9609 A SUPERBLY DRAWN AND PROPORTIONED PAIR OF WALNUT AND GILT BRONZE MOUNTED COMMODES Probably Naples. Circa 1760. Measurements: Height: 36″ (91 cm) Width: 50 1/2″ (128 cm) Depth: 22 1/4″ (56.5 cm)
Of walnut with gilt bronze mounts. The serpentine quarter veneered shaped top with end grain ovolo edge and covered by an eight petaled floral motif composed of wood hearts. The bombé and serpentine front fitted with three drawers including a concealed frieze drawer. The two lower drawers fitted with complex rococo gilt bronze handles and escutcheons and centered by an eight petaled inlaid floral motif. The sides similarly inlaid and set with floral gilt bronze mounts to the corners. The whole resting on four elegantly sprayed chevron veneered legs ending in gilt bronze floral sabots.
Private collection, Switzerland
As a form of furniture, the commode first appeared in France at the court of Louis XIV and was soon adopted by other nations, including Italy. The design was ideal for convenient storage and the height, which corresponded with the chair rail, did not interfere with wall decoration. It was first conceived as having two drawers and high legs, as illustrated by the present pair, while later versions comprised shorter legs and additional drawers.
In the eighteenth century, Italian Baroque style began yielding “to the lighter style of French rocaille,”1 aided in Naples by the influence of its Bourbon rulers. As a port city, and one of the largest in Europe, Naples was a cultural capital and important artistic center, “aligned…with the dominant fashions and tastes of a cosmopolitan elite, consisting of diplomats, merchants, scholars and travellers of the Grand Tour who shaped, in the enlightened eighteenth century, a kind of ‘International’ taste.”2
The continuation of bombé and serpentine forms, continued in Southern Italy well into the Rococo period, and was often embellished with expertly arranged decorative veneers. On the present pair the front, sides and top of each commode are centered by flowerhead motifs made of circular kingwood veneers typically described as “oysters.” These specimens of wood are cut radially across the branch to expose the attractive pattern of the annular rings and are named as such for their ovoid shapes and dark centers. These patterns almost certainly derive from oyster-veneering produced in England and Holland in the earlier part of the 17th century.
A related mid-eighteenth century walnut commode, from an old Neapolitan palace, was sold by Christie’s London, 23 June 1998, Lot 77 (figure 1). Like the present example, it employs crossbanding and flowerhead-shaped veneers to the front and sides, as well as featuring a wood veneered top rather than a marble slab.
1. Odom, William M. A History of Italian Furniture from the Fourteenth to the Early Nineteenth Centuries. Garden City, New York: Doubleday, Page & Co, 1918. 94
2. Ilmakunnas, Johanna, and Jon Stobart. A Taste for Luxury in Early Modern Europe: Display, Acquisition and Boundaries. 2017. 60.