This magnificent marble top appears to be the grandest addition to the small group of known pictorial 'slabs' made in Naples in the mid-18th century.
When Charles Bourbon (d. 1788), son of Philip V of Spain, arrived at his Palazzo Reale in Naples in 1734, it was so sparse, that, as a temporary solution, he leased furniture and hangings. He immediately placed extensive commissions with local craftsmen to decorate the Palazzo.
When Charles was recalled to Spain in 1759 to succeed his brother, Ferdinand VI of Spain, Charles' son Ferdinand IV (d. 1825) was installed as the prince regent of Naples aged only eight. The building program at Caserta, the 'Escorial' of Naples, which was begun in 1752, all but stopped and was only resumed on Ferdinand's marriage to the Hapsburg Princess Maria Carolina in 1768, the year after he became of age.
It is recorded that Charles Bourbon transferred a number of artisans from the Medici workshops, including some responsible for the manufacture of pietre dure to Naples in 1737. He recruited Francesco Ghinghi, whom he had met while visiting the Grand Ducal Pietre Dure Workshop in Florence as a child, to direct the Royal Pietre Dure atelier. Established at San Carlo alle Mortelle in 1737 with nine Tuscan employees, the workshop manufactured only few works in its early years but embarked on a very ambitious project to execute a lapidary tabernacle in the royal chapel at Caserta in 1753, which occupied it completely during the remainder of the 18th century. Ghinghi as well as Francesco Campi were responsible for all designs of the workshop. The pietre dure tops from this workshop were much admired by visitors and Abbé Richard mentions:
There are workers in Naples who are singularly skilled at working marble and making inlaid tables in which foreign visitors are very interested.
The comment appears to be of particular interest in regard to the offered lot as it is entirely worked in colored marbles rather than hardstones, as was usual for pietre dure tops. Marble was easier to work and less costly and thus lent itself even to smaller workshops for the production of intricate tops. Marble mosaic was frequently used in chapels and on altars, but is rarely found as table tops. Only eleven other examples of pictorial tops are today recorded:
1. One on a giltwood console table at Caserta, Naples with hunters in a landscape centered by a tree
2. A pair on commodes in the Museo Duca di Martina in Naples
3. A pair of corner console tables that were sold anonymously, Sotheby's, London, 28 May 1993, lot 271
4. A pair on giltwood console tables with tops with cows by a bridge on the art market in Paris in 1998
5. One on a commode in a private collection
6. One on a giltwood console table with birds to the center of the top in the Gilbert Collection
7. A pair of serpentine tops with a central pictoral medallion within rays of specimen marble on George III giltwood stands at Saltram House, Devon
These are all undoubtedly the work of a single workshop that must have made these tops shortly after 1750, considering the design of their bases. However, the work cannot be compared to that of the Royal Workshop, and is believed to be that of an as of yet unidentified artisan. The depiction of open landscapes, sometimes the setting for mythological or biblical stories, can already be found in the very early 17th century in examples from the Grand Ducal Workshop in Florence and the workshop of the Castrucci brothers in Prague.
(A. González-Palacios et al., 'exhibition catalogue', The Golden Age of Naples, Art and Civilization under the Bourbons 1734 - 1805, Detroit, 1981, pp. 332 - 333, 353 - 354 and p. 360, cat. 117.)