he rectangular white marble top inset with various semi-precious hardstones including amethyst, Sicilian and Corsican jasper, German agate, sardonyx agate, carnelian and lapis lazuli, arranged in a lozenge pattern around a central oval panel of German agate, within two narrow borders of Sicilian jasper and a gilt-bronze beaded outer rim, the frieze of the base inset with rectangular panels of red, green and rose jasper, supported by uprights in the form of male herms, two with beards, two without, each flanked by twinned female caryatids, each long frieze centered by flower and fruit-filled cornucopiae, the tapering herms terminating in hoof feet, with extensive numbering and lettering throughout, the iron stretcher under the top pounced with the letter S twice, the back of the male herms' loincloths on each leg with a pierced hole, originally intended to house connecting rods to attach internally the two main elements of the leg
33. 3/4 in. (86 cm.) high, 30 1/4 in. (77 cm.) wide, 23 in. (58.5 cm.) deep

Private Collection, Narbonne, France; sold Maître André Meyzen, Narbonne, 31 March, 2001, lot 14 (€975,673).
With Steinitz, Paris.
Private American Collection, Los Angeles.


W. Koeppe and A.M. Giusti, et al., Art of the Royal Court: Treasures in Pietre Dure from the Palaces of Europe, New York, 2008, pp. 312-314, no. 122 (illustrated).
A. González-Palacios, The Londonderry Table Top, The Exceptional Sale; Christie's, London, 10 July 2014, p. 12, note 4.
A.M. Massinelli, Giacomo Raffaelli: Maestro di Stile e di Mosaico, Firenze, 2018, pp. 290-293, figs. 345, 348.

New York, The Metropolitan Museum of Art, 1 July-21 September 2008, Art of the Royal Court: Treasures in Pietre Dure from the Palaces of Europe, no. 122.

A veritable tour de force of Italian craftsmanship of the early nineteenth century, every element of this splendid table is a magnificent piece of art in itself. It sumptuously combines a highly-sculptural base entirely conceived in gilt bronze with a rich combination of chased and burnished surfaces, supporting a marble top elaborately-inlaid with some of the most colorful semiprecious stones available to artists of the time of its creation. Works including an array of exceptional and rare semiprecious stone specimens were highly sought-after in the eighteenth and early nineteenth centuries and were sometimes accompanied by printed materials identifying each stone, as was the case with the luxurious snuff boxes of Johann Christian Neuber. Similarly, this table could have served as a microcosm encompassing ancient history, geology, science and geography, all united by exceptional design and superb craftsmanship in one magnificent work of art. It was this artistic environment in which Giacomo Raffaelli learned his craft and honed his artistic sensibilities, which made him one of the most successful mosaicists and marble-workers of his generation.

Anna Maria Massinelli
‘Giacomo Raffaelli whom I have already named,
and who I will name again as the one who combines
the possession of rare and precious stones
with sublime merit in the art of mosaic’ (Faustino Corsi, 1833 )
This pietra dura specimen top is a celebration of Giacomo Raffaelli’s fascination for the mineral world and his virtuosity as a lapidary artist. The stunning lapidary palette of the table features a rich specimen of semiprecious stones inlaid on a white Carrara statuary marble background. The geometrical pattern comprises one hundred and thirty stones, dominated by the large central slice of agate whose internal microcrystalline formation is brightened by a gold foil underneath. This specimen maintains the natural irregular pebble shape and is immersed in a large border constituted by slices of amethyst. The surrounding stones are arranged symmetrically around a lozenge formed by a sequence of rectangular panels (including Sicilian and Corsican jasper and other rare stones) and a row of round and oval cut agates that frame the central amethyst and agate.

Giacomo, born in Rome in 1753, was a descendant of a family of glass makers. In 1775 he achieved renown with a successful mosaic exhibition held in his studio in Salita San Sebastianello, near the Spanish steps. Contemporary sources crowned Giacomo as the inventor of a new way to use glass mosaic in objets de vertu, such as boxes, small plaques and jewelry. Archival research shows that, while he achieved fame as a glass mosaicist, he was also very involved with a different range of productions, in particular lapidary works, which enchanted the Grand tourists during their stay in Rome.

In 1794, writing a letter to Friedrich Ludwig von Sckell, architect of the Elector of Mainz, Raffaelli announced the opening of his pietra dura workshop in Rome. He asked for some samples of German stones, and ‘pietre nicolate’ (sardonix agate) to carve cameos. He offered in exchange some of his mosaics. It is not known if he succeeded in this specific request, but we know that his lapidary collection was hugely increased at this time.

