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Portable travel lap desk, in lacca povera. Northern Italy (possibly the Veneto region), second half of the eighteenth century.

€ 12.800
Chinoiseries and turqueries in lacca povera
. Portable travel lap desk, in lacca povera.. Northern Italy (possibly the Veneto region), second half of the eighteenth century.

Measurements (closed): 150 mm (height) x 414 mm (length) x 365 mm (width); (opened): 460 mm (height). Yellow painted papier màché lap box, lacquered and decorated with découpage prints, mainly with chinoiserie motifs. In very good condition.

An exceedingly rare and highly remarkable mid-eighteenth-century portable desk in lacca povera, lavishly ornamented – in accordance with contemporary fashion – with various chinoiseries. Only a few examples of antique objects decorated with this technique survive. The découpage technique known as lacca povera (‘poor man's lacquer') or lacca contraffatta was first developed in Venice with the aim of creating objects – boxes or even furniture of considerable size, like desks – that imitated the luxurious appearance of expensive lacquerware imported from the Far East. Scenes and decorative motifs were cut out from sheets of paper expressly produced for the craft and glued onto surfaces using flower paste. The finish was then perfected with the use of special varnishes obtained from resins and oils in order to reproduce the distinctive brightness of lacquer. The vogue soon spread throughout Europe, not only among skilled craftsmen active in workshops, but also, interestingly, among the female aristocracy, who found a new form of recreation in this decorative technique of de?coupage.

The main supplier of the beautiful coloured papers used for this practice was the well-known Remondini family of publishers and printers from Bassano del Grappa, a small city on the Brenta River, close to Vicenza and Padua. At the beginning of the eighteenth century, Giovanni Antonio Remondini (1634-1711) and his heirs started a flourishing business as producers of papers printed from wooden matrices as well as of gilded, embossed, or ‘brocade' paper, and they would continue to dominate the market for over 150 years. ‘Remondini Papers' – decorated with an impressive variety of motifs – were used across Europe for binding books and for application onto objects of various shapes, including furniture. Their patterns were also widely imitated by paper manufacturers in France, England, and Germany; meanwhile, the modern market-oriented Remondinis did not hesitate to import or even imitate (often as reverse copies) designs from abroad in the type of ‘exchanges' that were especially frequent among producers active in the German city of Augsburg starting with the renowned firm run by the printmaker and publisher Martin Engelbrecht (1684-1756), also famous for his miniature theaters or dioramas.

The shape of the portable papier màché covered desk presented here recalls the middle section of a secretary, with a sloping fall front enclosing two small drawers and various compartments. The exterior surface is entirely and lavishly decorated with découpage prints featuring a large array of chinoiserie scenes taken from different series produced by the Remondini. This is made especially clear through a comparison with catalogues published by the family firm from 1751 onwards under the title Catalogo delle stampe in rame e delle varie qualità di carte privilegiate, which include sheets of ‘Personaggi chinesi' and ‘Buffonerie chinesi': small figures of dignitaries, players of traditional instruments, dancers, acrobats, and jokers, here combined with flying birds, insects, exotic animals, floral branches, a pagoda, and even a small pyramid. The interior surface, meanwhile, is decorated with three large male figures taken from Engelbrecht's series of ‘turqueries'. This inclusion seems to support the hypothesis that the Remondinis may have acquired part of Engelbrecht's matrices, which were offered for sale by his heirs after his death.

H. Huth, Lacquer of the West. The History of a Craft and an Industry. 1550-1950, Chicago 1971, esp. pp. 19-35; M. Jarry, Chinoiserie. Chinese Influences on European Decorative Art, 17th and 18th centuries, New York 1981; P. Marini et al., “Le carte decorate”, M. Infelise – P. Marini (eds.), Remondini. Un editore del Settecento, Milan 1990, pp. 96-143; D.O. Kisluk-Grosheide, “‘Cutting up Berchems, Watteaus, and Audrans': A ‘Lacca Povera' Secretary at the Metropolitan Museum of Art”, Metropolitan Museum Journal, 31 (1996), pp. 81-97; A.W.A. Boschloo, The Prints of the Remondinis: An Attempt to Reconstruct an Eighteenth-Century World of Pictures, Amsterdam 1998; E. Barbolini Ferrari, Mobili dipinti. Tempera, lacca ed arte povera nelle botteghe italiane tra xvii e xviii secolo, Modena 2004; P. Poindront, “Augsbourg, centre de reproduction de gravures d'ornement parisiennes au xviiie sie?cle”, Histoire de l'art, 61 (2007), pp. 27- 37; A. Milano, “Selling Prints for the Remondini. Italian Pedlars Travelling Through Europe During the Eighteenth Century”, R. Harms (ed.), Not Dead Things, Leiden-Boston 2013, pp. 75-96; A.C. Cremer, “Lacca Povera und Découpure. Fuerstlich-weibliches Kunsthandwerk im 18. Jahrhundert“, A.C. Cremer, M. Mu?ller, K. Pietschmann (eds.), Fuerst und Fuerstin als Kuenstler in der Fruehen Neuzeit, Berlin 2018, pp. 178?198.