Alexandra Robinson stands next to a 17th century Louis XIV cabinet-on-stand, make by Italian furniture master Domenico Cucci, on display at the auction house in London. (AP Photo/Sang Tan)
LONDON.- A magnificent Louis XIV cabinet-on-stand attributed to Domenico Cucci (1635-1704) and the Gobelins workshop, circa 1665-1675, is expected to realize in the region of £4 million when it is offered by The March Family at Christie’s sale of 500 Years: Decorative Arts Europe on Thursday December 10, 2009. This exceptionally rare work provides the global market with an unexpected treasure and once in a lifetime opportunity. This masterpiece is one of only three of Cucci’s magnificent cabinets known to survive, with the other two, dating from circa 1681-3, in the collection of the Duke of Northumberland at Alnwick Castle and recently exhibited as highlights of the Victoria and Albert Museum’s exhibition Baroque 1620-1800: Style in the Age of Magnificence. Boasting exquisite Florentine pietre dure plaques, striking hard-stone columns and opulent gilt bronze mounts against a sumptuous tortoiseshell ground, the Cucci Cabinet is a connoisseur's dream.
Cucci, of Italian origin, was the leading ébéniste under Louis XIV alongside André Charles Boulle (1642-1732). Having settled in Paris around 1660 upon the invitation of Cardinal Mazarin he joined the Gobelins workshops around 1662. Cucci contributed significantly to the luxurious grandeur and regal magnificence of Versailles and other royal palaces of the age.
Marcus Rädecke, Director of European Furniture, Christie’s London: “We are thrilled to have been entrusted with the sale of this extraordinary work by the March family, who are renowned for collecting with the passion and knowledge of true connoisseurs. This cabinet is remarkable; it is one of the very rare remaining examples of the spectacular cabinets produced in Paris in the late 17th century. It is attributed to the great Italian cabinet-maker Domenico Cucci and the celebrated Gobelins workshops, which were set up in 1662 by King Louis XIV and his finance minister Jean-Baptiste Colbert. Most probably commissioned by Queen Hedwig Eleonore of Sweden, the cabinet’s tantalizing provenance furthermore comprises a link with the French court through Count Axel von Fersen, who is widely believed to have been Marie-Antoinette’s lover. Von Fersen inherited Steninge Palace, most probably with the cabinet. It is very exciting to present this once in a lifetime opportunity on an international platform to collectors, institutions and dealers around the globe.”
The History and Context of this Cabinet’s Creation:
Under the artistic direction of Charles le Brun, the King’s premier peintre, Cucci, who had been appointed menuisier d’ébène ordinaire du Roi, delivered the first of two very grand pairs of cabinets for the King’s apartments at Versailles in 1664. The dating of the present cabinet to the first decade of the Gobelins workshops’ existence is enabled by its many similarities to this pair of Royal cabinets, which have been long since lost. Like this masterpiece, they too were decorated with an abundance of gilt bronze ornaments and figures as well as striking hard-stone elements - a trademark of Cucci’s cabinets - and supported on stands with bronze-colored figures.
Beautifully conceived under le Bruns’s direction and exemplifying Cucci’s refined craftsmanship, the Cucci Cabinet epitomizes the masterful fusion of skills and ideas of some of Europe’s greatest artists and craftsmen of the period, drawn together at the Gobelins workshops. It was this utilization of leading expertise, unified into one visionary design, which was at the very core of the Gobelins’ creations and which imbues this cabinet with considerable international appeal.
From Italy, the beautiful pietra dura panels, depicting Orpheus amid animals attracted by his singing, are the work of the Opificio delle pietre dure, the Granducal workshops in Florence. This further indicates that the cabinet was conceived in the early years of the Gobelins workshops before sufficient
pietre dure panels were available from their own specialists. Reflecting a clear Flemish interest, the dramatic stage-like interior of the central cupboard, concealing a number of hidden drawers and compartments, features delicate marquetry in exquisite veneers and engraved pewter. The superb figures, representing the four seasons, which support the cabinet are closely related to designs by le Brun and are likely to be the work of Cucci’s cousin Philippe Caffieri, who came to the Gobelins workshops from Italy with Cucci.
The full provenance of this spectacular cabinet is yet to be completely revealed, however, it is linked to the Swedish King Charles X and Queen Hedwig Eleonora by an inscription on a silver-backed lapis lazuli seal pendant. It is thought to have been acquired by the widowed Queen of Sweden and given to Count Carl Gyllenstierna as part of the furnishings of Steninge, a Baroque palace that the Queen had built to designs by Nicodemus Tessin, for her young chamberlain. The cabinet appears to have remained at Steninge Palace when the property was bought by the von Fersen family in 1735. Johann Christian Linning’s dated signature to the underside of one drawer bears witness that the cabinet was restored in 1787 by the Stockholm court cabinet-maker, probably under instructions of its owner, the Swedish statesman and diplomat Count Axel von Fersen, better known today as the reputed lover of Queen Marie Antoinette.
The cabinet must have stayed at Steninge with von Fersen’s niece, Countess Gyldenstolpe, and returned to Paris some time in the 19th or very early 20th century to be sold there from the collections of her daughter-in-law, countess Louise Gyldenstolpe, in May 1923 at Galerie Georges Petit, as lot 204. It was later acquired, over 40 years ago, by the discerning March Family from Jean- Marie Rossi, Galerie Aveline, Paris. The March family were arguably the most dynamic and powerful banking dynasty of 20th century Spain, and their extensive business interests allowed them to assemble outstanding collections of paintings, works of art and books and to create elegant palaces in Madrid and Palma.
Alexandra Robinson looks at a 17th century Louis XIV cabinet-on-stand, made by Italian furniture master Domenico Cucci, on display at the auction house in London, Thursday, Oct. 8, 2009. The cabinet, one of only three of Cucci's cabinet known to survive, is to be auctioned in the sale '500 Years: Decorative Arts Europe' on Dec. 10 with an estimated price of 4 million pounds (US$6.4 million or euro4.3 million). (AP Photo/Sang Tan)