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Pier table
  • Pier table
    Piffetti, Pietro, born 1700 - died 1777
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Pier table

  • Place of origin:

    Turin (made)

  • Date:

    1732-1734 (made)
    ca. 1860-1870 (restored)

  • Artist/Maker:

    Piffetti, Pietro, born 1700 - died 1777 (designer and maker)
    Ladatte, Francesco, born 1706 - died 1787 (maker)

  • Materials and Techniques:

    Veneered in rosewood and ebony, with marquetry in several woods and ivory; mounts of gilt bronze

  • Museum number:


  • Gallery location:

    Europe 1600-1815, Room 3, case FS, shelf BY WW

This richly decorated table was made in the workshop of Pietro Piffetti, who was appointed cabinet-maker to the king of Sardinia in Turin in 1731. Piffetti worked for the Turin court for the rest of his life, specialising in marquetry of rich woods and luxury materials such as ivory and mother-of-pearl. This is one of a small group of tables by Piffetti, each decorated with a marquetry top of scrolling foliage around a central flower vase or basket. Marquetry panels with such lavish bouquets of flowers became popular in France and Holland at the end of the 17th century and this table is clearly following that fashion nearly half a century later. Piffetti may have been influenced in his design by the work of the Paris-trained cabinet-maker Pierre Daneau, who settled in Rome in the 1720s and whose work Piffetti must have come across when he himself was in Rome in 1730-31.

In the 19th century such elaborate furniture was much admired by collectors and there was a lively market in such pieces. It is now thought that the bronze mounts on the legs and along the border of the table-top may have been added or replaced at that date, and that the image of the book may have been added to the marquetry. Its title is that of a religious treatise, Il Ritorno del Cuore Umano a Dio [The Return of the Human Heart to God] (here inscribed with the word 'umano' ommitted) by Francisco Salazar (1559-1599), which was not published in Italian until 1801.

Physical description

Pier table veneered in rosewood and ebony, with marquetry in several woods and in ivory, the serpentine top with outset corners set on four conjoined legs of broken S outline, the feet and the centre of the underframe mounted in gilt bronze

Place of Origin

Turin (made)


1732-1734 (made)
ca. 1860-1870 (restored)


Piffetti, Pietro, born 1700 - died 1777 (designer and maker)
Ladatte, Francesco, born 1706 - died 1787 (maker)

Materials and Techniques

Veneered in rosewood and ebony, with marquetry in several woods and ivory; mounts of gilt bronze

Marks and inscriptions

The return of the heart to God.
This title is inscribed on a trompe l'oeil book cover which appears to have been added to the marquetry at the front edge of the top. It appears to be a shortened version of the title, Il Ritorno del Cuore Humano a Dio [The Return of the Human Heart to God], a religious work by the Spanish author Francisco de Salazar SJ (1559-1599), which was translated into French (and thence into Italian) by Francesco Pertusati OSB (1679-1752, Bishop of Pavia 1724-1752). This text, however, appears not to have been published until 1801 in Venice. Although it is possible that a version existed in Turin in the 1730s, from the 1750s the Jesuits were banned from the state, so it is unlikely that such a title would be shown on marquetry until the 19th century.


Height: 880 mm, Width: 1840 mm, Depth: 820 mm

Object history note

This table was almost certainly made in the workshop of Pietro Piffetti, who became royal cabinet-maker in Turin in 1731, working for King Carlo Emanuele III. Piffetti continued in this role until his death in 1777, except for a brief period in Rome in the late 1740s. His prolific output, almost all produced for the court of Turin, is characterised by a lavish use of exotic woods, ivory and mother-of-pearl, employed on small-scale objects such as spinning wheels as well as larger pieces of furniture and even small rooms in the Palazzo Reale in Turin.

