A NEWLY DISCOVERED COMMODE BY GIUSEPPE MAGGIOLINI
By Giuseppe Beretti
This striking commode represents an important discovery in the oeuvre of Giuseppe and Carlo Maggiolini, intarsiatori first to the Austrian Royal family and then to Emperor Napoleon Bonaparte. Like the magnificent Bute desk by Maggiolini, sold by Christie's in 1996 and which was almost certainly supplied to Austria's Plenipotentiary Minister to Lombardy, Joseph Wilczek, this commode can be clearly identified as Maggiolini's on the basis of drawings of designs for marquetry panels from his workshop in the Civiche Raccolte d'Arte, Milan. These drawings, which were often inspired by antique Roman sources, were supplied by the most famous Lombardy designers of the time, Giuseppe Levati, Giocondo Albertolli and Andrea Appiani.
Maggiolini was renowned for his ability to 'paint in wood', rendering unnecessary any other form of decoration apart from marquetry and thus his early production is made entirely without gilt-bronze mounts. However, with the arrival of the French in 1805 following Napoleon's annexation of Lombardy, Maggiolini quickly adapted his work to his new clients who of course had a great appreciation for gilt-bronzes. Thus in 1804 he produced a a pair of commodes with lavish bronze mounts for Francesco Melzi d'Eril, which were then given to the Emperor for his coronation in the Duomo in Milan. The commode discussed here, with its mounts framing the marquetry panels and to the legs and feet, almost certainly belongs to this important period of Maggiolini's production.
The commode can be identified as being from Maggiolini's workshop on the basis of a series of drawings found in the 'fondo dei disegni di bottega'. One reproduced here shows the design for the distinctive legs with leaf-cast feet headed by inlaid butterflies and ribbon-tied floral garlands of our commode, Most significantly it also features the incurved mount at the top of the upright, and the leaf-cast framing mount for the central marquetry panel. The design features a different type of inlay for the frieze, but this should not surprise us as the executed works from Maggiolini's workshop often show slight variations from the designs, no doubt adapted for specific commissions. Interestingly, the drawing also specifies that the ground of the central marquetry panel should be in 'ebano nero', as on this commode, which was a wood rarely employed by Maggiolini and enhances the classical austerity of the design.
The striking central marquetry panel of antique Roman inspiration is based in reverse on a drawing by Giuseppe Levati from his 'Antichita di Ercolano' also reproduced here. This marquetry panel also features on other pieces by Maggiolini, including a secretaire. The sides of our commode display twinned cornucopiae, which derive from a design dated 1798 by Levati, which also feature on a pair of secretaires supplied by Maggiolini to Francesco Melzi d'Eril.
By 1814 gilt-bronzes were regarded as out of fashion in Lombardy, thus dating this commode to the very beginning of the 19th century. It is an important addition to Maggiolini's oeuvre, although as yet the identity of the undoubtedly important client for which it was originally commissioned remains tantalizingly undiscovered.
Giuseppe Beretti is the author of Giuseppe e Carlo Francesco Maggiolini: L'Officina del Neoclassicismo (published Milan, 1992).
(Translated from the Italian)