GUCCI

BEFORE 1640-1705; EBENISTE AND CASTER IN THE SERVICE OF THE KING; ACTIVE 1660-98

T

he name was written in a number of ways; Gucci. Cuccy. de Cussy. Cussi or Cucy. Orig­inally from Todi near Rome. Gucci is known to have received his training as an ebeniste in Italy before coming to Paris where he is first mentioned in 1664. In that year he married the daughter of the painter Gougeon. took French nationality and re­ceived his first royal commissions, the cabinets of Apollo and Diana. The importance of the commission as well as the terms of his letters of naturalization, which praise his ‘large ebony cabinets with sculpture, miniatures, work in hard stones, silverware and other decorations’ supplied to the royal residences, confirm that Gucci was already, well before 1664. an Italian ebeniste of marked talent. He must have been one of the artisans whom Louis XIV imported from Florence with the aim of encouraging the decorative arts and crafts in France, which until then had mainly flour­ished abroad. The Grand Duke of Tuscany had founded a workshop in Florence specializing in mar­quetry of pictra-dura, I’Opificio delle Pietre Dure, which produced not only tables and cabinets but also altars, tabernacles and mural decoration. Louis XIV therefore also wanted a workshop for pietra-dura and established it at the Gobelins in the Faubourg Saint – Marcel with Gucci as its director. In 1667 he estab­lished the Manufacture Royale des Meubles de la Couronne which for twenty years was responsible for furnishing the royal palaces. At the Gobelins a wide variety of crafts were assembled together: besides tap­estry-weaving with two workshops for high warp and two for low. there was embroidery and painting on silk (directed by Bonnemer). the manufacture of silver­ware (by du Tel, de Villers and Loir) as well as wood­carving, gilding of wood and metal, work in bronze, mosaic-work in pietra-dura and ebenisteric. The var­iety of disciplines assembled in one place under royal protection, and therefore shielded from the rules of the guilds, must have enabled an ebeniste such as Gucci to experiment freely within his craft, combining widely diverse techniques in the construction of his furniture such as carved wood, marquetry, gilded metal and encrustations of pietra-dura. Although Cucci would become renowned chiefly as an ebeniste, his talents also included the art of gilt bronze. In the accounts of the Batiments du Roi he is sometimes mentioned as £beniste and sometimes as ‘fondeur cn bronze’, and he was in fact paid more for his work in bronze than for his ebenisteric. Between 1664 and 1697 he received more than 290,000 livres for his work in bronze as against about 166,000 livres for his ebenisterie. This would explain why the Swedish envoy Daniel Cronstrom. in his correspondence with Tessin, refers to Gucci only as a bronzier: ‘(chandeliers are only made now in gilt bronze. The Sieur Cucci at the Gobelins who has made almost everything for Versailles is the best in this field,’ he writes in 1693.

The accounts of the Batiments du Roi are vague as to the nature of these gilt bronzes. They consisted mainly of frames, ironwork fittings, bolts and catches for doors and windows of the royal residences, the Louvre, the Tuileries, Versailles and Saint-Germain, which Cucci had cast, chased and gilded in his work­shops. Certain pieces are described more precisely: in 1669 Cucci supplied the door fittings for a glazed armoire to contain the King’s collection of crystals at the Tuileries. an armoire that can be identified as no. 229 in the general inventory: ‘A large armoire painted to imitate various types of marble and gilded, fitted with glazed panels with stands on which to place agates and crystals, about 13 pieds in height. 171/.* pieds in width and З’Л pieds in depth.’

Between 1676 and 1679 he made the gilt-bronze balustrade for the Escalier des Ambassadeurs at Ver­sailles for which he was paid 31.200 livres. At the same time he was working in the Appartement des Bains on the ground floor at Versailles: in 1677 he sup­plied the decoration for the over-doors of the octag­onal room as well as for figures of the Months of the Year which were placed at regular intervals around the room. In the following year he supplied ‘works in sil­ver and gilt-bronze’ for the large marble mirror – surround in the Chambre des Bains, as well as two marble cisterns for the same apartment. In 1681 he made the ‘door fittings in gilt-bronze for the shutters protecting the King’s best pictures’ (at Versailles). It was the fashion then to rivet mirror plates to the wall and Cucci was called on to design the gilt-bronze mouldings that framed them. He made the ones for the Galerie des daces in 1682. those for the Grand Appartement in the following year, those in the Grand Dauphin’s Grand Cabinet on the ground floor of the palace, those in the Cabinet of the Princesse de Conti and finally, those in the Cabinet des Miroirs at the Grand Trianon. During this period the workshop at the Gobelins was producing the grandest pieces of furniture for the King. The first commission in 1664 was for two cabinets with decoration based on the themes of Apollo and Diana for which Cucci was paid 6.(XX) livres in advance. This pair of cabinets was embellished with six gouaches by Werner depicting Louis XIV in all the guises of Apollo and Queen Marie-Th£rese as Diana. The Inventaire general du mobilier de la couronne has an incomplete description of them:

