Enfilade

Exhibition | Piqué at the Court of Naples

Posted in books, catalogues, exhibitions by Editor on November 1, 2018

Giuseppe Sarao, Piqué Table, ca. 1730s
(Saint Petersburg: The Hermitage)

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From Galerie Kugel:

Piqué: Gold, Tortoiseshell, and Mother-of-Pearl at the Court of Naples
Complètement Piqué! Le fol art de l’écaille à la Cour de Naples
Galerie Kugel, Paris, 12 September — 8 December 2018

Galerie J. Kugel presents the first exhibition devoted to the art of piqué, which flourished in Naples during the first half of the 18th century. The technique combines lavish inventiveness, virtuoso skill, and astonishing opulence. These extraordinary objects bring together three precious materials: tortoiseshell, gold, and mother-of-pearl. According to Nicolas Kugel: “This fascinating combination is sublimated by light, which makes the gold shimmer, reveals the iridescence of the mother-of-pearl, and penetrates even the diaphanous darkness of the tortoiseshell.”

Piqué chest with chinoiserie details and four turtle-shaped feet, eighteenth century.

The exhibition includes over 50 objects created between 1720 and 1760 for connoisseurs and the court, particularly for Charles of Bourbon, who became king of Naples in 1734 and made his court one of the most splendid and cosmopolitan in all Europe. The artisans who created these masterpieces were known as Tartarugari. Giuseppe Sarao, the most famous among them, had a workshop adjoining the walls of the royal palace. Several of the pieces in the exhibition were made by Sarao, including a table—the ultimate piqué masterpiece—here lent, for the first time, by the Hermitage Museum in Saint Petersburg.

These talented artists were able not only to join and mold the tortoiseshell using boiling water and olive oil, but also inlaid gold and mother-of-pearl into the still-soft tortoiseshell. They created the most extravagant shapes, which they adorned with fashionable piqué decors such as singeries (scenes where monkeys engage in human activities), chinoiseries, and grotesques.

Alexis Kugel explains: “The exhibition will allow visitors to discover both the incredible inventiveness of the artists and the extraordinarily keen interest this art sparked among 19th-century collectors, including several members of the Rothschild family. Many pieces boasting that prestigious provenance will be presented.”

The extraordinary table from the Hermitage Museum is the greatest masterpiece to have been created using the pique technique. It is also the only table to have retained its original legs. The triangular shape of the legs is also present in the cabinet from the Royal British Collections. The extraordinarily inventive and elaborate tabletop is adorned with over a hundred chinoiserie figures, while countless animals, monkeys, insects, birds, and dragons also inhabit the space. The six main medallions depict Chinese couples in gold and mother-of-pearl, two of which are also found on the turtle casket. The compartments are decorated with small Chinese figures made of cut out and engraved gold. In the centre, four gold vases symbolise the seasons; the figures between refer to the same theme. The centre is adorned with a small cartouche in which two figures rock back and forth on a seesaw. The Chinese theme continues on the legs and stretcher. Underneath the medallion with the Chinese couple there is the monogram SfN (Sarao fecit Napoli). In 1886 Baron Stieglitz purchased the table from the Frankfort antique dealer Goldschmidt, one of the main suppliers to Mayer Carl de Rothschild, also a great connoisseur of tortoiseshell piqué. It was no doubt the death of Mayer Carl that same year (1886) that allowed Stieglitz to acquire the table. It stood in the Stieglitz Museum of Applied Arts and was transferred to the Hermitage after 1924.

The exhibition is accompanied by an illustrated catalogue, offering the first complete study of the subject. The French version will be published by Monelle Hayot and the English version by Rizzoli.

Nazanin Lankarani wrote about the exhibition for The New York Times (7 September 2018).

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From Rizzoli:

Alexis Kugel, Piqué: Gold, Tortoiseshell, and Mother-of-Pearl at the Court of Naples (New York: Rizzoli, 2018), 256 pages, ISBN: 978-8891820617, $60.

The first volume dedicated to the most complete and outstanding collection of piqué objects ever assembled, a number of which have never been published before. The volume is dedicated to the art of piqué, created in Naples during the first half of the eighteenth century, a technique that combines remarkable inventiveness, virtuoso skill, and astonishing opulence. These extraordinary objects are made of three precious materials: tortoiseshell, gold, and mother-of-pearl. These pieces were made between 1720 and 1760 for the public and the court, especially for Charles de Bourbon, King of Naples. The authors of these creations were known as tartarugari. Among the most famous tartarugari was Giuseppe Sarao, whose studio was next to the walls of the Royal Palace and who created some of the pieces presented in this book. Also included is an extraordinary table from the Hermitage Museum, considered to be the greatest masterpiece created using the piqué technique, and still retaining its original legs. The catalogue will allow readers to discover both the incredible inventiveness of the artists and the extraordinarily keen interest this art sparked among nineteenth-century collectors, including several members of the Rothschild family. The volume presents more than fifty objects, representing the masterpieces of this technique. The objects are introduced by a study of the subject and a text explaining the historical context.

Alexis Kugel is a member of the fifth generation of a family of antiques dealers whose company was founded in Russia at the end of the eighteenth century. Based in Paris since 1924, they expanded the business of silver and jewelry to deal in fine furniture, works of art and sculpture, Kunstkammer objects, ivories, Renaissance jewelry, and scientific instruments.

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