss Mary Spenlove in 1861 (the latter is discussed by W. Rieder, 'More on Pierre Langlois', London Partridge, Exhibition Catalogue, 1974, no. 34 and pp. 95-97).