AN UNRECORDED BUREAU MAZARIN BY GIUSEPPE MARIA GALBIATI AND PIETRO PIFFETTI
BY GIANCARLO FERRARIS
This bureau mazarin was executed by the Turinese ebanista Giuseppe Maria Galbiati, who was accepted as master of the Università dei minusieri ed ebanisti di Torino on 28 July 1703, from which date he supplied furniture to the Royal court of Savoy.
The documents related to this ebanista, now in the Archivio di Stato di Torino, are published in my book Pietro Piffetti e gli Ebanisti a Torino 1670-1830, Turin, 1992, p.262. In A. Cifani and F. Monetti, I Piaceri e le Grazie, Turin, 1995, vol.II, I have further discussed and attributed a bureau mazarin to Galbiati, as it is identical to another one which is engraved with the signature "Galbiati fecit".
We can also attribute a related bureau mazarin to Galbiati, sold at Christie's London, 21 June 2000, lot 200 (£60,950), which is relatively close to the present example. Interestingly, a further inlaid bureau by him was sold in the same sale, lot 224 (£56,400).
In total, twenty-three pieces of furniture by Galbiati are known to exist which includes this bureau mazarin. These are all variants of the specific production of this ebanista working at the beginning of the 18th Century with his older brother, Pasquale, who appears to have lived with him in 1705.
The present bureau demonstrates a clear stylistic difference in the inlaid decoration. Within the top, there are two distinct groups of inlay which seem to have been executed by two different hands. The central cartouche and flanking smaller cartouches, as well as the sides of the bureau are inlaid by Galbiati, while the scrolling floral and foliate motif to the top appear to have been done by a distinctly different craftsman. I believe that these were added by the celebrated furniture-maker Pietro Piffetti, known as ebanista di Sua Maestà il Re di Sardegna.
This is the third instance where we have been able to identify the work of two different distinctive craftsmen on a single item of furniture:
The first case is Piffetti's contribution to the fall-front bureau made by Luigi Prinotto, called bureau di Diana, which is now conserved in the Royal Hunting Lodge, Stupinigi, near Turin, illustrated in G. Ferraris, op.cit. pp.160-163.
The second instance is a recent discovery of a bureau mazarin of the same type as this example, almost certainly executed by Ludovico de Rossi, another Turinese ebanista, who became master in 1703. De Rossi also worked for the court of Savoy (see op.cit., pp.262-263). This last example was also enriched by Piffetti with various engraved ivory motifs, some of which undoubtedly were taken from the same series of engravings as those used for our bureau mazarin's motifs. The floral sprays to the shorter sides of the top of the latter are particularly close to the ones seen on the bureau by De Rossi's central cartouche as well as on its side panels. I have not yet been able to identify the engravings nor their designer, however, we can witness the conforming floral sprays being used on the frieze of the bookcase signed by Piffetti, formerly in the Queen's Villa in Turin, and since 1889 in the Quirinale in Rome.
Similar flowers are inlaid on the central door and to both sides of the prie dieu which is conserved in the Museo Civico d'Arte Antica in Turin, illustrated in ibid., pp.78-81 and pp.122-123, fig.a.
We have evidence of three pieces by the most accomplished Turinese ébénistes: Galbiati, De Rossi and Prinotto, which were enriched by Piffetti.
The Prinotto bureau mazarin was most probably consigned to Piffetti directly by the King in order to be enriched in a more lavish and en vogue style. Unfortunately we do not know the original owners of the two other bureaux mazarin belonging to this fascinating group.
The collaboration discussed above demonstrates the high regard which was given to these pieces during the 18th Century, and the fashion for lavishly inlaid items of furniture which were further enriched by the most skilled court ébéniste, in this case Pietro Piffetti. He excelled in the art of ivory inlay and engraving, and was able to integrate his additions in a harmonising manner in order to create a coherent decorative scheme. Of the three ebanisti, one of them was probably his tutor who conferred his skills to Pietro Piffetti, who evolved to integrate the best designs and to create new ideas and shapes.
The delightful enriched decorative scheme of the top of the present bureau mazarin is yet another proof of Pietro Piffetti's genius.