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Adam Weisweiler (1744-1820)

Commode 1785-90

RCIN 2593

Green Drawing Room, Buckingham Palace

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Rectangular cabinet veneered with ebony and set with three pietra dura panels of flowers and birds, the central panel incorporating high relief pietra dura fruit; bordered with premiere partie boulle marquetry on tortoiseshell. Fitted with three doors containing two tiers of three drawers. With a mottled brocatello marble top and on six tapering legs.

The leading Louis XVI ébéniste, or cabinetmaker, Adam Weisweiler (1744–1820), created this cabinet c. 1785, uniting a restrained late eighteenth-century neoclassical furniture form with exuberant seventeenth-century Florentine hardstone decorative panels. Weisweiler was employed by the dealer, or marchand-mercier, Dominique Daguerre, who counted George, Prince of Wales (later George IV), among his main clients; and it was the Prince of Wales who acquired the cabinet, possibly in 1791, and certainly before 1807. The earlier elements of the cabinet are of greater interest for botanical purposes. The three inset front panels, and one to each side, are of pietra dura, literally 'hard stone'. The technique of insetting specimen stones, to create either two- or three-dimensional images, was developed in the late sixteenth century in Florence, under the patronage of the Medici dukes. 'The promise of works of beauty that would last forever' must have particularly attracted the Medici, and the natural shades of the stones enabled close rendering of scenes from nature, which frequently included floral subjects.

One central panel and the two side panels of the Weisweiler cabinet depict parrots with baskets of fruit and flowers. The fruits are identifiable as peaches, grapes and cherries; the birds include a hoopoe on the right side panel and exotic pheasants on the central and left side panels. These fruit and bird panels date from the early seventeenth century, when the stone selecting and cutting skills of the stone workers had developed so that still-life scenes were possible. These schemes were particularly appealing to the furniture-makers visiting the pietra dura workshops, as they were more striking visually.

However, the earlier and botanically finer panels are those on either side of the central panel. These panels depict a tulip to the left and a crown imperial to the right, and probably date from the earliest period of the Opificio delle Pietre Dure, the Florentine pietra dura workshop established by Ferdinand I de'Medici (1549–1609) in 1588. It is possible that these two panels survived due to their subject matter; the fascination with the tulip in the late seventeenth century is well documented, and it may have outlasted its less exotic counterparts being depicted in pietra dura. The crown imperial was a flower long associated with power and majesty on account of its name, its regal, upright appearance, and its crown-shaped flower head. Both flowers reflected botanical trade and wealth, and would have been immediately identifiable to an elite seventeenth-century audience. Their reuse in the late eighteenth century is a testimony both to the longevity of the medium and the high quality of the Florentine workshop. The value placed on the output of the Florentine workshop is shown by the existence of other early pietra dura panels with later bases or surrounds.

Text adapted from Painting Paradise: The Art of the Garden, London, 2015.