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Object of the Month: July 2017


Stipo Bambocci, walnut                                     Stipo Bambocci, walnut

Italian, 16th century                                             Italian, late 16th to early 17th century

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Most of us at one time or another have treasured and tucked away some poem, theme paper, or letter.  Your paper valuables may have been stashed in a simple cardboard box, but if you were living in Italy between 1560 and the early 1600s in the thriving cities of Genoa or Florence, your written mementos may have been stored in a tall, desk-like piece of furniture called a Stipo a Bambocci, loosely translated “a cabinet with carved babies.” As the style became popular, more iconographic carvings embellished the desk’s exterior, which is typical of the emerging Baroque period. Yet, the name’s association with “babies” persisted.

Beautifully fashioned out of two kinds of wood—burled-walnut and Caucasian walnut, the upper portions of the desks (not usually created at the same time as the lower cabinets) are completely removable, allowing a nobleman to tote just the top portion of his desk on his travels. The interiors, laden with multiple drawers and hidden caverns, beckon the imagination as to what might have been secretly stored within! Most often, a stipo a bambocci was secured with a lockable, fall front writing surface. Supported by lopers when lowered, the false front becomes positioned at a comfortable height for writing.


Mimicking the design of an Iberian desk called a bargueño, the production of stipi (plural for stipo) was short lived, a mere 60 to 70 years. Yet their substantial influence can be seen in a more common piece of furniture today known today as an escritoire or secretary.

Little is known about these early furniture makers; however art historian, Dr. Thomas Meyer, discovered in 2008 that Riccardo Taurini and his workshop were craftsmen of a specific stipo.  Meyer notes that the family of Taurini is considered to be the “fathers” of the stipi, blending their designs with inspiration from famous artists, architects and sculptors such as Rosso Fiorentino, Jacques I Androuet du Cerceau, Hugues Sambin, Leon Battista Alberti, Giacomo Barozzi da Vignola, and Andrea Palladio.

Almost as interesting as the desks’ construction are the various personages who formerly owned M&G’s unique pieces—the Royal Family of Savoy; an Austrian Archduke living in Lichtenstein Palace, Vienna; Myron C. Taylor, President Roosevelt’s personal representative to Pope Pius XII during World War II; and the industrialist and avid collector, Carl W. Hamilton of Philippine Refining Corporation. It is intriguing to consider what documents might have once been composed upon or stored within these beautiful pieces of furniture!

Though stipi are most often found today in house museums such as Museo Poldi-Pezzoli, Bagatti-Valsecchi and in the Castello Sforzesco, it is no surprise that M&G has two such unusual desks.  M&G’s furniture collection (which includes approximately 100 pieces predominately from the 1400s and 1500s) is almost as renowned as its collection of Old Masters. Joseph Aronson (1898-1976), an international European furniture authority, once remarked that “it is one of the finest collections of Renaissance furniture in America.” Aronson’s work, Furniture in the Bob Jones University Collection, as well as other significant volumes such as A Concise History of Interior Decoration by George Savage and A History of Italian Furniture by William M. Odom, both review these two stipi, and qualify M&G’s collection as a must-see for furniture lovers and historians everywhere.

Bonnie Merkle, Collection Database Manager and Docent


Published in 2017

Object of the Month: June 2014

The Holy Trinity

Tempera on panel

Lorenzo di Niccolò di Martino

Florentine, active 1392–1412


Lorenzo di Niccolò worked in Florence around the turn of the fifteenth century—one of the most significant centuries in history known as the Renaissance. Painting during this period continued in the tradition of Giotto (begun a century earlier), and Lorenzo’s own style was not much different from that tradition along with other contemporary artists. While paintings of the Trinity were common imagery within altarpieces of the time, Niccolò’s depiction is unique—painted in a way never done before. All known earlier representations of the Trinity in this configuration (known as “The Mercy Seat”) are depicted with God the Father sitting behind the crucified Christ; whereas, here, God the Father is shown standing.

Perhaps today this seems like an insignificant modification, but in the fourteenth century iconography was more codified; deviations articulated meaning, tradition, and Church dogma—all issues firmly upheld and monitored by Church officials. Interestingly, Trinity subjects with God the Father in a standing position were rare until the same concept appeared about 20 years later in one of the most famous paintings in history, Masaccio’s fresco of the Holy Trinity at Santa Maria Novella, Florence.

Another nuance of Niccolò’s imagery is that God the Father is also shown as a young man—the same likeness used for Christ. This approach heightens the physical and spiritual connection between the Father and Son, who are mysteriously distinct persons in a unified Trinity. However, the depiction of a youthful Heavenly Father was later forbidden by papal edict revealing that the iconography shown in this painting was short lived in art history.

An intriguing facet of this panel is that the entire back side of the panel is painted (with the exception of areas of wear and damage expected for an artwork over 600 years old). A full, decorative reverse side of a painting is somewhat common to early Italian panel paintings and suggests that people were intended to view the reverse. Sometimes entire narratives or portraits are found on the back of paintings; others have painted inscriptions or symbols for organizations such as confraternities. However, the pattern and application here supply a completely abstract, decorative function. In fact, the effect was intended to mimic the type of decorative marble inlaid patterns commonly incorporated into many existing Florentine churches, including the DuomoSanta Maria Novella, and Santa Croce.

Preliminary research has revealed an almost identical pattern for what we see on this panel on a wall fresco border painted by Agnolo Gaddi in 1380 at Santa Croce. This pattern could be a clue to its inclusion in that same church to match the existing faux stonework existing on the walls. The pattern is distinct and would have the same markings as some or all of the other panels associated with the altarpiece from which this panel came. Such unique features can aid in attribution and dating, if related panels have firm documentation.

John M. Nolan, Curator 


Published in 2014