The forthcoming auction of Fine Interiors, 30th April, features a rare early 19th century Maltese pietre dure table top attributed to Darmanin. Its circular brass bound top is inlaid with various specimen marbles, including porter, siena, jasper, verde antico, brêche violette and antique red, and features a central circular medallion of a Carthaginian warrior inlaid with ‘CART’ ‘HAGO’.
The technique pietre dure differs from mosaic in that the component stones are generally much larger, cut to a shape to suit their place in the image and are not all of roughly equal size and shape, as seen in mosaic. Works in pietre dure are often portable, unlike mosaics, and the technique can be regarded as stone marquetry. By the time of the Italian Renaissance the Florentines regarded pietre dure as ‘painting in stone’ and they were responsible for fully developing the form. The Medici Grand Duke Ferdinando I of Tuscany founded the Galleria di’Lavori in 1588 in order to explore pietre dure’s potential as a decorative art.
Marble workshops in Malta were initially founded in the seventeenth century by Italian craftsmen who worked under the patronage of the Knights Hospitallers of St. John. With British rule, from 1800, the workshops made table tops in the Italian style for British visitors similar in design to those sought out by the original Grand Tourists visiting Italy.
Darmanin, known to the local market as Guiseppe Darmanin e Figli, traded from c. 1800 and was the best known marble working business in 19th century Malta. Darmanin is particularly associated with marble tops decorated with emblems of Carthage recalling the island’s ancient past as part of the Phoenician Empire. A warrior similar to the one depicted here appears on other tables created by Darmanin, notably those supplied to the 3rd Marquess of Londonderry at Wynyard Park. The table Darmanin made for the Great Exhibition in 1851 is held in the Royal Collection at Buckingham Palace, along with two others by Darmanin, a scagliola table top dating from 1816 and a table top marble slab inlaid with pietra dure from 1839, reputed to have been acquired in Malta by Queen Adelaide.