The top of the present table bears the label of Pierre Della Valle et Freres of Livorno, the most celebrated of the Tuscan scagliola workshops of the first half of the 19th century. The signature of Pierre Della Valle also appears on the depiction of the Italian townscape on the table’s top and reads P. Della Valle dis. dal vero (“P. Della Valle designed from truth”). The works of the Della Valle firm are found among some of Europe's finest collections, including the prize-winning table of 1851 today in the Gilbert Collection.1
Pierre Della Valle, who worked with his brother Giuseppe, had originally trained as a painter, and it is the sensibility, knowledge and skill of an artist that characterizes the production of the Della Valle workshop. The present table, which depicts scenes deeply evocative of Italy’s artistic and cultural heritage, is an especially fine example of the firm’s work. The top is profuse with imagery demonstrating the erudition of the patron, who probably commissioned it as a record of his personal favored places and memories during his Grand Tour. In the present table, scenes of Florence and Pisa are placed alongside a view of a harbor, Bellini's 1827 score for his opera Il Pirata, and a portrait image of Michelangelo.2 There also appears a calling card of a lady that reads “Carlotta Manteri, Nata Carega [?].” All of these articles are illusionistically rendered using trompe l’oeil effects, giving the viewer the impression that there are actual documents scattered about the tabletop.
The caliber of these detailed depictions is exceptional for works in scagliola, and characterizes the finest pieces of the Della Valle workshop. Such pieces were part of a conscious effort on the part of the craftsmen of Tuscany to match the intricate quality of Roman works in micromosaic.3
These scenes were particularly suited to the taste of the connoisseur collectors of Europe who continued to visit Italy throughout this period. Enrico Gebhardt, the general agent to the King of Bavaria, whose name appears on another calling card on the present top, would have been one such figure and it seems likely that the piece was commissioned for his personal collection, or even that of the king.
The design of the base, with its three Doric columns, combined with the subtle gothic influence within the arcaded frieze, suits the top’s classical and architectural references and would have been at the height of fashion around the time that the table was made.
1. Massinelli, Anna Maria. Scagliola: L'arte Della Pietra di Luna. Rome: Editalia, 1997. 51.
2. ibid. 52.
3. ibid. 52.