9698 A RARE MATCHED PAIR OF PERSPECTIVAL MARQUETRY COMMODES INSPIRED BY THE DESIGNS OF CRISTOFORO AND LORENZO CANOZI DA LENDINARA Rolo. Last Quarter Of The 18th Century. Measurements: Height: 35″ (89 cm) Width: 54″ (137 cm) Depth: 22 3/4″ (58 cm)
Of walnut inlaid with various woods including boxwood, ebony, holly and various burrs. Each geometric and floral marquetry inlaid top above a frieze fitted with drawer inlaid with square compartments containing faceted bosses and floral motifs. The two drawers below inlaid with perspectival marquetry scenes depicting renaissance structures of fortified buildings and cities. The paneled sides similarly inlaid with marquetry vignettes, the whole raised on four inlaid square tapering legs. Originally key-operated but subsequently fitted with handles, which were later removed, returning the drawer fronts to their original format.
These fascinating late 18th-century marquetry commodes display the distinctive neoclassical style and architectural imagery that identify them as pieces designed and created by the artisans of the famous botteghe in Rolo, Emilia-Romana, Italy.
During the 18th century the city of Rolo became widely known as the center for high-quality marquetry furniture. At the same time, the entire region of Emilia-Romana was becoming a hub of Neoclassicism, influenced mainly by the arrival in 1753 of Ennemond-Alexandre Petitot, who served as court architect to the Dukes of Parma from that time until his death in 1801, and completed numerous Neoclassical commissions, including the façade of S. Pietro (1761), the Interior of the Biblioteca Palatina (begun 1763), and extensions to the Palazzo Ducale (1767).
The rise of Neoclassical taste brought an unusual stylistic blend to the furniture being produced in Rolo. The Rolese workshops had been producing fine intarsia work since the 1400s, carrying on the tradition established by the brothers Cristoforo (1448-1491) and Lorenzo (1425-1477) Canozi da Lendinara, whose illusionistic marquetry can be seen in the choir of the duomo of Modena, and other important commissions throughout the region.
Now, under the influence of Petitot and his followers, the artisans of Rolo began producing furniture that was Neoclassical in form, but still decorated with Renaissance imagery inspired by the Lendinara brothers’ work. The present pair of commodes, with their rectilinear form and perspectival architectural decoration, are an example of this.
The rectilinear form of the commodes equates in shape and layout to examples by the preeminent Milanese ébéniste Giuseppe Maggiolini (1738-1814). Like his commodes, the Rolo examples have a thin frieze drawer with two large drawers of equal proportion below, paneled sides, and are raised on square tapering feet.
Several commodes manufactured in Rolo in the early 19th century and pictured in L’Arte della Tarsia a Rolo, the seminal work on Rolese inlaid furniture by Castagnaro et al.,1 show striking similarities to the present pieces, the drawers of each being decorated either with one large perspectival scene of city buildings (Figs. 1 and 2), as in one of the present commodes; or with four small scenes, two per drawer (Fig. 3), as in the second present commode. On commodes with one large scene, the composition varies only slightly: each shows a round tower several stories high sitting in the center of the pictorial space, flanked on either side by buildings which mirror each other across the central axis. On commodes with four scenes, that pattern of symmetry is continued, as the image on the left side of each drawer is mirrored by the one on the right.
In her paper presented at the Fourth International Laboratory for the History of Science in 2001,2 Professor Margaret Daly Davis of the Kunsthistorisches Institut, Florence, explains that the architectural and geometrical motifs found in the Lendinaras’ work originated from the writings of Piero della Francesca, who was a contemporary and close friend of Lorenzo da Lendinara. Daly Davis writes that Piero’s book, Libellus de quinque corporibus regularibus, dealt with “the measurement and representation of regular and irregular stereometrical bodies”, including architectural elements; these were later applied in his Prospectiva pingendi, which demonstrated Piero’s methods for drawing these elements. According to Daly Davis, “the methods he had established [in Prospectiva pingendi], in fact, had their greatest resonance in the architectural theory. At the same time, his ideas and methods were immediately taken up by designers of intarsia for the perspectival representation of single objects and scenographic views.” Piero’s designs thus inspired a generation of intarsiasts, including the Lendinara brothers, and established a tradition of decoration in Rolese marquetry from that time on. The distinctive architectural perspectives and friezes of stereometric shapes can be seen on the drawers of the present pieces.
1. Castagnaro, Graziano, et al. L’arte della tarsia a Rolo, mobili tecniche materiali, Comune di Rolo, 1996. See Figures 42, 43, and 44; pp. 125-6.
2. Daly Davis, Margaret. “The Wooden Inlay Decoration of the Sacristy: Perspectival Intarsie, Pictorial Intarsie”. Paper presented at the 4th International Laboratory for the History of Science, Florence and Vinci, Italy, 24 May – 1 June 2001.