The exquisite art of pietre dure is at its absolute finest in this spectacular pair of Russian ormolu and malachite plinths. True works of art of the Restauration period, these plinths each feature a matching pietre dure mosaic crafted of the finest stones, all chosen to create a sense of depth and dimensionality in the final work. Depicting an onyx vase with tulips, roses, daffodils, magnolia and other flowers, these pietre dure panels are among the finest examples of this ancient art we have seen.
The pietre dure is complemented by malachite panels of the highest quality, exhibiting exceptional depth through its extraordinary cellular structure. Malachite is one of Russia’s most precious stones, and its presence in these plinths indicates commission and ownership by an individual of considerable status. Mounted in an excellent stepped ormolu base, these plinths originally served as bases for vases or candelabra.
The overall execution and appearance of these plinths is very characteristic of the taste associated with the immensely wealthy collector Nicolas Demidoff. As early as 1806, Demidoff had commissioned the Parisian goldsmith Henri August to supply a guéridon; in 1819, he ordered famed French bronzier Pierre-Philippe Thomire to supply mounts for a massive malachite vase (now in the Metropolitan Museum of Art, New York), as well as a console table with legs in the form of Nike. Other commissions included a table given as a gift to Grand Duke Leopoldo II of Florence, now in the Pitti Palace. Demidoff eventually settled in Florence in 1822 and became Russian minister to the Tuscan Court. Elevated to the rank of Count of San Donato by the Grand Duke, he built a magnificent villa at San Donato on the site of lands formerly owned by the Medici. The villa was later inherited by Anatole, his son, Prince of San Donato, and there are records which confirm transactions he had with the Opificio delle Pietre Dure.
The 19th century proved to be the golden age of Russian malachite. The stone became a sign of prestige and a token of wealth, so much so that Russian papers of the time wrote: "To afford having a big piece wrought in malachite is synonymous to owning diamonds." Year after year the Russian (Romanov) treasury paid increasingly unreasonable prices to hoard the best malachite, much of which went into Romanov palaces and extravagant objets d'art. The Hermitage Museum possesses a collection of over two hundred examples of this “palatial” malachite.
A similar plinth is in the Gilbert collection, illustrated in The Art of Mosaics, Selections from the Gilbert Collection by A. González-Palacios et al. A related pair of malachite plinths supporting candelabra is illustrated in Malachite by V.B. Seyonor.
6 ¾” wide x 7 ¼” deep x 11 ¼” high
Collection of the Cholmondeley Family and Sir Philip Sassoon, Bt., at Houghton Christie’s, London