MECHANICAL DESKS BY GIOVANNI SOCCI
MADE FOR ELISA NAPOLÉONE BACIOCCHI
FLORENCE, BETWEEN 1807 AND 1840
Francesco Socci is an active Florentine cabinetmaker from 1728 in the small town of Ponte a Ema – in the hills to the South of Florence. He had a son, Lorenzo, which resumed its activity during the rest of the 18th century. Finally, Luigi and Giovanni – son of the preceding, born in 1774 and 1775, resumed the workshop from 1807.
We know – the census by Napoleon, that Socci House included nearly a dozen workers in 1811. Giovanni and Luigi Socci were members of the Conservatory of Arts and crafts.
Giovanni Socci died in 1842, Luigi in 1850. The son of Giovanni continued the activity of the Socci House until 1878. The workshop Socci worked during more than one hundred fifty years in Florence, delivering many furniture for the Florentine palaces and the Court of the Grand Duke of Tuscany.
The first desk with mechanism, a so particular model that allowed Giovanni Socci to enter in the history of Italian furniture was made for Elisa Napoléone Baciocchi, known as ‘Mrs Napoléone’ – daughter of Félix Baciocchi and Elisa Bonaparte, born in Lucca on June 3, 1806, named Princess of Piombino by Napoleon 1st (his uncle) on June 27, 1808.
Elliptical in shape, six ‘saber’ feet resting on a plinth, it is mahogany inlaid. The plate consists of two tables of red Egyptian porphyry, provided by the Imperial Regia Galleria di Firenze.
The counterweights and gear mechanism, when pulling the Chair, by this single gesture opens the plateau – releasing a small grandstand forming reading Secretary topped with goatskin. The set has a masculine aesthetic, almost austere or even military, such as can be some productions for the Napoleonic campaigns.
This furniture seems to have been kept at Palazzo Pitti, where he remained until the end of the reign of Napoleon. It was then traced in 1814 at the Palazzo Baciocchi in Bologna.
This furniture was bequeathed to the French State by will after the death of Elisa Baciocchi in 1869. It was sent to the garde-meuble of the Chateau de la Malmaison (Inventory Nr. MM.40.47.8445) before entering the Chateau de Fontainebleau (Musee Napoleon Ier) as a deposit of the Mobilier National (Inventory Nr. GME1461)
We know four versions of this desk. The first – dated 1807, is still preserved at the Pitti Palace and does not have porphyry table, it is decorated with gilded bronze heads and claws of lion. A third replica is kept in the Villa Necchi Campiglio (Milan) – with ‘flame’ mahogany inlaid and blackened sculpted wood, appearing to be a late version, 1840 or 1850.
A most luxurious model last appeared on the art market in the 1970s in the United State. It was bequeathed to the Musee du Louvre by Audrey B. Love in 2005 (Inventory Nr. OA12161)
The desk by Giovanni Socci exhibited at the Musee du Louvre
© Pierre-Alain Clostermann, 2015