The celebrated Roman connoisseur and marble collector, Faustino Corsi (1711-1846), described the Raffaelli workshop as a special place where one could find a large assortment of rare stones and specimens, and pointed out that Raffaelli’s son Vincenzo was also a refined lapidary connoisseur. Corsi described an antique, huge specimen of spato-fluore, remarkable for its size, vivacity and variety of the colors and an enormous block of rock crystal, weighing eight hundred and seventy pounds.

Raffaelli’s fame as a lapidary artist quickly widespread and in 1784 he received an important commission from the Florence resident George Clavering-Cowper, 3rd Earl Cowper via the Scottish painter Jacob More, who resided in Rome, for a pair of marble and pietra dura table tops, to incorporate two Florentine Grand Ducal workshop panels already in the Earl’s collection, depicting an interior view of the Coliseum and the harbor in Leghorn. It is significant that Cowper, living in Florence, turned to Raffaelli, rather than the Grand Ducal workshop, for these tables, which included a variety of marmora romana, porphyry, granites, lapis lazuli and Sicilian jasper. 

As soon as he was settled, he began a close correspondence with his son Vincenzo who remained in Rome to organize the final move of the studio and of the rest of the family. The letters exchanged with his son between 1803-1804 are a precious source of information about his private life, his works, patrons and collaborators. He was immediately planning to open an ‘antique store’ in Milan to sell his own art works, jewelry and different objects imported from Rome. In one of the first letters to Vincenzo he wrote: ‘hopefully we can do some business, not with the mosaics, that they don’t know it here, but only with marbles and other genres’.

In fact, along with the organization of the mosaic school, Raffaelli focused his private production on the lapidary works. Writing to his wife in Rome, he described how ‘I am sitting here with Giuseppe [his assistant and stone cutters], night and day, trying to arrange stones on papers to make tables’.
His concentration on lapidary works at this time is testified by the lists of objects shipped by the sculptor Pietro Marchetti (1766-1846) from Carrara from 1805 to 1815. These included several pieces of marbles cut for table tops of different size, bases for ‘deserts’, frames for chimneys. Raffaelli was very demanding about the quality of the statuary marble. Marchetti sometime explained how difficult it was to find immaculate white marble as Raffaelli required, but he also remarked that he can easily hide some spots with the inlaid colored stones.
Although the canonical repertoire of marmora romana was adopted enthusiastically by Raffaelli, he was also fascinated by more exotic hard stones, of which he was a voracious researcher and buyer and was especially curious about the most recently mined minerals, including labradorite, which he often inserted in his lapidary works. While in Milan, Giacomo intensified his research of stones and traveled across the Alps in search of famous German jaspers and agates. In 1809 he was in touch with the Caesar Demeaux Gottlie Scriba & Comp workshop based in Idar-Oberstein for the purchasing of hardstone vases and rough stones. The business relationship did not last too long because the German workshop was unable to meet Raffaelli's demanding requests, but nevertheless Giacomo loved the translucent and unique palettes of the agates found there. An undated autograph notebook seems to be a kind of traveler diary where he listed various purchases of stones during one of his trips to Germany. From this we learn, for example, of the purchase of agates, of a red and crystalline stone, petrified wood, several small stones and ‘niccoli’ (sardonix agate), suitable materials for cameos; also a piece of jade from a Frankfurt dealer in exchange for various stones. The vast specimens collected exceeded two thousand samples, accurately described in the inventory drafted in 1821 when Giacomo relocated to Rome: by then, the vast assortment was equal to the most important contemporary lapidary collections. These remarkable jewel-like stones collected by Raffaelli, with their enchanting chromatic variations, added a touch of novelty and richness to his lapidary work.
Raffaelli’s concentration on hardstones during his time in Milan, and his days spent accommodating colorful stones on the papers, is evident in a distinctive group of table tops created during this period, of which the spectacular example examined here is a significant example.
One can certainly recognize his skill, derived from such tireless questing for rare hardstones, in the present table, composed exclusively of semiprecious stones, suggesting the important destination of this sophisticated specimen. The top can be compared for the geometrical pattern, size and use of similar stones, with a pair of Raffaelli tables at the Hermitage Museum (of which one is illustrated here) which together with agates, jaspers and carnelians also include a refined selection of marmora romana (unlike the table studied here which is composed exclusively of hardstones).

