Pietro Piffetti (1700-1777) was indisputably the greatest Italian cabinet-maker of the 18th century and one of the most extraordinary virtuosi of the Rococo period. His work is characterized by an exhilarating fluidity of line in combination with an unparalleled technical brilliance and lavish use of exotic materials such as mother-of-pearl, tortoiseshell and ivory. Much of his work was executed for the Royal court in Turin, for whom he worked as ebanista reale from 1731 until his death, often in collaboration with the Royal architects, Filippo Juvarro (1678-1736) and Benedetto Alfieri (1699-1767). Little is known of his early training, although his grandfather was recorded in 1691 as a maestro di bosco. Piffetti's first recorded work is a pair of tables supplied in 1731 in Rome to the Marchese d'Ormea, Prime Minister to the King of Sardinia, who was instrumental in having Piffetti appointed as Royal cabinet-maker in Turin. The discovery of two marquetry tables from the workshop of Pierre Daneau, a Parisian ébéniste based in Rome, give a clue to Piffetti's early training. The marquetry of one of these table tops incorporates elaborate flowers and trompe l'oeil playing cards, a motif used almost exactly by Piffetti on a console table now in the Museo Civici, Turin, indicating that Piffetti may have worked initially in Daneau's atelier (see A. Gonzalez-Palacios, Fasto Romano, Rome, 1991, no. 93, figs. XLVI and XLVII).
Vittorio Amedeo II (1666-1732), then Duca di Savoia, acquired through clever diplomacy at the treaty of Utrecht in 1713 the kingdom of Sicily, which he subsequently exchanged for the kingdom of Sardinia in 1720. He made Turin a grand showpiece for his newly acquired realm and commissioned Filippo Juvarro to build a magnificent series of churches and palaces including the Palazzo Madama and the Palazzina di caccia di Stupinigi, many of which were subsequently furnished by Piffetti. Vittorio Amedeo II abdicated in 1730, ceding the throne to his son Carlo Emanuele III, (1701-1773) who engaged Piffetti as ebanista reale on 13 July 1731 at an annual salary of 500 livres. Piffetti's first commission was for a pair of marquetry cabinets embellished with gilt-bronze mounts by Francesco Ladatte and sumptuously inlaid throughout with ivory and mother-of-pearl, supplied 1731-1733 to the Palazzo Reale for the Gabinetto di Toeletta of Polissena, Queen of Sardinia, (1701-1735) second wife of Carlo Emanuele III (see A. Gonzalez-Palacios, ed. and G. Ferraris, Pietro Piffetti, 1992, cat. 1). Piffetti continued to work for the king, his eldest son, the Duca di Savoia, later Vittorio Amedeo III, and other members of the Royal family throughout his life.
This exquisite box is linked to a bill for a cassetta supplied by Piffetti in 1740 to Elisabetta Teresa, Queen of Sardinia, (1711-1741) and is described as follows:
'....una cassetta dal medesimo lavorata al di fuori a rabeschi, figure e fiori di madripela in fondo di Tartaruga ed altro p servizio si S.M. la regina...600 livres (A. Gonzalez-Palacois, ed. and G. Ferraris, Pietro Piffetti, 1992, p. 204, doc. 63)
Elisabetta, Queen of Sardinia, was the third wife of Carlo Emanuele III and were married on 1 April 1737 at Turin. The mother-of-pearl portrait medallion centring the hinged lid of the box, almost certainly depicts Carlo Emanuele III in profile.
Another cassetta with many of the features of the box offered here, but with scallop shells and trellis inlay was sold Christie's New York, 23 May, 1995, lot 122.
This exquisite box can be firmly placed in the oeuvre of Piffetti on a number of stylistic and technical grounds. The lavish use of exotic materials, combining ivory with tortoiseshell and mother-of-pearl is seen throughout his work, including the cabinet signed and dated 1738, now in the Fondazione Accorsi, Turin, and the cabinet with elaborate didactic inscriptions, now in the Palazzo Quirinale. The finely engraved and stained flowers in full bloom on this box also recur throughout Pifetti's altar frontals, one supplied to the Sacrario Apostolico in the Vatican in 1747, the other supplied to the Chiesa di San Filippo, Turin, signed and dated 1749.