Fiona Giusto
Article by Fiona Giusto

Pietro Piffetti, the Savoy royal cabinet-maker and his writing desk in Ca’ Rezzonico in Venice

 

The Rezzonico Palace on the Grand Canal was bought in 1935 by the city of Venice, reorganized and opened one year later as the Museum of the Venetian 18th Century.
Ca’ Rezzonico offers still nowadays an excellent overview of Venetian painting, art and culture of that century with breathtaking examples of pieces of furniture, Murano glass chandeliers and mirrors, porcelain (see my 2 posts about Vezzi and Cozzi) etc. that were once in other private Venetian palaces.

A beautiful Piedmont writing desk by Pietro Piffetti dominates the Lazzarini Room on the first floor.
This writing desk belongs from the chronological point of view to the chosen time frame, but it is neither Venetian nor in Venetian style. Let us discover more about it.

the gem, the writing desk by Pietro Piffetti in Ca’ Rezzonico
the gem, the writing desk by Pietro Piffetti in Ca’ Rezzonico

Pietro Piffetti

Pietro Piffetti (1701-1777) was the most famous cabinet-maker of his century in Italy.

Born in Turin, where he also died, Piffetti was the son of a cabinet-maker, his grandfather also was a cabinet-maker, as his father in law.

Not much is known about his training. In 1730 he was in Rome, where he met the French resident cabinet makers Richard Lebrun and Pierre Daneau and got into touch with the Northern European tradition and André-Charles Boulle’s work who was among the first to use mother-of-pearl, tortoise shell, ivory and brass.

Piffetti returned to Turin in 1731 when he was appointed Savoy royal cabinet-maker by Carl Emanuel III, Duke of Savoy and King of Sardinia, an office he covered 40 years long; up to his death he remained in fact related to the court. His job was to build new pieces of furniture and maintain the existing ones in good condition.

freestanding writing desk

The breathtaking writing desk in Ca’ Rezzonico measures 110 x 160 x 86 cm and is signed, Pietro Piffetti, and dated, 1741.

Inscription with signature and date
Inscription with signature and date

The writing desk is made of burr walnut wood, with precious exotic woods and embellished with ivory and tortoise shell inlays. The ivory inlays were skillfully shaded with a chisel.

While inlays are pieces of one material cut into a solid piece of wood, marquetry consists of applying pieces of veneer into wood or other material.

The writing desk is rectangular, profiled with rounded corners and has several drawers. The central part is covered with a green velvet top showing signs of use due to its age.

drawers
drawers
fall-front desk and central part with green velvet top that can be opened
fall-front desk and central part with green velvet top that can be opened

 

The famous Turin cabinet maker Piffetti united different types of wooden layers, glued them together, drew a scene and then by using a simple saw cut them masterly out.

I am always struck by his technical ability and craftsmanship!

The upper part has also rounded corners, with a double level of drawers.

the upper part of the writing desk
the upper part of the writing desk

The legs finish in exquisite volutes and in a magnificent cross in the middle. The general impression is of extreme refinement.

exquisite legs of the desk
exquisite legs of the desk

 

The scene in the background represents an elderly man surrounded by 4 children; it was taken from Horace, you should never care about your friends’ defects but just like a father who sees the virtues of his sons care about their merits.

Frequently used designs are shells, volutes, vegetable and geometrical designs inside niches. Straight lines are banned, replaced by round and winding ones.

detail of the volutes
detail of the volutes
further detail
further detail

The commissioner is unknown; this piece came to Venice in 1919 through a legacy of Eugenio Fabbro.

The laboratory of the Conservation and Restoration Centre La Venaria Reale in Turin made a diagnosis several years ago on hand of a CT and several non-invasive analyses of the precious tortoise shell and ivory and with a spectrometry XRF and the different layers of wood were analysed.

Tortoise shell, expensive but attractive, because of its durability and appearance, forms the basis of the ivory, was applied on a pigmented paper or on thin layers of bronze, to enhance the coloristic effect and the shine.

tortoise shell
tortoise shell

In the 18th century the simple carpenter was replaced by a cabinet-maker who was talented, ingenious, imaginative, but also technically gifted, so a real ‘virtuoso’; in Italy he is called ‚ebanista‘, from ‚ebano‘, ebony, that is the most precious type of wood, very hard and heavy (it doesn’t float).

Piffetti’s pieces of furniture in Turin

In Turin are several amazing pieces by Piffetti in the Foundation Accorsi  – Ometto, that the antique dealer Accorsi created, among which tables, chest of drawers, writing desks and the most beautiful piece of wood work of the world, as it was described, the stunning ‚Doppio Corpo‘, or in the city museum Museo di Arte Antica (planetarium, kneeler) and in Palazzina di Stupinigi.

Photo Piffetti‘s stunning Doppio Corpo with ivory, mother- of - pearl and tortoise shell inlays (https://www.fondazioneaccorsi-ometto.it/ilmuseo/il-mobile-piu-bello-del-mondo/)
Photo Piffetti‘s stunning Doppio Corpo with ivory, mother- of – pearl and tortoise shell inlays (https://www.fondazioneaccorsi-ometto.it/ilmuseo/il-mobile-piu-bello-del-mondo/)

Another incredible piece, a bombè commode, is displayed in the collection of the Metropolitan Museum of Modern Art in New York.

Would you like to admire ‘live’ in Venice this lovely piece and learn more about the key figure in the history of furniture?

Fiona Giusto
BestVeniceGuides.it
www.venicetours.it

if interested in a guided tour through Ca’ Rezzonico with Fiona Giusto, please send her a mail fiona.giusto@alice.it