The table is almost identical to one in the collections of the Istituto Bancario San Paolo in Turin, which was published in Mobili Intarsiati del Sei e Settecento in Italia, ed. Edi Baccheschi (Milan: Görlich, 1964), p. 46. as belonging to a private collection. Subsequently it has been published as a pair with the V&A table, by both Giancarlo Ferraris (2003) and Roberto Antonetto (2010). Both tables have a marquetry top with a design of scrolling foliage around a large central basket of flowers. The tops differ only in minor details, and in their trompe l’oeil elements: while the V&A table shows a book, the Turin table shows a piece of sheet music. Both the tables also show similar mounts, including the figure of a draped putto at the centre of the stretcher. The putto on the Turin table holds up a telescope to his eye, while that on the V&A table is shown with a globe. In 1733 Piffetti is known to have supplied for the dressing room (gabinetto) of Queen Polissena in the Palazzo Reale, a cabinet decorated with gilt-bronze mounts by Francesco Ladatte (1706-1787), who worked for Piffetti between about 1732 and 1734. It is therefore possible that Ladatte was the modeller for the figures on the tables. The mounts on the legs, apron and the edge of the top of both tables are thought to date from the 19th century.

It has been suggested that the trompe l’oeil elements on both tables were also added in the 19th century. This idea is supported by the fact that the title of the book shown on the V&A table (Il Ritorno del Cuore a Dio) is from a religious work by the Spanish Jesuit Francisco de Salazar (1559-1599), but one that appears not to have been published in Italian (translated by Francesco Pertusati (1679-1752) via a French version of the text) until 1801. The aria of which the title (and possibly the music) is shown on the companion table in Turin (quoted above) is from an opera by Giovanni Paisiello (1740-1816), La Bella Molinara, first staged in 1788 in Naples. The music seems to be a violin transcription, possibly made by Nicolo Paganini (1782-1840), who is known to have transcribed an aria from the opera (Nel cor più non mi sento brillar la gioventù), which was first sung in public in 1821.

These tables also relate to two others from the Piffetti workshop, both in the Museo Civico, Turin (invs 1348/L and 1439/L, discussed by Ferarris and Antonetto in their respective publications). Inv. 1348/L had already been discussed in the catalogue of the exhibition Mostra del Barocco Piemontese, held at the Palazzo Madama, Palazzo Reale and the Palazzina di Stupinigi, Turin, 1963, (the catalogue edited by Vittorio Viale, no. 30, plate 39). That table does not have the mount of the putto, and the design of the marquetry on the top is different, although it too has a trompe l’oeil element: a scattering of playing cards in ivory along the back, left-hand edge. Vittorio Viale links this table with a description of a similar table in a document (Discarichi IV, fol 133) of 1733, supplied to the royal household. Ferraris also supports the identification of this table with this document, which he dates to 1734. The fourth table, inv.1349/L, also in the Museo Civico, Turin, is only loosely related, featuring significant differences in form, materials and the design of the marquetry top.

In 1991 Alvar González-Palacios illustrated a pair of tables in Fasto Romano: dipinti, sculture, arredi dai palazzi di Roma (catalogue of an exhibition held at Palazzo Sacchetti, Rome, 1991), nos. 92 and 93, pp. 161-163 (also illustrated by Antonetto, 2010). These tables, on tapering, columnar legs, support tops of closely similar shape, with similar inlay including trompe l’oeil inlays of books and cards respectiviely. They carry labels inscribed with the name of the French-born cabinet-maker Pierre Daneau, and the date 1731. Daneau was the son of a Parisian cabinet-maker, and settled in Rome in the 1720s. It must have been he who brought the tradition of floral marquetry to Rome from the north, a tradition that was taken up and exploited by Piffetti in his early work. Similarities are also seen with the marquetry work of Leonardo van der Vinne (d.1713), the Flemish cabinet-maker who worked for the Florentine court, such as two tables in the Villa della Petraia which bear similar designs to these table tops.

