Best of the Chest
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ART & ANTIQUES, May 2014 — This ornate casket has feet in both the 19th and 17th centuries. Crafted in 1840, it combines original period 17th-century Florentine pietra dura plaques with hand engraved dore gold-plated bronze mounts and an ebonized base to create a multi-tiered confection that supplies visual stimulation from every angle.
The pietra dura plaques, which were made by painstakingly inlaying semi-precious stones harvested around the world, depict pastoral scenes. The largest plaque-on the casket's lid-features a black and white spotted horse standing in front of a serene landscape and a blushing sky. Other plaques, which adorn the sides of the casket, feature villas and trees. The plaques are thought to have been crafted at the grand ducal workshops in Florence, which were established by Ferdinando I de Medici in 1588 and were known for creating the finest examples of pietra dura in the world. In fact, the incredibly detailed inlay on the famed Badminton Cabinet-the piece of furniture which has twice (in 1990 and in 2004) set the auction record for most expensive piece of furniture sold- was made there. The casket shown here also features meticulously lacquered wood, hand-engraved hardware, and a rare half-mortise lock, which required a high level of craftsmanship to produce.
The piece, which is being offered by M.S. Rau, a New Orleans-based dealer of fine jewelry and antiques, is thought to have had matrimonial significance. Produced for wealthy clients, it would have harbored priceless familial items given to a couple for their upcoming nuptials.