A Florentine early 18th century pietre dure panel, The Annunciation, possibly by Baccio Cappelli, of the Grand Ducal Workshops, Florence. Photo courtesy Bonhams.

showing the Angel Gabriel and the Virgin seated facing each other, the Virgin on a throne and looking heavenward, the Angel surrounded by rays of light and beneath a dove, rays of light shining through a rose window above the door, an open book by the Virgin's side bearing the words ECCE VIRGO CONCIPIET ET PARIET FILIUM [Behold! A Virgin shall conceive, and bring forth a Son], both beneath an arcaded vaulted ceiling, God the Father shown outside amidst clouds to the left of the scene, in a gilt bronze moulded surround, a further outer border of volterra marble embellished by red marble cabochons at the cardinal points, all in an outer moulded gilt bronze frame, 65cm wide, 50cm high (25.5in wide, 19.5in high). Sold for £98,500 (€118,932)

Provenance: Marquesa de Aldama, Grande de España.

See A. Giusti, Pietre Dure and the Art of Florentine Inlay (2006), pp. 159 - 160, where two early 18th century Florentine depictions of the Annunciation are illustrated. The first (p. 159, Figure 131) is a wall plaque executed in 1720 by the Grand Ducal workshops, and was a gift from the Grand Duke to Sybil Augusta, Margravine of Baden-Baden (1675 - 1737), who built a Florentine cabinet for the audience room of her son at Rastatt. It is not a scene of the Annunciation, but shows the two principal figures, the Virgin and the Angel Gabriel, in a pair of oval reserves and facing each other. It is based upon the one of the most venerated of Florentine paintings, the Annunciation Fresco in the Basilica SS Annunciation. The same is true of the second illustrated example, a Florentine altar frontal of the early 18th century, which treats the Angel Gabriel and Mary in the same way. Other known depcitions of the Annunciation in hardstones include an early 18th century ormolu-mounted, pietre dure and ebony box inlaid to the lid with a pair of ovals, within which the Angel Gabriel and the Virgin face each other. Another octagonal plaque with the Annunciation is in the Museo dell'Opificio delle Pietre Dure.

The panel offered here is a fuller depiction, and a faithful reproduction of the Annunciation fresco, a late 16th century copy of which is in the Hermitage, and shows the same arcaded vaulted ceiling, the same composition, the same cushion beneath the Virgin's bible, and the same patterned floor and walls. (see illustration below of 'The Annunciation', in the State Hermitage Museum, St. Petersburg).

All of these panels appear to derive from the prototype pietra dura and gilt bronze relief of the Annunciation commissioned by Cosimo III as a gift for his daughter Anna Maria Luisa, wife of the Elector of Palatine and designed by the court sculptor, Giovanni Battista Foggini. The workshops produced several pietra dura panels all of this same Annunciation group, based on the painting in Santa Maria Annunziata in Florence which were given as personal gifts from Cosimo III.

Baccio Cappelli was a member of one of those families that worked for generations at the Galleria. A Baccio Cappelli sr. was employed in the Grand Ducal workshops in the time of Cosimo II; an Antonio Cappelli was active under Ferdinand II. Baccio Cappelli was perhaps his son. He signed 'Baccio Cappelli fecit Anno 1709 Fiorenze' on the back of one of the panels that decorate a cabinet made in 1771 after a design by Robert Adam for the Duchess of Manchester, which was in the Castle of Kimbolton, Huntingdon, and now in the Victoria and Albert Museum. An octagonal plaque of the Annunciation is in the Museo dell'Opificio delle Pietre Dure, signed by Baccio Cappelli and dated 1727.

Bonhams. FINE EUROPEAN FURNITURE, SCULPTURE & WORKS OF ART. London, New Bond Street. 12 Dec 2013 - www.bonhams.com