A VERY LARGE AND RARE MARQUETRY PANEL AND FRAME SIGNED BY FRANCESCO ABBIATI DEPICTING THE ASCENT TO CALVARY

February 19 2015, 4:48pm

Carlton Hobbs LLC This magnificent inlaid panel, being the tenth known signed work by Francesco Abbiati (fl. c. 1780-c. 1828), is an important addition to the known oeuvre of this Lombard-born intarsiatore, who was active in Rome in the last twenty years of the eighteenth century. Abbiati was born in the town of Mondello, near Lake Como, and became an artist in marquetry of the highest caliber. His work was sought after by the great European royal families, and he counted amongst his clientèle the Spanish Court in Madrid and Maria Caroline, Queen of Naples, for whom he made a “mathematical table”1 in Milan in 1783. After leaving Lombardy, Abbiati is next documented as working in Rome at an atelier near the Campo Marzio. “In the contemporary chronicles and memoirs published in Rome in 1787 and 1788, Francesco Abbiati and his work were praised for their quality, mechanical devices, and the inventiveness and richness of their inlaid compositions […].”2 In 1791 Abbiati visited Spain and he is known to have delivered three pieces from Rome to Queen Maria Luisa di Parma, wife of Carlo IV. He is last recorded in Milan in 1828 as “receiving an award for his skills in ‘intarsio’.”3 Abbiati worked in the neoclassical style, and his figurative scenes and border decoration were inspired by Roman wall paintings and other antique motifs. Detail, Carlton Hobbs LLC The scene of the present panel depicts Christ falling under the weight of his cross during his ascent to Calvary, an episode in the Bible leading to his crucifixion, and one of the fourteen Stations of the Cross. It was a popular subject in art, particularly during the Renaissance. The present scene is closely related to a circa 1800 drawing entitled Jésus de Consolation et de miséricorde by Nicolas Delerive, a French artist working in Lisbon in the early nineteenth century (figure 1). The drawing was reproduced by Francesco Bartolozzi (1725-1815), an Italian engraver who lived in Portugal and served as the director of the National Academy in Lisbon. In one version of this engraving, the image of Christ is accompanied by text declaring: Our Lord Jesus of consolation and Father of mercies, who is venerated in the enclosure of the Convent de Santo Antonio of the Capuchins in Lisbon. His Holiness Pope Pius VI conceded two hundred days indulgence to all those who offered pious contrition before this image and pray the prayer of Our Father and Hail Mary in honor of the five wounds of our lord Jesus Christ. Figure 1An engraving of Jésus de Consolation et de miséricorde, by Nicolas Delerive, circa 1800, identical to the present panel. The convent referenced was established in Portugal in 1560 and its decoration is dedicated to the symbolism of the Passion of Christ. In the Chapel of the Lord of the Passion a large tile picture, circa 1740, represents the Flagellation, the Crowning with Thorns, Christ Crucified, as well as symbols of the Passion in the vault and on the door. The Chapel of the Crucifixion was also decorated with 17th century murals of the same iconography by baroque artist André Reinoso (fl. 1610-1641). The convent was admired by all who visited, from travelers to monarchs, who supported its operations. However, with the dissolution of religious orders in Portugal in 1834, the convent was closed. The present image of the Ascent to Calvary would have fitted in perfectly with the imagery of the convent and, based on Pope Pius’ announcement offering indulgences to those who prayed before the image, it is certain that a version was in fact located there. It seems likely that Nicolas Delerive’s drawing was based on this original and that the present panel was also executed after the same image. In 1807, special permission was granted by the king to Portuguese artist José Joaquim de Castro to print and distribute the engraving by Delerive/Bartolozzi. Interestingly, a portrait of de Castro by Delerive exists, suggesting a professional relationship between the artists. Furthermore, among documents passed down to de Castro’s ancestors is an old list of works that references a painting of Christ going to Calvary. Abbiati’s panel of the Ascent to Calvary may have been created for a church or aristocratic private family chapel in Spain or Portugal after its patron made a pilgrimage to the convent in Lisbon, or simply based on the fact that the pope rewarded devotees of the image. Given the old Iberian provenance of the panel it seems likely that it would have formed part of a Spanish noble or royal commission. Indeed, a commode in the Palazzo Reale in Madrid, which is attributed to Abbiati, is inlaid with Old Testament scenes, suggesting a religious element to Abbiati’s work for the Spanish court. Apart from the present panel, there are nine known pieces signed by Abbiati and, interestingly, Abbiati signed himself slightly differently on each. Of these works, the most celebrated is an intricately inlaid center table in the collection of the J. Paul Getty Museum (Fran.co Abbiati/179(?)), which has a finely inlaid border that is closely related to the frame of this panel. The others are a secrétaire in the Collezione Terruzzi, Bordighera; a table sold by Christie’s, Villa d’Este (Como), 27 May 1971 (Abbiati Mondello); a table in a private collection (Franc. Abbiati); a panel depicting Justice, part of a set of four panels, which was formerly at Carlton Hobbs and is now in a highly important West Coast private collection (Fran. Abbiati); a pair of panels in the Bowes Museum, County Durham (Fran.o/Abbiati); an intarsia panel depicting Plato sold by Christie’s New York, 22 November 2011, Lot 319 (Fran.co Abbiati 181(?)); and an intarsia panel depicting Diana and Endymion in the Italian art trade (Franc.co Abbiati). Two further pieces, a bureau cabinet and a dressing table, both dating from the 1790s, have been attributed to Abbiati by Mario Tavella, and are illustrated in “Additions to the Oeuvre of Francesco Abbiati,” his article in Furniture History (2002). Figure 2An intarsia panel by Abbiati depicting Diana and Endymion, in the Italian art trade, which shares a similar frame decoration as the present panel. While the Bowes Museum panels have been fitted with mid-nineteenth century frames, the present panel, the intarsia panel of Plato sold at Christie’s, and the panel depicting Diana and Endymion in the Italian art trade share the interesting feature of being set in original intricate inlaid frames. The design of each comprises two rows of “Etruscan” pearl-strings, an attribute of Venus, bordering an acanthus leaf pattern. The Diana panel and the present piece have the additional corresponding feature of repeating inlaid semi-circles, which decorate the perimeter of their frames (figure 2). The present panel is distinguished not only for retaining its original intarsia frame by Abbiati, but it is also the largest known panel from his oeuvre. Its discovery, along with other pictorial panels previously mentioned, throws significant new light on his output, as it reveals him to have produced works of art as well as furniture. Abbiati’s figural studies are highly distinctive and are imbued with an extraordinary painterly quality, and the composition and execution of the present panel confirm that Abbiati was an intarsia artist of the highest rank.