A Genoese Rococo Painted and Lacquered Commode

Mid-18th Century

Height: 92 cm (36 ¼ in.)
Width: 133 cm (52 ½ in.)
Depth: 60 cm (23 ½ in.)

Of bombé form, the serpentine top painted in simulated grey marble above two short and two longer drawers with brass escutcheons and pierced drawer pulls, finely decorated on the front and sides with chinoiserie scenes of fishermen, travelers and monkeys playing on a swing in architectural and riverside settings painted in pink monochrome and surrounded by polychrome floral spray borders, on splayed feet.

18th-century Genoa was a major European centre for the production of furniture painted and lacquered with pictorial decoration and vibrantly coloured grounds. During a 1765 visit to the Ligurian capital, the French astronomer Jean-Jérôme Lefrançois de Lalande (1732-1807) commented favourably on the quality of lacquer objects produced in the city and noted that a workshop opposite the Chiesa della Maddalena had achieved such notoriety over the past twenty years that connoisseurs esteemed the local vernice della Maddalena of equal quality and prestige to the celebrated Parisian Vernis Martin.

This commode is one of the finest examples of the period to survive, with its exquisite surface decoration in an exceptionally well-preserved old state. Commodes painted with related floral motifs are illustrated in Enrico Colle, Il Mobile Rococò in Italia (Milan 2003), p.258, and in Lelio Canonero, Barocchetto Genovese (Milan 1962), plates 3 and 9. The present commode’s combination of floral garland borders with elaborate chinsoiserie decoration is much rarer, however, though it does appear on a comparable commode possibly from the same workshop, formerly in the Giuseppe Rossi Collection, sold Sotheby’s London, 10-12 March 1999, lot 188 (also illustrated in Canonero, plate 32). A further related example, with similar English-inspired escutcheons and drawer pulls and bearing the crests of the Grimaldi and Spinola families, is illustrated in Alvar González-Palacios, Il Mobile in Liguria (Genoa 1996), p.208 fig. 240. González-Palacios describes the piece as ‘one of the finest painted Genoese commodes’ extant (p.214) and dates it to 1769, the year of a double marriage between members of the two patrician families, indicating that the taste for this style of decoration persisted well into the latter half of the 1700s.