These striking trompe l'oeil marquetry panels depict in extraordinary detail imaginary architectural fantasies. The interior scene, with its complex series of overlapping perspectives, is based on Piranesi's Carceri d'invenzione ('Imaginary Prisons') of 1750, especially plate XVI ('The Pier with Chains'), which features similar heavily, rusticated massive arches, balustraded walkways and a hanging lantern. The intricate marquetry technique of the panels, which use a rich variety of types of wood and only a minimum of amount engraved details to convey shading, harks back to the great tradition of Renaissance intarsia.
They relate closely to a series of marquetry panels by the Piedmontese intarsiatori Ignazio Revelli (1756-1836) and his son Luigi (1776-1858). Two marquetry panels, one of a very similar prison interior and signed by Ignazio Ravelli, and one after an engraving of the Vestibolo rotondo dei Musei Vaticani, are in the Museo Arquéologico, Madrid, while two further panels of the same scenes, signed by Luigi Ravelli, are in the Museo Leone, Vercelli (which was the birthplace of the Ravellis). Case furniture attributed to Ignazio Ravelli include two examples in the Victoria and Albert Museum, London, a commodino with the same prison interior as those noted above, and a demilune commode whose central marquetry panels features a balustraded and arcaded bridge strikingly similar to that on the exterior scene of the two panels offered here (see A. González-Palacios, Il Gusto dei Principi, Milan, 1993, vol. II, figs. 663-5, 667-8 and 670-1).
Little further is known about the Ravellis, although G.B. De Gregory, in his Storia della vercellese letteratura e arti, Turin, 1820, pp. 385-6, notes how one of their specialities was 'quadri in tarcia[sic]'. Ignazio Ravelli was also recorded as supplying works to King Vittorio Amedeo III and was noted in the royal account books for his 'tarsie architettoniche' (see González-Palacios, op. cit., vol. I, pp. 363-4).
One aspect of the panels offered here which might lead one to treat a direct attribution to the Ravellis with caution are the finely inlaid frames. Their egg-and-dart and leaf-tip ornament is more reminiscent of the work of Lombardy workshops such as that of Giuseppe Maggiolini and Giovanni Maffezoli. The latter in particular specialized in architectural panels on case furniture, but of a more spacious, less intensely perspectival nature than these panels, while the marquetry technique of Maffezoli is more reliant on engraving to convey shading. It should also be noted that the Ravellis obviously specialized in creating marquetry pictures as well as incorporating panels into furniture, which does not appear to be the case in Maffezoli's oeuvre.