Pietro Piffetti from Turin has been recognized for having a fundamental role in the field of Italian and European cabinetmaking. Considered by the world’s greatest scholar of decorative arts, Alvar Gonzáles Palacios, “the greatest cabinetmaker on the peninsula in the 18th century“, Was included among the most”original protagonists of the supreme furniture of the entire western world”.
His hard-working and not easy life was remade not long ago. He was born on August 17, 1701 in a modest family, almost poor. His father was a host in Turin. At the age of seven he was already an orphan and his father remarried after a month of widowhood. He grew up in a tavern, a little frequented environment (an equivocal attached game room), far from art and studies. However, someone, whom we still do not know, was in charge of giving him a different education, teaching him to write with a very elegant and accurate calligraphy, instructing him in music, poetry and Latin and Italian literature, and painting. Pietro was the only one in the large family who enjoyed such treatment. Who educated him? Who took care of him, taking him to other worlds? Most likely a religious friend of the family.
Piffetti was the flower of a plant that sprouted only once, like a singular and splendid rose. He climbed the ladder of artistic glory alone, earning everything with his own strength. After initial training in Turin, already married, he went to Rome in the 1920s and stayed there for a long time: at least until 1731, when he was called to Turin. It has recently been discovered that in Rome he was a student of Richard Lebrun, a Parisian cabinetmaker. In Rome (and probably also during a stay in Florence) he absorbed many influences also from Flemish cabinetmaking.
Reading his production, now in great museums, the Quirinale, Savoyard residences, private collections, allows us to highlight a complex culture, certainly not as a simple minusiere and not even comparable to that of a cabinetmaker, although of a level. Piffetti was an artist in every respect; As a painter or sculptor of value, he knew how to transform his furniture and all the objects he produced, large or small, into articulated aesthetic operations, expressions of a complex and sophisticated poetics.
The textures and surfaces of his furniture, which still today take your breath away with harmony and perfection, became the places where baroque floral compositions, scrolls, clusters, masks are unraveled and in which autonomous decorative inventions and quotations from engravings of various authors. Ensembles often enlivened by phrases, slogans or inventions that make up a directed educational program, in which the search for virtue, contempt for the fortunes of the world, the exaltation of religiosity and Christian and human piety are the pillars of a accurate worldview. . Piffetti also cultivated a special passion for music. He was several times “Musical Director” of the prestigious Arciconfraternita dello Spirito Santo in Turin and sang together with the main artists of the court and with the members of the Royal Chapel.
On July 13, 1731 Carlo Emanuele III of Savoy appointed him a cabinetmaker: it was the achievement and pinnacle of a carefully followed career. In 1735 he dictated his first will. In it he did not leave money to his grandchildren (he had no children). Instead, he intended them for those who would teach them a trade and “not otherwise.” Piffetti had been educated in a tough and exhausting school and his prestigious career was the result of assiduous commitment and merit; therefore, it was not expected that the fruits of his art could be badly wasted: they were to serve as an educational and professional opportunity. Always valid lesson.
Piffetti died in 1777. Although the son of an innkeeper, he integrated perfectly into a high-level Turin social environment, including the highest nobility of the kingdom of Savoy. For the king and the nobility he designed his fantastic and imaginative furniture, still disputed today by collectors and museums around the world.
The cabinetmaker invents furniture with the same vision with which an architect designs a building, a painter a cycle of frescoes or Stradivarius builds his violins. For example, he chose a group of engravings, reinvented them and assembled them according to personal political-moral convictions (this will happen in the famous Quirinale furniture) or purely decorative. The result, compact, distilled and, at the same time, clear, comes from an absolute mastery of technique and a sense of cadence and rhythms of the highest level of decoration. To achieve the results of abundant, almost luxurious, naturalness and decorative fluidity played by Piffetti, years and years of technical learning accompanied by reading books and images, meditations on the wood productions of other masters were necessary.
The study had allowed him, an almost unique case in the world of cabinetmaking, to reach cultural fullness; break with the preconceived patterns of furniture models and move from a craft phase, albeit of a high level, to one of absolutely creative and intense artistic value, in which noble woods, ivories, tortoiseshell, gold, mother-of-pearl and other materials were used. transformed into ductile substances with a superior idea of beauty. The value of the materials went into the background. Piffetti’s creativity still amazes today. It is born from an original concretion, from a happy meeting between matter and ideation that becomes high poetry within a dimension of continuous experimentation.
Facing a Piffetti piece of furniture is like being in front of something visually similar to a painting, not made with colors and brushes, but through an almost miraculous assembly of wooden pieces that take on color and life and reflect light in different ways. All the colors of the wood are mixed with the often colored ivory, mother-of-pearl and tortoiseshell.
The decorative motifs used and the furniture schemes in vogue at the time became “his” furniture and “his” decorative motifs; always unmistakable because they are equipped with a higher class.
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