Gold, Toitoiseshell and Mother-of-Pearl at the Court of Naples


Galerie J. Kugel presents the first exhibition devoted to the art of “piqué”, which flourished in Naples during the first half of the 18th century. The technique combines lavish inventiveness, virtuoso skill and astonishing opulence.

These extraordinary objects bring together three precious materials: tortoiseshell, gold, and mother-of- pearl. According to Nicolas Kugel: “This fascinating combination is sublimated by light, which makes the gold shimmer, reveals the iridescence of the mother-of- pearl, and penetrates even the diaphanous darkness of the tortoiseshell.”

The exhibition includes over 50 objects, highlighting a table by Sarao – the ultimate masterpiece made using this technique – here lent, for the first time, by the Hermitage Museum in Saint Petersburg.

These pieces were created between 1720 and 1760 for connoisseurs and the court, and particularly for Charles of Bourbon, who became king of Naples in 1734, and made his court one of the most splendid and cosmopolitan in all Europe.

The artisans who created these masterpieces were known as “tartarugari”. Giuseppe Sarao, the most famous among them, had a workshop adjoining the walls of the royal palace. Several of the pieces in the exhibition were made by him.

These talented artists were able not only to join and mould the tortoiseshell using boiling water and olive oil, but also inlaid gold and mother-of-pearl into the still-soft tortoiseshell. They created the most extravagant shapes, which they adorned with fashionable “piqué” decors such as singeries (scenes where monkeys engage in human activities), chinoiseries, and grotesques.

Alexis Kugel explains: “The exhibition will allow visitors to discover both the incredible inventiveness of the artists and the extraordinarily keen interest this art sparked among 19th century collectors, including several members of the Rothschild family. Many pieces boasting that prestigious provenance will be presented.”

The exhibition is accompanied by an illustrated catalogue, offering the first complete study of the subject.

21.2 x 30 cm
272 pages
604 illustrations

Edition of this book available in french

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ISBN: 978-8-89-182061-7

Out of print