Our recent exhibition, “On Tops,” included a 19th century Italian table with geometric inlaid marble top (figure 1). The design for the top appeared to be based on 15th- and 16th-century Moresque decorative motifs found in Andalusia, which include arabesque designs and geometric patterns consisting of stars, ziggurats, and interlocking circles. The repeating designs on the present tabletop recall marble floors and tiles produced at this time. Another related source is found in the rich Sicilian-Moorish decoration of Caserta Vecchia’s 12th-century cathedral, where an arabesque design in various marbles features a similar color scheme as the present top, with a black background and complex interlaced white marble bands framing yellow and red star shapes.
Further to our own research, we’ve just gotten a very exciting email from our friend, Dr. Anna Maria Massinelli, a leading art historian and expert on pietre dure. Dr. Massinelli was passing through Orvieto, Umbria, Italy this week and emailed us a photo of one of the apsidal chapels of the Orvieto Cathedral taken with her cell phone. She writes: “Look at the wall decoration…does this remind you of anything?” Yes, it sure does! We found a clearer image of the wall using Flickr, which you can see in figure 2. Thank you, Anna Maria!
Orvieto Cathedral was built over three centuries, beginning in 1290. It began as a Romanesque cathedral, built to a design by Arnolfo di Cambio (architect of the Duomo in Florence), but evolved into a Gothic structure in the next hundred years. Both the façade and interior were completed circa 1600. Most of the ten semi-circular side chapels were painted by the fresco artist Girolamo Muziano and his pupil Cesare Nebbia in the last half of the 16th century, though the majority of their work was lost during a 19th century restoration.
We are still looking into whether this chapel served a particular family or guild. If you know, please feel free to share!