This incredible pair of pietre dure console tables can be counted among the most impressive pieces of hardstone artistry in the world. The tables closely resemble nine of the most famous pietre dure tables ever made — those created for Spain’s King Charles III in the late 18th century. Eight of the nine tables are currently held in the Museo Nacional del Prado (Madrid), while the ninth can be found in the Ajuda Palace in Lisbon. These breathtaking console tables are the only known pair outside those made for Charles III himself, and were possibly a part of the original commission or ordered by a patron who viewed the royal set in the palace. Exhibiting an extravagant combination of materials, the tables are impressive examples of both Italian hardstone artistry and craftsmanship.
When Charles III took the throne in 1759, he set about to transform Madrid into one of grand artistic capitals of Europe. Prior to his accession to the Spanish throne, he had ruled Naples as Charles VII and Sicily as Charles V. Thus, he was familiar with the Italian arts and had become enamored of the art of pietre dure. After taking the throne in Madrid, he established the Real Laboratorio de Piedras Duras del Buen Retiro (Royal Laboratory of Pietre Dure of Buen Retiro), importing artisans and craftsmen from Italy to fill his royal workshops.
Domenico Stecchi and Francesco Poggetti were among the artisans, and they arrived in Spain in 1761. These Italian pietre dure craftsmen were responsible for one of the workshop’s largest royal commissions, the nine console tables with pietre dure tops made for Charles III. Crafted between 1779 and 1788, the stunning hardstone creations were based on the trompe l’oeil paintings of the French artist Charles-Joseph Flipart, while their gilded bronze bases were made by the Florentine craftsman Giovanni Battista Ferroni.
The present pair also take their inspiration from a painting by Flipart, which is currently in the collection of the Museo Nacional del Prado (Madrid). The trompe l’oeil effect of the painting is perfectly translated into the art of hardstone on these tabletops. They recall the popular Venetian genre vedute, or view painting, capturing a sweeping Italian vista complete with classical Roman ruins. Two men engage in a game of skittles, a traditional bowling game, in the background, while other figures in period dress fill the foreground. The art of trompe l’oeil is used to beautiful effect around the scene’s border, as books, fruit, musical instruments, and a tray with a silver jug frame the lively tableau.
The art of pietre dure developed from the ancient art of opus sectile, where materials were cut and inlaid into walls and floors to form a decorative pattern. Florentine craftsmen revived the art during the Renaissance, and the first known hard-stone workshop was established by the Medici family in 1588. Quickly growing in popularity, the art was also practiced in courts throughout Europe, and most especially in the courts of Naples, Madrid, Prague and Paris. The technique was both expensive and time consuming, requiring not only precious materials, but also highly skilled craftsmen. As a result, true pietre dure works such as this are very rare and highly collectible.
The impressive tabletops are set onto equally stunning gilded bronze bases, which feature the same figural and decorative ornaments as the others in the Prado series. The only area they differ is in their central crests, which do not contain the royal monogram of Charles III. The sheer beauty and complexity of their construction, as well as the richness of their materials, indicate they were specially commissioned for a highly important patron.
Late 18th / Early 19th century
66” wide x 33” deep x 36 1/2” high