PIETRO BOSSI AND SCAGLIOLA CHIMNEYPIECES
The design and technique of this chimneypiece is executed in a manner accredited to the itinerant craftsman, Pietro Bossi, the subject of an article published by Conor O'Neill in The Journal of the Irish Georgian Society ('In Search of Bossi', vol.I, 1998, pp. 146-175). Bossi, who arrived in Dublin prior to 1785, is listed in Wilson's Dublin Directory as 'Inlayer in marble and Stucco-worker' at no. 22 (and later no. 38) Fleet Street from 1785 until 1798. He is thought to have originated from the family of stuccodores in the area of Porto d'Arcisate, near Como in Italy. It is believed that he may be the same Bossi working for John Augustus Richter in Dresden in 1765, who would have later moved with him to London working under the partnership of Bartoli and Richter. Bartoli and Richter are known to have supplied Lord Belmore at Castlecoole, Co. Fermanagh in the early 1790s.
The art of scagliola inlay, utilizing scaglia, or marble chips, was a highly specialized technique that became fashionable in England and Ireland the late 18th century although it was introduced to Britain as early as the 1670s. In his A New Collection of Chimney Pieces... of 1781, George Richardson writes 'We frequently see friezes and pilasters inlaid with various coloured marbles, but they always appear flat and dull: on the contrary, those done in scagliola in various colours, look lively and brilliant'.
Relative to chimney-pieces executed in England, which often combined scagliola with encaustic and painted images and ormolu, Irish examples are more restrained and the colours of a stronger tonality offering a stark contrast to the elegant white marble. There are stories that recount Bossi's highly secretive manner to protect his technique although there there is evidence of other makers working in a similar fashion. He almost certainly worked under an arrangement whereby he supplied the decorative panels while the chimney-pieces themselves were manufactured by Dublin chimney-piece makers. This would account for the variety of designs, as well as the variety of chimneys with similar inlaid panels.
Among the oeuvre cautiously attributed to Bossi, the design most closely relates to an example at 39 North Great Georges Street, Dublin (see C. O'Neill, op.cit, no. 12, pl.5). The frieze pattern appears on a group of five chimney-pieces (three of which are identified by Conor O'Neill as Group D, p.164), including one at Vizcaya Museum in Miami, another from Oak Park, co. Carlow and three whose whereabouts are unknown. Further to this, the distinctive design on the jambs appears on an example from Tyrone House, and the corner blockings match an example from 1 Upper Mount Street.
SHARP AND EMERY
This chimney-piece came out of a house on Harcourt Street in Dublin whose terraced houses date to the early 19th century, after Bossi's tenure. It may have been installed in the late 19th/early 20th century as part of a 'Sheraton' revival that was very much in vogue in Dublin. The cabinet-maker James Hicks of Dublin, who established his firm in 1894, similarly emulated the elegant marquetry work of 18th century maker William Moore (d.1814), and was patronized by various royals and members of the artistocracy.
The chimney which utilizes Bossi's technique of incising and the use of graduated tones of marble, differs slightly in its colours and finer points of execution. Its superb quality suggests the Victorian makers Sharp and Emery of Dublin as its likely maker. Alfred Sharp and Henry Emery probably set up their business prior to 1850. Their 'Monumental Works' located at 17, Great Brunswick Street, Dublin appears in the Directories after 1870. A 1903 advertisement in The Connoisseur proudly asserts: 'DUBLIN BOSSI INLAY. This beautiful lost art revived. Old examples restored. Any designs can now be executed.' By 1904, they had a showroom at 28, Berners Street in London while the last entry that appears is for Henry Emery at 10, Belvedere Road, Dublin in 1929.