A REDISCOVERED MAGGIOLINI COMMODE
BY GIUSEPPE MAGGIOLINI
This commode represents a version of a commode, or more probably a pair of commodes, made for the archducal villa of Monza by the workshop of Maggiolini in 1783. This comparison is possible although the original pieces, which were made for the rural palais of the archduke Ferdinand, son of Maria Theresa, are lost, because there is a preparatory drawing in the cabinet of designs of the Civice Raccolte d'Arte in Milan for the fagade of the commode. The reverse of that drawing is inscribed in pencil 'Monza 1783' which gives all the information that exists about the lost work.
It is surprising to what extent the offered piece constitutes a true and faithful repetition of that work including its case and the architectural construction of the pilaster-foot element that represents the most interesting innovative detail for this project. Particularly fascinating is the foot, which is not unique in the oeuvre of Maggiolini, imagined by the designer, maybe Giuseppe Levati, and the cabinet-maker as being 'alla greca'. Noteworthy is also how our commode faithfully copies all the compositional choices that are suggested in the drawing of 1783, including the central rectangular tablet. Different, on the other hand, appear to be the interior decoration of the pilasters, the ornamental band to the top and the lower chain. Instead, our work retains an identical decoration to the top of the pilasters. Another detail is that the design depicts a commode with a large door concealing the drawers, while our lot presents two simple drawers decorated sans traverse.
The commode appears to be rather well documented in the collection of designs from the workshop. The designs have survived for the ornamental band on the top drawer as well as the chain marquetry of the lower section (of which at least five versions exist) but most importantly also that for the 'Pompeijan Column Building' which decorates the facade and the sides. It can possibly be suggested that this design is linked to the original commode(s) of 1783, but this is only a speculation.
What is, however, difficult to speculate on is the exact date of manufacture for this beautiful commode, which can be assumed to have been made between the mid-80s and 1796. Unfortunately it is impossible to be more precise. The chronological distance from the original work, we know today, did not represent a problem for the workshop as it frequently copied with only minor variations works that were executed as much as twenty years earlier. This practice is typical for Giuseppe Maggiolini. The characteristics of the construction and the marquetry, which I was only able to inspect via e-mail images, do, however, remind me of pieces made in the very first years or the 90s.
Milan, 22 September 2000
This magnificent commode displays the massive rectilinear outline and bold geometric marquetry decoration of the finest quality which is characteristic of the Milanese workshop of Giuseppe Maggiolini (d. 1814), the celebrated "Intarsiatore" to Archduke Ferdinand (d.1824).
Giuseppe Maggiolini (1738-1814) was first noticed for his advanced and highly skilled marquetry work in 1768, when he was visited by the designer Giuseppe Levati and Marchese Litta, which led to several commissions at the villa of the Marchese. He was soon recognized in wider circles and held the title of Intarsiatore delle Loro Altezze Reali. In 1771 he received his first important commission to supply furniture to the Milanese court, on the marriage of the Archduke Ferdinando di Lorena and Duchess Maria Beatrice d'Este. His workshop grew to thirty employees, and subsequently, among others, supervised the construction and furnishing projects of the Palazzo Ducale in Milan, the Villa Reale in Monza and the Palazzo Ducale in Mantova. He enjoyed great success and numerous commissions from the bourgeoisie in Northern Italy. It was only with the political changes of 1796, which overthrew the old regime, that his success diminished before receiving important commissions anew towards the end of the century. He died impoverished in 1814.