M. Pisani, I Carafa di Roccella, Storia di principi, cardinali, grandi dimore, Electa Napoli, 1992, p. 133, no. 85.
Annalisa Scarpa, Michelangelo Lupo, Fascino del Bello, Opere d'arte dalla Collezione Terruzzi, Rome, 2007, pp. 274-277, V.4, illustrated and discussed p. 473, (see fig. 2.).
A suite of eight commodes:
The offered two pairs of commodes were originally part of a set of eight identical commodes (of which two pairs were smaller), commissioned by the Princes Carafa and recorded in their Neapolitan palace, the contents of which were dispersed many decades ago. Two pairs from this suite of commodes are in the same Private Collection in Italy, (see Scarpa, op. cit., p. 274-275, illustrated). An identical pair to the offered larger pair was sold in these Rooms, lot 269, 13th June 2001.
There is no precedent for a suite of eight identical commodes in the history of Italian furniture making and possibly in the history of furniture in general. Their grandiosity confirms the importance of the family that they have been commissioned for and the magnificence of their residences.
These impressive commodes have clearly been influenced by French Régence models which were produced around 1730-1740. The use of precious woods such as kingwood and tulipwood, the quarter-veneered surfaces, the moulded solid marble tops and the sumptuous gilt-bronze ornamentation are clearly inspired by foreign models. The claw and ball feet are a typical feature on Neapolitan commodes (often found sculpted in wood) derived from English prototypes. The form of the legs which are somewhat heavy are also another feature of Neapolitan commodes in the first half of the century, before they become more slender and assumed a serpentine exaggerated bombé form. The presence of handles is also a feature which is only very rarely found on Italian furniture but it not uncommon on English examples.
Recent information has come to light regarding the possible makers of these commodes, as due to their sophistication, there would have been relatively few ebaniste in Naples who could have successfully executed such a commission. According to Colle, see Scarpa, op. cit., p. 473, three possible contenders include the German, Antonio Ross, who had worked for the Bourbons; Giovanni Bali, `scrittoriaro ebanista' who worked for the Prince of San Severo and is recorded in bills to him dating from the 1760's; Giacomo Chigi, who had supplied the Royal households with furniture between 1768 and 1772. Furthermore, the exceptional bronzes may well have been produced by the bronze workshop of the Roman, Giacomo Ceci, who executed the very refined bronzes on the pietre dure tables from the Real Laboratorio from around 1738-1763. They could also be the work of the silversmiths Antonio Romano, Livio Scheppers, or the bronze maker Geronimo Castronovo or the metal workers Pietro Marza and Ignazio Starace, all active in the middle years of the 18th century.
The drawer handles in the form of eagles' heads can be closely identified with the family crest of Carafa which incorporates two eagles above the coat of arms (see p.112), which is also visible in the family chapel of San Domenico Maggiore in Naples, where the members of this illustrious family are laid to rest.
There is recorded conceived in a similar vein, but with different mounts and veneers and without handles on the sides, a pair of related commodes, sold in these rooms, lot 20, 14th June 2000, which recent research has proved to have been part of the Talleyrand- Perigord Ruspoli Collection at the Villa L'Imperialino in Florence, the contents of which were dispersed in Florence in 1969 (lot 691).
The Princes Carafa di Roccella and their Palaces:
There exists many unanswered questions about the origins of the Carafa name. The most likely explanation is provided by tracing its origin to the 13th century and to the ancient and noble Neapolitan Caracciolo family. Due to their connection with the wine business, some members of the family became known by the term of carafa or caraffa derived from the unit of measuring wine. This appelation continued throughout the 14th and part of the 15th century when the family extended their influence through military, administrative and diplomatic undertakings on behalf of the Aragonese rulers, thereby acquiring extensive feudal holdings in and around Naples, that were consolidated and extended in later centuries.
In addition to serving as soldiers and statesmen, they also acquired pre-eminence in the Church, providing a veritable dynasty of archbishops of Naples and cardinals, including a pope, Paul IV (1476-1559), from the late 15th century.