No. 219) A very large cabinet, called the Cabinet of Apollo, above which is represented the King as Apollo driving four horses, and lower down, seventeen figures in relief, all in gilt bronze: decorated at the front with two large aventurine columns with gilt-bronze bases and Corinthian capitals and various other fine stones, and in the central arcade, the tripod of Apollo, also in gilt bronze, all supported on male terms and pilasters. 12 pieds in height by 8 pieds in width and 2’h pieds in depth. No. 220) Another very large cabinet, called the Cabinet of Diana, of the same dimensions and design as the preceding piece, above which the Queen is represented as Diana leading four deer, the two central columns in jasper.

Shortly afterwards Cucci executed two highly import­ant cabinets for the Galerie d’Apollon at the Louvre.

They represented the Temple of Glory and the Temple of Virtue, for which the payments, together with those for the cabinets of Apollo and Diana, came to 20.500 livres between 1664 and 1667. Later, the iconographical significance of these cabinets was altered and they can now be identified in the General Inventor)’ under the numbers 10 and 11 as the Cabi­nets of Peace, with Louis XIV as Mars and the Queen as Pallas:

No. 10) A cabinet in ebony made by Dominico Cuccy {Cucci], called the Cabinet of Peace, applied overall with jasper, lapis and agate, in two sections; the lower section is constructed with a large archway, with a niche in perspective with looking glass, in which is the figure of the King dressed as Mars; above, the arms of France supported by angels, and to the sides, four figures of heroes in bas-relief; the upper section which is the frontispiece and which is also decorated with a small niche in which is a figure of Peace supported on a giltwood base, is supported at the front by two blue pilasters and four figures representing the four principal rivers of the world; placed on four reclining lions, also in giltwood. 8 pieds in height. 5 pieds 4 pouces in width and 1 pied 7 pouces in depth.

Between 1667 and 1673 Cucci made ‘two large cabi­nets in ebony enriched with bronze and lapis’ for the King, at a total cost of 27.568 livres, which can be identified in the General Inventory:

Nos. 223 and 224) Two very large cabinets in ebony outlined in pewter, enriched with various swags, festoons, ciphers and other ornamentation in gilt-bronze, four large twisted columns, ground of false lapis, overlaid with vine tendrils in gilt-bronze, and eight fluted pilasters of tortoiseshell, all with gilt bases and ionic capitals, supported on six lion-paw feet. 12 pieds in height. 6 pieds in width and 2 pieds 7 pouces in dq>th.

These highly baroque pieces of furniture, on which Cucci perfected the art of imitation lapis, can be recognized on the right-hand side of the tapestry com­memorating the visit of Louis XIV to the Gobelins, woven in 1673 (6]. As soon as they were completed Cucci sent them, together with four other cabinets and four tables, to Versailles. Five years later Cucci started work on an organ case for the King’s Ante-

/7/ Cabinet with pietra-dura for Louis XIV at Versailles,

panels, one of a pair made I Alnwick Castle; Duke of

between 1679 and 1683 at the Northumberland’s collectionI Gobelins under Cucci’s direction

GUCCI

chamber at Versailles which he finished in May 1681, at a cost of8,000 livres. The description in the General Inventory is short: ‘No. 231) A large organ case with springs, gilt and ebonizcd. supported on gilt sphinxes. 12 pieds in height. 6 pieds in width and 2 pieds in depth.’

Between 1678 and 1681 Cucci undertook a large cabinet for the King, for which he was paid over 6,0(X) livres. In 1683 he supplied two large cabinets in pietra – dura. on which he had been working since 1679, for a sum of 16.(XX) livres. These pieces, described in the General Inventory under the numbers 372 and 373. are today in the Duke of Northumberland’s collection at Alnwick Castle (7). A short time later there were ‘two cabinets in marquetry and gilt bronze to take the organ and the harpischord in the Great Chamber of the King’ on which Cucci worked between 1684 and 1688. It was at this time that he received the most im­portant commission of his career, the panelling in lapis and tortoiseshell for the King’s Petite Galerie at Versailles. The first payments were made in the sum­mer of 1685 and Cucci continued to work on them at the Gobelins until at least 1688. This decorative ensemble, without doubt the most ambitious dec­orative scheme initiated by Louis XIV, was never actu­ally installed. The expenses of the War of the League of Augsburg forced Louis XIV to retrench drastically – work on the lapis panels had to stop. In 1692 he ordered them to be sent to the Tuileries ‘as they are’, together with the two organ cases, still incomplete.

