Sicilian Empire Chiffonier. Palermo, early XIX Century


Sicilian Empire Chiffonier dated to the first quarter of the XIX century. The cabinet, panelled in mahogany veneer, consists of an upper section with doors and a lower section with drawers. The upper section has a strong architectural taste, well represented by the four Corinthian columns placed at the corners and the six half-columns supporting four Gothic arches, elements placed on the front of the two doors concealing six drawers. The four Corinthian columns support, as an entablature, a band with a pair of drawers, enriched by four polychrome stucco made decorations depicting scenes from the classical world and set within gilded, leafy carved wooden frames. Lower part with four drawers, the first of which has a flap front forming a writing surface with a morocco leather insert and three drawers. Framing the front are two mirrored torches in carved, gilded and bronze-green lacquered wood. Equally lacquered and gilded are the two carved front feet. A series of carved and gilded wooden elements, such as an acanthus leaf frieze at the top, a second leaf frieze marking the upper section from the lower one, and the capitals, complete the cabinet’s decorative apparatus.
Gilded bronze handles, the outer ones depicting baskets full of grapes while the inner ones are shell-shaped. Mahogany and maritime pine interior. Door panels in mahogany feather, repositioned as originally.

Dimensions: 165.5x101x45.5×79 cm

CODE: nmori0183426

Historical-critical analysis:

The chiffonier is an exclusively Sicilian piece of furniture, consisting of an upper part with two doors (also existing in a single-door variant from the second half of the XIX century) and a lower part with drawers. Like the secrétaire, which is structurally very similar, it conceals a cabinet composed of compartments and drawers accessible from the doors. This type of furniture began to embellish Sicilian literary salons from the beginning of the XIX century, and it is curious that it finds no other counterparts either in the Neapolitan area or in other contexts of southern Italy under Bourbon domination and part of the Kingdom of the Two Sicilies.
It is mainly the Empire taste that characterises this particular furniture, well expressed in the architectural forms, in the choice of subjects of the decorative apparatus, and in the use of mahogany feathers for the veneer. However, also indicative of the period and origin are the four Gothic arches on the front of the two wings, neo-Gothic being a stylistic component already present in Sicily in the early XIX century, in a ‘Norman’ version typical of the island. Finally, very interesting and still neo-classical in taste are the Classical figures that inhabit the four reserves in polychrome stucco, portraying various male and female individuals dressed in the antique style, including torch bearers and subjects in plastic poses, a deer and mythological characters such as the pair of centaurs and the pair of individuals placed on the chariot, the latter of which can probably be interpreted as divinities. The source of inspiration for this iconographic repertoire, both thematically and compositionally, is to be found in the Roman frescoes unearthed during excavations in the previous century, with a consequent recovery of the classical decorative motifs used as early as the second half of the XVIII century, reproduced and disseminated widely through prints. In particular, the use of iconographic subjects that resurfaced following archaeological investigations in the Vesuvian area would find wide use in the Kingdom of the Two Sicilies, becoming strongly rooted in the taste of those territories in southern Italy that for a long time had been under the influence of Bourbon domination.

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