The history of the table before it came to the V&A in 1985 is not completely understood. In 1938 it was apparently purchased at an unknown London auction house by Charles Henry Ducket (fl.1905-1940), a commercial artist who is said to have painted the original picture of the sailor who became trade-mark of Players Navy Cut tobaco and cigarettes (this story unsubstantiated as yet). The table was said to be one of three such tables in the same sale, all thought to be 19th-century copies of 18th-century tables. The table was installed in 'The Roebuck Inn' at Harrietsham, near Maidstone, in the Saloon Bar. During the war it was moved to Hampshire.

In 1984 it was restored by Antique Restoration, Brasted, Kent, who provided its recent history. A record of their work is in the paper catalogue records of the table. In December 1984 the then owner, a dealer, wrote to the V&A seeking its identification, believing it to have been made for the Great Exhibition in the Crystal Palace, Hyde Park, London, in 1851. Although this table proved to date from at least a century earlier, the owner, Michael Sim, generously sold it to the Museum at the price he had set for it as a 19th-century table.

Purchased 1985 from Michael Sim, Royal Parade, Chislehurst, Kent (see Registered File 85/362). Earlier history unknown.

In 2000 the widow of the restorer who worked on the table in 2000 telephoned the department. She said that he created the mask based on his own appearance, but this claim seems likely to be fanciful as the mask is almost identical to a mask on a bureau sold at Sotheby's, New Bond Street, 3 December 1997, lot 75.

Descriptive line

Pier table veneered in rosewood and ebony, with marquetry top and gilt bronze mounts, by Pietro Piffetti, Turin, 1732-34

Bibliographic References (Citation, Note/Abstract, NAL no)

The Antique Dealer's and Collector's Guide January 1985, p. 9
The Antique Dealer and Collector's Guide, May 1985.
Jervis, Simon, 'Echoes Over Two Centuries. Two newly acquired Italian tables at the V&A'. Country Life 6 June 1985, pp. 1586-1590.
Giancarlo Ferraris, with an introduction by Alvar Gonzáles-Palacios, Pietro Piffetti e gli Ebanisti a Torino 1670-1838. Milan: Umberto Allemandi & C., 1992, no. 17, pp. 50-51.
Antonetto, Roberto, Il mobile piemontese nel Settecento. Turin: Umberto Allemandi & C., 2010, vol I , no. 10, pp. 159-163

Labels and date

Pier table

Pietro Piffetti was the most important Italian cabinet-maker of the 18th century. He trained in Rome but was appointed royal cabinet-maker in Turin in 1731. Marquetry was his speciality, using tropical woods and expensive materials such as ivory and mother-of-pearl. The marquetry of flowers on the top is highly elaborate but old-fashioned in style.

Italy (Turin)
By Pietro Piffetti
Pine veneered with rosewood and ebony; marquetry in several woods and ivory; gilded copper alloy mounts
Attributed to Pietro Piffetti
Turin: about 1733
Veneered in various woods and ivory with gilt bronze mounts.

Pietro Piffetti became royal cabinet maker in Turin in 1731. This table is close to two examples in Turin. The gilt bronze putto on the base may be by Francesco Ladatte (1706-1787), who worked for Piffetti from about 1732 to 1734. [pre October 2000]
Probably written by Simon Jervis:

ITALY (Turin), c. 1733
Attributed to Pietro Piffetti (1700-1777)

Pietro Piffetti became a royal cabinet-maker in Turin in 1731, specialising in marquetry in exotic woods with ivory. This table is close to two examples in Turin. The gilt-bronze putto on the base may be by Francesco Ladatte (1706-87), who worked for Piffetti from about 1732-34. However, the bronze mounts on the legs and along the border of the tabletop are now thought to date from the 1860s, and the marquetry trompe l'oeil of the book il retorno del cuore al dio was probably inserted about that time (the author and date of this publication remains untraced).

W.5-1985 [08/05/1985]


Rosewood; Ivory; Ebony


Marquetry; Veneering; Joinery




Furniture and Woodwork Collection

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