King Carlos IV Of Spain And Queen Maria Luisa

Large cameos cut in milky white on clear glass, foiled black; sandwiched between another clear glass panel. 6.5×4.7 and 6.4×4.7 cms. In original red leather box. Circa 1800.

Carlos IV (1748 – 1819) was king from 1788, until Napoleon forced his abdication in 1808 the couple were held captive in Compiègne, spent three years in Marseille and finally settled in Palazzo Barbarini in Rome in 1812. Maria Luisa of Parma (1751 –1819) was the youngest daughter of Philip, Duke of Parma and his wife, Princess Louise-Élisabeth of France, the eldest daughter of King Louis XV.

The Real Fábrica de Cristales at La Granja might spring to mind as the obvious candidate for the origin of this remarkable pair of cameos; but there is neither a record of any cameo milk glass from the Royal Manufactory nor any parallels at La Granja. The technique and finish indicate that they are clearly not the work of the most famous creator of cameos and intaglios of the era, James Tassie1, his work was cast not cut.

From the 1780’s through the 19thcentury cameo cutting flourished in Italy and there was a profusion of excellent artists, such as Berini, Morelli, Pistrucci, and a host of other gem engravers working in Rome and Naples; there was no Italian production of similar cameos in glass. Nor was there any production of cameos of this type in France; and although it might be tempting to speculate that they were produced in France during the Royal couple’s confinement in Compiègne and Marseilles (1808-11), the style of dress, which clearly suggests a date of circa 1800, would contradict this.

A date of 1800 would support the suggestion of a Spanish origin; but there is no real tradition of gem engraving or cameo cutting in Spain. The great Italian gem engraver and medallist Jacopo da Trezzo2 followed his patron Philip II from the Low Countries to Madrid in 1559 and probably spent the remaining 30 years of his life there, but while the glyptic arts flourished in the other courts of Europe, da Trezzo seems to have had neither followers nor successors working in Spain.

One possible candidate for the authorship of these cameos is José Fontenelle3. Giuseppe Fontenelle was probably born in Rome in 1747 of a Roman father and Sienese mother. With a flair for mathematics and technology he improved, redesigned and developed silk spinning machine invented in France by Jacques Vaucanson4. His career with textile machinary lead to a short period at the Court of Turin from whence he moved to Spain where in 1790 he was appointed Director de la Real Fábrica de Hilazas de Seda de Aranjuez. When Fontanelle revealed his skills in engraved gems, a talent he had developed at the Piedmontese court, the Conte de Floridabianca5 commissioned him to produce an inventory of the cameos, intaglios and medals of the King. In 1791 Fontenelle presented the King and Queen with cameos and intaglios he had made of the Royal Family; specifically two individual portraits of the King and Queen in cameo and intaglio, another portrait of Ferdinand VII at the age of seven,and others of his brothers the Infantes Carlos María Isidro aged three and María Isabel aged eighteen months. In recognition of his skills ('en atención a su acreditato talento') the King appointed Fontenelle Grabador de Cámara en piedras finas.

Identifying which cameos in the Spanish Royal collection are by Fontenelle is problamatic as there the only recorded signed gem by Fontenelle is of Ferdinand VIII in the guise of Hercules carved in 18146 and it is not possible to say for sure who carved which other stones. Thus it is not possible to make an attribution to Fontanelle for the two glass cameos based on style. One can only say that the unusual material, for which there are no parallels, may well have been made by an inventive technical scientist such as Fontanelle and that Fontanelle is the only gem engraver that we know to have carved portraits of Carlos IV and María Luisa. Perhaps by coincidence a pair of cameos with the portraits of both Carlos IV and María Luisa were exhibited in the Madrid exhibition of 18927 but tantalisingly the catalogue entry does not mention the material from which they are made. Photographs of the cabinet in the room setting are too indistinct to identify the pieces. They were loaned by the collector General D. Romualdo Nogués y Milagro (1824-1899)

Date and Origin:  perhaps Spain, circa 1800.
Dimensions: 6.5×4.7 and 6.4×4.7 cms respectively.
Condition: Very fine, some marks to black glass.

1 For an exhaustive catalogue of his work see: Raspe, Rudolph E.: A Descriptive Catalogue of a General Collection of Ancient and Modern Engraved Gems, cameos as well as intaglios taken from the most celebrated cabinets in Europe; and cast in coloured pastes, white enamel, and sulphur, by James Tassie, modeller. London: James Tassie, 1791.

2 Jacopo (Nizzola) da Trezzo (1515-1589)

3 For a detailed essay on Fontanelle see: José Fontenelle (1747-1830), Director de la Real Fábrica de Hilazas de Seda de Aranjuez y Grabador de Cámara de su Majestad by Arantxa Domingo Malvadi. Published in Reales Sitios: Revista del Patrimonio Nacional. Nº 178, 2008, pages. 26-45.

4 Jacques Vaucanson (1709-1782); inventor and the first to design an automatic loom, which he never developed.

5 José Moñino y Redondo, Count of Floridablanca 1728-1808. Chief Minister and Reformer

6 See Domingo Malvadi.p39 and note 21 See Domingo Malvadi. p. 42

7 Exposición histórico-europea, 1892-1893 Catálogo general. Madrid Estab. tip. de Fortanet, 1893.

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