THE PIETRA DURA PANELS
These splendid ebony and ormolu-enriched cabinets display 17th Century Florentine pietra dura panels from the Medici workshops, and are designed in the early 19th Century antiquarian manner. These mosaics of semi-precious stones epitomise princely magnificence, while their never-fading flowers evoke the Arcadian concept of perpetual spring or 'Ver perpetuum'. Executed at the Opificio delle pietre dure, founded in 1588 by Grand Duke Ferdinando I de Medici, the trompe l'oeil flower-vases are framed in Tuscan pilastered 'tabernacle' compartments, whose truss-scrolled pediments display a lioness and a tigress. Birds, insects, fruiting branches and floral sprigs also embellish the nests-of-drawers in the triumphal facades of the cabinets, whose pillared balustrades and stands would have served for the display of vases and objets d'art.
The pietra dura plaques include a wide variety of semi-precious stones and rare marbles, such as lapis lazuli, pietra paesina and alabaster, while the tigress and lioness are executed in a precious fern-patterned light yellow marble known as Tigrato or Dendrite dell'Arno. This marble was used in an exquisite small group of panels depicting sunflowers. One of these panels, in the Museo dell'Opificio Delle Pietre Dure in Florence, is signed to the reverse by a commesso named Girolamo della Valle and dated 1664 (A Giusti (ed.,) Splendori di Pietre Dure, Florence, 1988, pp. 156-157). Besides a further panel in the museum, there is another, virtually identical 'sunflower' panel, probably also executed by della Valle, incorporated in a Louis XVI meuble d'appui by Charles Claude Saunier (maître in 1752), which is illustrated in A. González-Palacios, Il Gusto dei Principi, Milan, 1993, vol. II, p. 32, fig. 25. Pietra dura plaques depicting exotic animals were considerably rarer than those decorated with indigenous birds or flowers and have always been highly prized. A closely related cabinet incorporating animal plaques was acquired in the 1830s by the Rev'd John Stanford (d.1855) from 'Signor Siries', director of the Florentine academy of pietra dura, which is now at Corsham Court, Wiltshire (A. Summer, 'The Clerical Connoisseur', The Antique Collector, 6 (1990), p. 129, fig. 7).
The central panels of the cabinets, each depicting an exuberant flower-vase, are the richest and most striking elements of the façade. These bouquets include the largest variety of stones, and incorporate a tulip, poppy, anemone, snakeshead fritillary, primrose, carnation, rose and even the Jamaican blue lignum vitae, which was not introduced into England until 1694, but well known by Italian craftsmen. A virtually identical plaque appears on a Regency commode at Hinton Ampner House, Hampshire, which is illustrated in C. Rowell, Hinton Ampner, 1988, p. 19, and M. Blacker, Flora Domestica, London, 2000, p. 27.
THE ATTRIBUTION TO ROBERT HUME
The London cabinet-maker and marchand-mercier, Robert Hume, of Hume & Son, was patronised by some of the greatest collectors of the early 19th Century including George IV, William Beckford and George Watson-Taylor. The fashion for sumptuous furniture embellished with hardstone panels is reflected in a pair of cabinets supplied by Hume for Erlestoke Park, Wiltshire, the seat of George Watson Taylor. They were both included in the Erlestoke Park sale in 1832 and purchased by the 10th Duke of Hamilton (d. 1852), another of Hume's patrons (most recently one of the cabinets was from the collection of Mr. S. Jon Gerstenfeld, in these Rooms, 6 July 2000, lot 100 (£1,653,750) while its pair is on loan to the Metropolitan Museum of Art). Records in the Hamilton archives reveal that in 1820 the Duke supplied Hume with 'Mosaics Florentine bought of Hume pietra dura', establishing Hume as both a supplier, and perhaps importer, of hardstones. Further records reveal their collaboration in the commissioning and construction of a pietra dura-mounted clock cabinet made for the Duke using panels probably-removed from furniture made by Italian craftsmen at the Gobelins factory in the late 17th Century (R. Freyberger, 'The Duke of Hamilton's Clock Cabinet', Christie's International Magazine, June 1991, pp. 10-13, and E. Lennox-Boyd, 'Patronage and Collecting: George Watson Taylor', Masterpieces of English Furniture, The Gerstenfeld Collection, London, 1998, pp. 148-61).
The group of Hume pietra dura cabinets are all made in the contemporary interpretation of the Louis XIV style, and like the present lot, are veneered in ebony with ormolu foliate mounts. The scrolled volute mount flanking the central tablets on the Brynkinalt Cabinets, is very similar to that on the clock cabinet supplied to the Duke of Hamilton (Freyberger, op. cit., p. 10).
ARTHUR HILL-TREVOR, 2ND VISCOUNT DUNGANNON
Arthur Hill-Trevor, 2nd Viscount Dungannon (d. 1837) is known to have been a keen collector of French furniture. His first cousin and near contemporary was the great Duke of Wellington, an avid collector of French furniture, who bought most of his furniture in Paris through the agency of the Chevalier Bonnemaison and the ébéniste Jacob-Desmalter, though he was no doubt also buying in England at sales of the period (F. J. B. Watson, 'The Great Duke's Taste for French Furniture', Apollo, July 1975, pp. 44-49). Part of Viscount Dungannon's collection of French furniture was sold by his descendant, The Lord Trevor, Brynkinalt, in these Rooms, 14 April 1983, lots 93-98, including a pair of Louis XVI boulle cabinets (lot 96) which was sold again from the Akram Ojjeh collection, Christie's Monaco, 11-12 December 1999, lot 50. Given Viscount Dungannon's francophile leanings, it would seem highly probable that he commissioned Hume directly to make the present pair of cabinets in the Louis XIV style to display the superb pietra dura panels.
Brynkinalt, Clwyd, the ancient family seat of the Trevor family, was built in 1612 by Sir Edward Trevor. Two centuries later the house was aggrandised by Arthur-Hill Trevor, 2nd Viscount Dungannon, and then in 1926 and again in 1952 returned almost to its original appearance.
The present pair of cabinets appear in an inventory of Brynkinalt, made in 1911 on the death of the Hon. Mary Curzon, wife of the 1st Lord Trevor (d. 1894).