Italy, Naples, circa 1740
Gold quilted tortoiseshell, engraved mother-of-pearl
- Unknown, Tray in piqué, acquired by Queen Mary in 1939, 18th century, England, Royal Collection Trust (inv. RCIN 22285)
This tray has a scalloped shape. Its decoration includes various scenes. On the left, a couple of Sinicizing characters with pointed hats is accompanied by a dog. On the right and on the background, various buildings form a landscape setting for this scene. The border is decorated at the four corners of shells accompanied by scrolls.
The piqué technique
This tray is decorated according to the piqué technique, mixing tortoiseshell, mother-of-pearl and gold, which was developed at the end of the 17th century and in the first half of the 18th century in Europe. The technique consists in softening tortoiseshell at high temperature, then rehydrating it with oil, the craftsman can then apply the patterns in mother-of-pearl, gold threads or silver, with using any kind of glue. The result is thus a composition of three materials of great delicacy.
The piqué includes various techniques described for the first time in 1751 in the Encyclopedia of Diderot and d’Alembert, several of which are used here. We thus find, in addition to the inlay of mother-of-pearl or gilt plated-shaped patterns, the piqué-point d’or. This term consisted of filling small holes with gold, melted silver or mother-of-pearl, thus forming dotted lines, the cast, consisting in the same process but then used to fill the threads. These techniques were applied on very diverse objects, such as trays, caskets, snuffboxes, or even sleeves.
The shape of this tray is usual to the craftsmen making the piqués. Its large background allows them to display a rich iconography and historiated scenes. The gold is often used in a punctual way, to emphasize precise details, as here the hats, the basket, or the foliage.
An Italian tray
The mix of three precious materials which are gold, mother-of-pearl, and the tortoiseshell dates back to Antiquity, it would then be vain to search the genesis of the origin of the piqué. It can nevertheless be noticed that these three elements were generally associated two by two until the 17th century. If it is difficult to attribute with certainty the invention of this technique to Neapolitans. It obtained its peak in Naples during the first half of the 18th century, at the court of the realm of Naples and the Two-Sicilies even though it was also in vogue in Germany and in France. Numerous objects were thus created for Charles III of Spain, King of Naples in 1734, who transformed his kingdom into one of Europe’s court most resplendent and cosmopolitan. At the origin of the erection of the palaces of Capodimonte, Portici and the renovation of the royal palace, he supported the excavations of Herculaneum and Pompeii. The sovereign protected and encouraged the arts, by creating manufactories of porcelain in Capodimonte, tapestry and arms, and recovered the hardstones’ workshop of Florence. He favorited finally the creation of numerous piqués objects by artists called tartarugari – ivory turners or scale makers – by according to them a privileged regime. The most renowned amongst them, Giuseppe and Gennaro Sarao, Antonio de Laurentis, Julian Tagliaerro or Nicolas de Turris were located on the place of the royal palace, the Sarao holding a particular place. If they are probably not the inventor of this technique, they thus knew how to associate a great virtuosity and a unique sense of the composition and the drawing. Holding names starting by the same letter, it is difficult to distinguish the works because the objects were always signed by the initials of the name. Giuseppe was already stated in 1735 as being well established, we can then suppose that his career started in the 1720s. Gennaro, probably his son, is mentioned for the first time in 1741. Generally, objects less enhanced than those of Giuseppe are attributed to him, dating of the middle of the 18th century. If this piqué cannot be attributed to them, the comparison with their works permit to locate the creation in the Neapolitan sphere around the time of the 1740s. At the time, the Rocaille style is lightened, associating with larger figures and more aerated backgrounds than in the years 1720-1730. The Sinicizing decor is more frequent, probably prompted by the analogy of the colors of the piqués tortoiseshell and the Oriental lacquer.
The decor of this tray is probably issued from ornamental etching, in general inspired or copied on French models, the city of Augsburg made its specialty, etchings that were diffused throughout Europe. Those of Marin Engelbrecht (1684-1756) were thus dated of 1730s and are punctuated by dancers, hunters, triumphal carriages and soldiers, and could have inspired the characters of this tray to the tartarugari.
The piqué objects knew a great success amongst the collectors since the middle of the 19th century. The royal British family, the Dukes of Hamilton, the Rothschilds in England or in France, or even the Marquis d’Hertford fought then for the most renowned pieces, some of which figure today in the Wallace Collection, at the Waddesdon Manor or at the Louvre. In the 20th century, Queen Mary (1867-1953), wife of George V, was a passionated collector. After the death of her husband, in 1936, she assembled an extraordinary set of more than two hundred objects in piqué. A tray very similar to this one figure in it.
Luciana Arbace, L’arte della tartaruga: le opere dei musei napoletani e la donazione Sbriziolo- De Felice, Naples, F. Fiorentino, 1995.
Geoffrey de Bellaigue, The James A. Rothschild collection at Waddesdon Manor. Furniture, clocks and gilt bronzes, II, London, Philip Wilson, 1974.
Alvar Gonzáles-Palacios, Il tempio del gusto: Roma e il Regno delle due Sicilie, Milano, Longanesi, 1984
Alexis Kugel, Complètement piqué. Le fol art de l’écaille à la cour de Naples, Paris, Éditions Monelle Hayot, 2018.
12 500 €
2 800 €
Price : on request