Masterpieces from Italian collections

12 NOVEMBER 2019
Auction, 0325


40.000 / 60.000


gilded and polychrome porcelain, 62 x 45 x 13 cm; white enamel dial with Roman and Arabic numerals for the hours and minutes, respectively; and winding hole at 6 o’clock

An export licence is available for this lot



A. Caròla-Perrotti, Le porcellane del Marchese della Sambuca, in Gli amici per Nicola Spinosa, Roma 2019, pp. 217-229


The porcelain case is a lovely example of the Neapolitan Late Baroque style. The naturalistic scrolls that elegantly and asymmetrically frame the face are inspired by the plant world. At the top are two putti in a large leaf that recalls a seashell. One is firmly seated and affectionately holds the other who is leaning out, as if to see the time, with his left leg dangerously dangling in the air. To either side of the face, at three and nine o’clock, two outwardly turned curls support two other putti sitting on fluttering drapery – one yellow and the other purple. The polychrome decorations accentuate the lightness of the embracing motion through the iridescent blue in the recesses and the gold which enhances the projections on the milk-white ground of the soft paste porcelain produced in the early years of the Real Fabbrica Ferdinandea. The curl at the bottom encloses a prince’s crest with the arms of the Marchese della Sambuca, already alluding to his future title of Principe di Camporeale.


This elegant Ferdinandea object is one of the most beautiful examples of modeling attributable to Francesco Celebrano, the court painter and sculptor during the reign of Ferdinand IV of Bourbon. Celebrano was greatly admired by Raimondo de Sangro Principe di San Severo for whom he carved the high relief marble altarpiece for his famous chapel. The king also appointed him Artistic Director of the royal porcelain factory, where he also held the dual position of Director of Painters and Sculptors starting in 1771, and thus also during the “underground” years at Portici (1), and up to 1780, when, to his surprise, he was dismissed and his responsibilities divided between Domenico Venuti, who became Artistic Director and Filippo Tagliolini who was put in charge of sculpture. There can be no doubts about the attribution to Celebrano both for the similarities with his major and definitely known works and for the compositional arrangement of our clock that seems like a three-dimensional version of a fresco, almost a model, for one of his famous ceilings – such as the one he painted for the residence of Principe di Casacalenda on piazza San Domenico Maggiore – and for the more than striking similarities of modeling between our four porcelain putti and the little angels for the Nativity Scenes he made for Advent.

To these stylistic analyses we must add logical and appropriate considerations related to the importance of the recipient who may have ordered it or whether he received it as a royal gift. In 1780, Sambuca, who was appointed Secretary of State in 1776 immediately after Bernardo Tanucci’s fall from favor, was considered one of the most important and best-known figures in the Bourbon government, the man who monitored and directed the ministries essential to the kingdom’s policies. In the general framework of the reorganization of the Bourbon administrations he also dealt with the management of the alodial estates that included the Manifatture Reali, entrusting their management in 1777 to Ferdinando Galiani, [known as l’Abbé Galiani], a famous economist and man who enjoyed his trust. Further to a recently published personal study we were able to discover that the move was essential for the development of the Real Fabbrica Ferdinandea della Porcellana, and more. Starting in 1780, the factory made an enormous quality leap because Sambuca had earmarked diverse financial resources for it and using his excellent personal relations established at the Court of Vienna during his stay in Austria as Plenipotentiary Envoy between 1770 and 1775, he succeeded in obtaining the “loan” of Filippo Tagliolini and the kiln master Magnus Fessler bringing them from the Vienna factory to Naples to modernize the old kilns and reorganize production.

We have said “and more” because among the many innovations introduced by Sambuca and forgotten up to now, we cannot overlook his brilliant idea of creating the great Museo Farnesiano, later called the Real Museo Borbonico and now known as the Museo Archeologico Nazionale in Naples. The grandiose and farsighted project called for transferring the university from the Palazzo degli Studi to the Palazzo del Salvatore where it is still located today – in order to bring together the Farnese antiquities, the archeological Vesuvian finds and the two libraries – Farnesiana and Palatina – that were all scattered in various locations. It is important to mention that the Farnese marbles were in Rome and that to carry out the project Sambuca, together with Venuti organized a major restoration project of the statues, involving the most famous sculptors in Rome, Albacini in primis, prior to shipping them from Rome to Naples. The shipment itself was so extraordinary that it was immortalized in a famous engraving. Unfortunately, immortalato per la sua straordinarietà in una celebre incisione. Unfortunately for Sambuca, the move was made in 1790, four years after his fall from grace and forced resignation. This led to his major role in the conception of the Real Museo Borbonico having been – probably deliberately - forgotten (2). Although this complex undertaking is not strictly pertinent to the history of the cartel clock, we mention it because it was celebrated in two important projects of Real Fabbrica Ferdinandea: the famous Farnese Service – the first porcelain service decorated with views of the kingdom – which, as we now know – was created expressly for Sambuca, and his “life size” half bust biscuit portrait (dated 1781) made, we believe out of gratitude, by Filippo Tagliolini with the gold inscription BONARUM ARTIUM RESTITUTORI, that explicitly honors him as a promoter of the arts (3).


The clock presented here, that has been in the hands of his direct descendants up to the present, is a clear example of the passage of the baton from Francesco Celebrano to Domenico Venuti, stylistically marking the end of Neapolitan Late Baroque, and the beginnings of Neoclassicism in the wake of enthusiasm about the discovery of the Bourbon excavations. Such a refined object, created for such a distinguished recipient could only have been conceived and made by the director of the factory – that is Celebrano, who is also known to have made other noteworthy table clocks for royal clients between 1778 and 1780. Indeed, two of them are so unusual that they are mentioned in songs. They are cited in documents, but unfortunately have not survived. The only specimen known to us is the extraordinary “Pendola del Tempo”, that recently entered the collection of the Museo Duca di Martina in Villa Floridiana, (Naples) thanks to a generous bequest (4).

We believe that Celebrano, perhaps already feeling that he would soon fall from grace, may have tried to “conquer” or ingratiate himself with the powerful nobleman with an example of what he could do best – a clock, an extremely elegant item which, in our opinion, is his last porcelain masterpiece. It is a symbolic piece that concluded a productive cycle, breaking the thread that still tied porcelain from the period of Ferdinand IV to the previous Capodimonte output.


Angela Caròla-Perrotti


1) On the “clandestine” years at Portici see A. Caròla-Perrotti, Le Reali Manifatture Borboniche, in La Storia del Mezzogiorno, Naples 1993, v.XI, pp. 669-671.

2) For the history of the shipment of the Farnese statues, see A. Gonzàlez Palacios, “Il trasporto delle statue farnesiane da Roma a Napoli”, in Antologia di Belle Arti, n.6, 1978; and F. Rausa, Le statue Farnese storia e documenti, Naples 2007.

3) For the research on Sambuca, see A. Caròla-Perrotti, “Le porcellane del Marchese della Sambuca”, in Gli amici per Nicola Spinosa, Rome 2019, pp. 217-229 (the essay in which the cartel clock presented here is also described).

4) See Christie’s sale, Rome 29/11/1989, lot 293.