Pair of cupboards veneered in mahogany feather, resting on feet of which the front ones have a circular plinth, supporting the uprights in the shape of a lictor’s fasces, ending in a leafy capital. On the front, there is a pair of doors concealing three drawers, also veneered in mahogany feather; two further drawers are concealed in the lower band and in the under-top band.
The meeting point between the two doors is decorated with a symmetrical phytomorphic carving; floral and antemium carvings also adorn the lower part both on the front and the sides. The white Carrara marble top follows the contour of the cabinet; the interior is made of chestnut and poplar wood.
Dimensions: 102 x 140,5 x 69 cm
If until 1799 Lucca had been able to boast the status of an independent republic, that same year saw its fall and consequent subjugation to the French. In 1805, at the explicit request of the city’s senate, the Principality of Lucca and Piombino was sanctioned, the direction of which was entrusted directly by Napoleon Bonaparte to Felice Baciocchi, a Corsican general who a few years earlier had married his younger sister Elisa. She obtained the honorary title of Grand Duchess of Tuscany and, in fact, she governed the territories directed by her husband.
Naturally, the influence of the French regnants also had an impact on artistic choices, calling in artisans directly from Paris and commissioning local boutiques to produce works and furnishings in transalpine taste. Contrary to the deep political change initiated in the period of the Restoration, which with the Congress of Vienna had sought to restore the pre-revolutionary situation, the fashion for French furniture in the wake of the Empire style continued in the following years. This trend was also to be found in Lucca itself, where Maria Luisa of Bourbon was instituted. While modernising the Palazzo Ducale, under the direction of the architect Lorenzo Nottolini, she commissioned furnishings faithful to this taste.
This is the case with our pair of cupboards, clearly French in architectural and ornamental taste, but more local in the choice of materials used.
While the mahogany used for the veneer was one of the most common woods in France, the structure was built with another essence of wood. This is in fact not in oak, more common in French-made furniture, but in chestnut, a local wood widely used in the realisation of the structural part of furniture in central Italy. The same applies to poplar, which is found in the construction of the sides of the hull of our commodes, also frequently used in Tuscan furniture.
As mentioned above, the phytomorphic carvings and the architectural design are reminiscent of the French taste: the front feet with circular plinths, the drawer in the lower band as well as the two doors concealing the internal drawer unit, are modes of execution that were widespread in France at the time. The idea of the uprights in the shape of fasces also derives from this taste, with several examples in various pieces of furniture.
Among the most pertinent comparisons in our case are some of the furnishings designed by Jean-Jacques Werner, a Swiss cabinetmaker but active in Paris: the commode from the Governor’s flat at the Invalides and now in the Musée des Artes Décoratifs, or the commode-secrétaire from the Grand Trianon dated 1819. The former is in fact characterised by uprights in the shape of lictor’s fasces, while the latter features phytomorphic racemes on the front doors, making interesting comparisons possible even if those of the Versailles furniture, as well as the rest of the decoration, are in gilded bronze and not in carved wood as our cupboards.
This last peculiarity of the furniture under examination allows us to further approximate its production to a manufacture in the Italian sphere, where the availability of bronzes of refined workmanship was certainly more difficult, if not by importing them directly from France. On the other hand, the high quality of the cabinet-making reminds us of skilful artists who entertained a close relationship with the transalpine country, if not the very origin. It is no coincidence, perhaps, that in those years the main boutique in Lucca first for Baciocchi and then for Bourbon was that of the Youf brothers. In the production we find similar characteristics to those outlined above for the pair of cupboards: they declare, in fact, their being French cabinet-makers in the taste and structure of the furnishings, while showing themselves open to Italian influences in the use of materials.
Christian Baulez, Denise Ledoux-Lebard, I quaderni dell’antiquariato. Il mobile francese dal Luigi XVI all’Art Déco, Gruppo Editoriale Fabbri, 1981;
Alvar Gonzalez-Palacios, Il tempio del gusto, ed. Longanesi 1986;
Simone Chiarugi, Botteghe di Mobilieri in Toscana, ed. S.P.E.S. 1994;
Enrico Colle, Il mobile impero in Italia, ed. Electa, 2005.