A PAIR OF REDISCOVERED MAGGIOLINI COMMODES
BY GIUSEPPE BERETTI
Alongside the production of the most important furniture executed by Giuseppe Maggiolini, which was generally commissioned by the wealthy Milanese society of the third quarter 18th Century (see the Bute Maggiolini Desk, sold in these Rooms, Works of Art from The Bute Collection, 3 July 1996, lot 10, for one of the best examples), the workshop in Parabiago was also famous for manufacturing a quantity of Neoclassical furniture that was not as rich in decoration, with the aim of spreading the Neoclassical taste to a wider audience than that of the closed circle of courtly commissions leading the taste.
When in the mid-1780s Giuseppe Maggiolini's success in the higher society, which was very conscious of the evolution of taste towards the Neoclassical style, evolved to become real fame, the workshop was confronted with the problem of also satisfying commissions from this bourgeoisie. The good government of Maria Theresa of Austria (1717 - 1780), the ensuing strong economical conditions with the growth in manufacturing and trade in the last thirty years of the 18th Century, enabled the rise of a wealthy upper middle-class, sometimes cultured and often very ambitious, which, when furnishing their houses, conformed to the taste of the court.
Giuseppe Maggiolini responded to this increased interest by initiating the manufacture of furniture such as this pair of commodes. They are executed in the same manner and display the same quality of marquetry as the more important furniture. When the execution of these commodes is compared to the 'parade' pieces made for the court, it becomes apparent that they are the result of the same craftsmanship. The same applies to the choice of veneers, which are always of great quality and often in exotic timbers, and to the attention paid to the pictoral effect and the shading of the marquetry. The difference between these pieces and the commissions for the court are rather in the restraint in ornament. If this court furniture, thinking of the opulent environment in which the court displayed its power, with its rich decoration inspired by antique prototypes can be compared to the elegant language of the court, then furniture such as these commodes display the language spoken in a more informal environment. These are pieces adjusted for the more intimate rooms and not parade pieces. It is in particularly with these pieces that Giuseppe Maggiolini widely spread the Neoclassical taste, and that not only in the Milanese society.
On an aesthetic level these commodes represent a continuation of the experimental fashionable patterns for the workshop. Friezes, borders and paterae are freely used and often reused other furniture with subtle variations. The designs, today in the fondo dei disegni in the Civice Raccolte d'Arte in Milan, which were prepared for these commodes by the workshop, demonstrate the extreme liberty with which Neoclassical ornament was used. The rosettes to the centre of the tops of these commodes are with certainty based on a drawing that is in the fondo. The scrolling pattern flanking the tablet on the drawers derives directly from another design of the workshop. Although there are no drawings for the foliate panel of the front in the fondo dei disegni, there are numerous closely related preparatory designs. The vases that addorn the panelled sides are nearly identical to a drawing that is also in the collection of the designs by the workshop in the Civiche Raccolte d'Arte.
The colour scheme of the marquetry as well as the lion's mask ring-handles indicate a probable date of manufacture after 1796, during the Napoleonic period. The heavy tapering feet of these commodes are not unknown in Maggiolini's oeuvre and do in fact feature on a pair sold at Finarte Milano, October 1997, sale 1029, lots 457 and 457bis.