Two other larger tables are related to this distinctive production by Raffaelli. One belongs to the Spanish Royal collection and was purchased in Rome shortly before 1800 by the watchmaker François-Louis Godon, whose widow would later sell it to Charles IV of Spain in 1803 (Madrid, Palacio Real, see A. González-Palacios, Las Colecciones Reales Españolas de Mosaicos y Piedras Duras, Madrid, 2001. pp.240-3, illustrated here fig.3). The other was acquired by Charles William Vane, 3rd Marquis of Londonderry (1778-1854) when British ambassador at the Habsburg court in Vienna between 1814 and 1822. According to documents which I discovered, Giacomo was coincidentally in the same city between 1818 and 1819, after an adventurous trip with a caravan of more than one hundred wagons to bring the monumental mosaic of the Last Supper, after the celebrated fresco of Leonardo da Vinci, the mosaic masterpiece that Giacomo produced during his stay in Milan (Wien MinoritenKirche). From the correspondence exchanged with Vincenzo, who remained in Milan, we know that Giacomo opened a small gallery in his Viennese house and he sent to his son a list of mosaics and tables to ship soon in order to display it and try to make good business in the Imperial city. Possibly during his stay in Vienna he had the opportunity to meet Lord Londonderry who bought his outstanding table (see Massinelli op.cit.,pp. 287-293).

In 1821 after relocating to Rome in October 1820, Giacomo shipped 195 boxes filled with finished and unfinished objects, tools, etc. and more than 2000 different stones carefully listed. He went back to his native town as a wealthy artist and merchant, and he bought a building in Via del Babuino where he lived until his death in 1836. Giuseppe Valadier, the celebrated bronzier and designer, remodeled the house for Raffaelli, providing him with a design for the house inscribed to ‘Sig. Giacomo Raffaelli Consigliere di S.M. Imperatore dellle Russie’, emphasizing his connections to the Russian Imperial Court.

Here, in his old age, he was finally able to make his dream true and he founded a 'grande opificio', running it with his son Vincenzo, whose production was very much oriented toward lapidary works. 

In the early 19th century, Raffaelli renewed the technique and style of his lapidary works. In a letter to Vincenzo Mora, who was traveling in the south of Italy trying to sell luxury objects to the Bourbon court, Raffaelli described a chimney piece and a pair of tables from his workshop, in statuary marble inlaid in rare stones. The chimney piece was eventually acquired by Pope Pius VII and in 1803 he sent it as a present to Napoleon, who had it installed in the Salon Doré at Malmaison. In the letter which accompanied the chimney Raffaelli listed 126 rare stones in the frieze including agate, carnelians, lapis lazuli, jasper, 177 stones in the pilasters, 151 amethyst stones around the light of the chimney, everything framed in gilt bronze. The frieze included also three micromosaic plaques with Herculaneum subjects (these and most of the stone decoration were removed and dispersed during the Franco-Prussian war in 1870). Giacomo sent to Napoleon the descriptions of the two inlaid tables that matched the chimney and he attached the design showing the top and the stand of one of them (Paris, Bibliothèque Nationale), although the tables were never sent.

In 1804 Raffaelli moved to Milan, capital of the Napoleonic Italian Kingdom, invited by the viceroy Eugenio de Beauharnais to open a mosaic school, at which time the two still unfinished tables were shipped with the rest of his properties. He was able to complete them, with some changes, only ten years later when they were exhibited, in 1814, at the annual exhibition in Brera. They are described in a printed brochure and only about three decades later when Vincenzo inherited them they were sent to St. Petersburg and are now in the Hermitage Museum. The tops are profusely inlaid with rare marbles, hardstones and with micromosaic panels of allegories of the arts and Cupids, while the remarkable stands are similarly inlaid with hardstones in white marble.

The interest of Giacomo for vases, clocks and many other different kind of decorative objects in marble and semiprecious stones is very well documented. He referred to different stonecutters in Rome, one of them was "Domenico scalpellino" who supplied marble vases, in different sizes and stones, and sculptures in "rosso antico". A repertoire of designs for vases, remained between Giacomo papers, it shows some common shapes: urns, craters, amphorae, columns vases. Raffaelli was able to transform these traditional vases into something completely new: he inset the white curved surface of the vases with pietra dura and micromosaic plaques, a very sophisticated technique invented and perfected by Giacomo himself.

In 1803, the year before he moved to Milan, Giacomo met the Duke Francesco Melzi d'Eril and he showed him the design of a monumental centerpiece, or dessert, a triumph of the Roman style with retour d'Egypte accents. The Duke was enchanted and he soon ordered it, following with a second commission of a larger centerpiece for the Royal Palace in Milan to set the table in honour of Napoleon for his coronation as king of Italy on May 26 1805 (Palazzo Reale, Milan). This masterwork, together with his marble pieces donated by the Pope to Napoleon, established his reputation at the Napoleonic court and guaranteed him a very good commitment and compensation during his time in Milan.