Cucci made a speciality of these decorative schemes in lapis. In 1691 he commissioned his son-in-law Rene Chauvcau to decorate a complete oratory as well as a prie-dieu in lapis for the Marquise de Seignelay at Sceaux. This was not genuine marquetry in lapis – lazuli but an imitation in horn, stained with an admix­ture of blues (probably powdered lapis or ultramarine with a binding agent and size). Cucci and his son-in – law would seem to have been the first to use this tech­nique. and possibly even discovered this complex pro­cess which consisted of fusing the horn to the coloured base. The process still struck the Swedish envoy Cron – strom as a novelty in 1697 and is revealed in his cor­respondence with Tessin: ‘For the secret of fusing onto lapis M. Chauveau has claimed that he knows the process as his father-in-law (Cucci) was the one who made it for the Galerie aux Bijoux’ (20 January 1697), and: ‘you do not have an £beniste in Sweden capable of sticking and even fusing horn and lapis as it is done here.’ The Seignelay Archives (Arch. Nat. Tl 123 29B) contain the ’Memoire des ouvrages de lapis ct bronze dor£ d’or moulu faits a I’oratoire de la marquise de Seignelay й Sceaux par Rene Chauveau en 169 Г which states clearly: ‘lapis is made of English horn, thus melted, stuck and polished’, and ‘the back of the niche is in lapis made with powdered ultramarine.’ Quite simply, this was a way of achieving, with the least expense, certain costly mural marquetry effects of the type being achieved in Florence during the same period. Boulle used this technique to a large extent in the years between 1700 and 1720 on his models of pedestals with aprons.

The decoration of the Petite Galerie at Versailles was Cucci’s last royal commission. Owing to lack of funds caused by the War of the League of Augsburg, the workshop at the Gobelins was forced to close from 1694 to 1699. Until 1697 Cucci was still carrying out certain minor commissions in gilt-bronze for the Crown. At the same time, to compensate for the fall­ing off in royal orders, he carried out commissions for private clients. Thus in 1690 he supplied chenets, chandeliers and gilt-bronze wall-lights for a total of 18.410 livres to the Marquis de Seignelay for his various residences at Sceaux. Paris and Versailles. The order comprised two pairs of magnificent large chan­deliers of a new type (at 2.1(X) and 1,660 livres each pair) as well as forty pairs of wall-lights (for between 70 and 100 livres each) and nine fire-grates or pairs of chenets. of which some were new models, at 550 livres each. At Sceaux. Cucci made the gilt-bronze mould­ings framing the mirrors in the Marquise’s cabinet, while Chauveau was deputed to create the imitation lapis decoration in the Marquise’s oratory.

In 1698 the consignments by Cucci to the Bati – ments du Roi ceased. He was by now too old to continue work and the King granted him an annual pension of 300 livres from 1699 until his death in 1705.

Virtually nothing remains of Cucci’s work, apart from the bronze mouldings in the Galerie des Glaces and two cabinets in the Duke of Northumberland’s collection. Almost all the important cabinets made for the Crown have been destroyed, many in the eight­eenth century. In the reign of Louis XV four sales took place, from the Tuileries and the Louvre in 1741. 1751 and 1752. of Louis XIV’s cabinets which must have been considered old-fashioned and cumber­some. The dealers who bought these pieces would have dismantled some of them, in order to retrieve the precious panels of pietra-dura. Some, like Julliot. even made a speciality of this between the years 1770 and 1790. the latter re-using them on contemporary furni­ture which he had made by Carlin or Weisweiler. It seems that certain pieces escaped this fate, such as the Northumberland cabinets which were in the 1751 sale and the cabinets with twisted lapis columns, numbers 223 and 224 in the General Inventory, which later belonged to the Due d’Aumont and were included in his sale in 1783, lot 312, when they were bought back by his son. the Due de Villequier, for the considerable sum of 2,451 livres. In 1748 Louis XV presented twelve cabinets and a table in pietra-dura to Buffon for the Cabinet of Natural History. The cabinets of Peace and Apollo and Diana can be identified among them. It is more than likely that these pieces were broken up on Buffon’s orders to recoup the jasper, lapis and agates with which they were covered, and the stones were then placed in display cabinets in the Museum.