The micro mosaic panels are attributed to Cesare Aguatti and relate to a group of chimneypieces, some with identical mosaic panels; the chimneypieces were inspired by a group of carved marble pilasters at the Cloisters of the Convent Aracoeli near the Capitol in Rome. The Rosso Antico frieze medallions depicting ‘The Cupid Sellers’ are attributed to Lorenzo Cardelli. Inspired by excavations at Herculaneum and Pompeii, and in a style that was hugely popular during the mid and late 18th century, they relate to similar oval panels by the same hand and in matching chimneypieces. The subject of the Cupid Sellers derives directly from a fresco found at the Villa D’Arianna at Stabiae, another ancient Roman town devastated by the eruption of Mount Vesuvius in 79 AD. A documented chimneypiece by Cardelli is at Penrice Castle in Wales and illustrated in ‘Country Life’ magazine. The Penrice chimneypiece shares the same combination of micro mosaic and oval panels as well as some of the carved elements. It relates to a group of chimneypieces made in Rome for the Earl Bishop of Derry by some of the best craftsmen of the time. Unfortunately the Earl Bishop’s treasures were confiscated after the French invaded Italy in 1796, and he never saw them installed, although they finally made their way to Ireland after his death. His nephew, Sir Henry Aston Bruce, was subsequently responsible for the dispersal of some of the chimneypieces. One was installed at Ickworth and another in St. James’s Square in London, while at least two remained in the family at Downhill.
Literature: Charles Heathcote Tatham, ‘Grecian and Roman Architectural Ornament’, 2nd edition, 1843, pls. 12 & 47-51.
Probably commissioned by The Earl Bishop of Derry; Confiscated during the French occupation of Italy; Sir Henry Aston Bruce Private collection, Ireland.
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