Frame with Athena and tritons with a painting by Niccolo Stanchi
36.5 x 27.5 cm
Cardinal Flavio Chigi collection
Incisa Della Rocchetta collection
Milan, private collection
G. Incisa Della Rocchetta, Frammenti di una carrozza seicentesca, in
Colloqui del Sodalizio, II, Rome
1956, pp. 135 – 139; G. Fusconi, Disegni
del Barocco Romano, Rome 1986, pp. 46- 47; J. Montagu, Roman Baroque Sculpture. The
Industry of Art, New Haven – London 1989, p. 190; A. Gonzalez –
Palacios in Gian Lorenzo Bernini. Regista
del Barocco, exhibition
catalogue curated by M. G. Bernardini - M. Fagiolo Dell’Arco, Milan 1999, p.
Florence, Palazzo Strozzi, La Casa Italiana
nei secoli, Mostra delle Arti Decorative
in Italia dal Trecento all’Ottocento, May–October 1948
Rome, Palazzo Venezia, Gian Lorenzo Bernini. Master
of the Baroque, May–September 1999, n. 140c
Between 1658 and 1661, Casa Chigi’s archives recorded a series of payments made to Johan Paul Schor and a group of artists and artisans for “a carriage of black velvet”, commissioned by Cardinal Flavio Chigi, nephew to the then reigning Pope Alexander VII Chigi.
Among the payments are also those addressed to the sword-makers Carlo Mattei and Francesco Donati and to the silversmith Francesco Perone for six gilt and chiseled frames that were made for six iron mirrors and for another frame meant for a larger mirror (fig. 1).
The present work by Francesco Perone, renowned baroque sculptor of the school of Bernini, shows a marvellous gilet copper frame with two tritons carrying a still life executed by Nicolo’ Stanchi. On the upper part, seated on two thrones in a specular position are two Athenas - recognisable by their war helmets - holding in their hands crests where the Chigi symbols would have been carved in. Between their other arms two snakes intertwine and meet in the middle of the top of the frame in front of a sea shell. The twisted snakes recall the caduceus, the staff symbol of wisdom, of which Athena is the Goddess. The presence of Athena is a tribute to the wisdom of the commissioner, in this case Cardinal Flavio Chigi.
Today it is hard to image how all these could fit into a carriage and no other comparable vehicles are known. One thing, however, is clear: it was likely not the only example; payments for a similar work executed by Francesco Perone for Pope Alexander VII’s carriage can be found in the Vatican Secret Archives.
At an unspecified date, the six frames were removed from the “carriage of black velvet” and relocated to a different one, the “carriage of the acorns”, so-called, because it was decorated with acorns from the “rovere” tree, quartered with the Chigi Family’s six mountains and surmounted by an eight-pointed star. However, the frames did not remain in this location for long, as in 1680 Cardinal Flavio Chigi decided to move the frames to Palazzo Chigi-Odescalchi in Piazza dei SS.Apostoli while also replacing the mirrors with a series of six small oil paintings of flowers, specifically commissioned to Niccolò Stanchi,
Niccolò was the second of the three Stanchi brothers – Giovanni, Niccolò and Agostino – all three painters specialized in still-life paintings. Giovanni and Niccolò were the leading members of the family workshop, and they worked for all the most important Roman noble families, such as the Rospigliosi, the Chigi and the Colonna; becoming great rivals of Mario Nuzzi, called Mario dei Fiori. In competition with Mario dei Fiori, Giovanni worked in one of the most famous cycle of Baroque decorations in Rome, the set of four Triumph of Flowers and Putti with the figures by Carlo Maratta painted on mirror for the Galleria of Palazzo Colonna. It is sometimes hard to recognize Giovanni’s works from Niccolò’s, so it is very important that the Chigi documents testify that this set of Vase of Flowers are by Niccolò only.
According to the documents, the work was realized following Giovan Paolo Tedesco’s design and will [Johan Paul Schor, Ed.] who played the role of an administrator in carefully selecting the artisans most suitable for each part of the project. As of today, Gabinetto Nazionale delle Stampe owns a number of drawings attributed to Schor, many of them displaying projects of carriages, frames and decorative schemes akin to the ones employed here.
In the same years, another important commission drew Schor and Perone together: six silver shrines executed in 1663 for the Siena Cathedral, today in the Museo dell’Opera del Duomo of Siena (cf. A. Capitanio in Alessandro VII Chigi (1599 – 1667) il Papa Senese di Roma Moderna, exhibition catalogue curated by A. Angelini – M. Butzek – B. Sani, Siena – Florence 2000, pp. 341 -342).
The six frames remained in Chigi’s collections before entering those Incisa della Rocchetta’s until relatively recent times, and were displayed for the first time in the exhibition La Casa Italiana nei secoli (The Italian House Throughout The Centuries, Palazzo Strozzi, Florence, 1948), as part of the furniture for the so-called Sala del Tronetto Papale (Pope Throne Room) aimed at recreating the lavishly decorated interiors of a seventeenth-century Roman Palazzo. In the 1950s, Giovanni Incisa Della Rocchetta, a distant descendant of Cardinal Flavio Chigi, put a great deal of effort in reconstructing the story of this decorative complex by piecing family archival documents together.
More recently, its story has been summarized by Alvar Gonzales – Palacios in one of the frames’ fact sheets and in a 1999 exhibition dedicated to Bernini in Rome. A preparatory drawing for the frames, coming from the Gabinetto Nazionale delle Stampe, was also on view on that occasion (fig.2).