Subsequently the family splintered into many branches but the two main Neapolitan ones were those of Carafa della Spina and Carafa della Stadera, abandoning the old name Caracciolo. In 1696, the 5th Prince of Roccella, Vincenzo Maria married Ippolita Cantelmo Stuart, an erudite and educated woman with a love of the Arts. They lived in the sumptuous Palazzo Carafa della Spina. It is almost beyond question that the suite of eight commodes came from that Palace, the only one which merited such an important suite due to its grand interiors.
Ippolita was a decisive influence in the history of the second family palace, styled as Palazzo Roccella. After inheriting a casa palaziata in Borgo di Chiaia, she began a project to restore and reconstruct it, but her early death in 1754 prevented this. It was then left to her son Gennaro Maria to pursue his mother's wishes. The works were delegated to the Royal architect Vanvitelli with the engineer Luca Vecchione, who together transformed the site into what became known as the Palazzo Carafa Cantelmo Stuart di Roccella.
According to the inventories, Vincenzo Maria, son of Gennaro Maria, and his beloved wife Livia Doria, occupied the palace from 1769, while the works were carried out. It was probably at that time that the suite of eight commodes entered the palace where they remained until their sale by the 13th Prince of Roccella.
Due to the early style of the commodes it is not feasible to assume that they were commissioned at the time of Vincenzo Maria who took residence in the Palace in 1769 and therefore a provenance from his grandmother Ippolita and her Palazzo in San Domenico is more likely. Unless it can be suggested that Vincenzo expanded the suite at a later date due to the requirements of the new palace which nevertheless was decorated in the neo-classical style. Furthermore, Colle, in Scarpa, op. cit., p. 473, has dated the illustrated commodes as third quarter 18th century as in his opinion, the commodes were more likely to have been commissioned after the marriage of Livia and Vincenzo for their vast new residence. The Roccella palace was renowned for its scale, (the piano nobile numbered forty-five rooms) and the magnificence of its furnishings, not to mention the picture collections, which included more than 130 paintings and more than 850 porcelain items. The inventories of Palazzo Carafa compiled in 1782 and in 1801 mention several pieces of furniture and fine commodes, although a precise identification has not been possible to date for the present ones (see M. Pisani, Gli arredi di Palazzo Roccella, in op. cit., page 128, 130).
The beginning of the economic decline of the family started in the last quarter of the 18th century. The huge expenses incurred in the vast reconstruction of the palace and the vast sums of money spent in memory of Livia Doria took a heavy financial toll on the family. The situation was made even worse by the turmoil in the Kingdom of Naples after 1799 following the Bourbon restoration and the French invasion.
Kingwood, tulipwood, gilt-bronze
Larger pair : one 95cm. high, 131cm. wide, 66cm. deep; the other: 94cm. high, 131cm. wide, 66cm. deep; 3ft.1in., 4ft.3in., 2ft.1½in., 3ft.½in., 4ft.3in., 2ft.1½in.; smaller pair each: 89cm. high, 91cm. wide, 48cm. deep; 2ft.10½in., 2ft.11in., 1ft.6¼in.
Almost certainly commissioned for Palazzo Carafa della Spina in Via San Domenico Maggiore, Naples, the residence of Vincenzo Maria, 5th Prince of Roccella ( 1660-1726) and his wife Ippolita Cantelmo (1677-1754)
Then by descent to their son Gennaro Maria Cantelmo Stuart, 6th Prince of Roccella (1717-1767)
Thence by descent to his son Vincenzo Maria Carafa (1739-1814), 7th Prince of Roccella and Duke of Bruzzano and his wife Livia Doria del Carretto (1745-1779) (see fig.1.)
Then by descent to Gennaro Maria Carafa Cantelmo Stuart,13th Prince of Roccella (1905-1982), who sold the entire suite.
Private British Collection.
Private European Collection.