Pietro Piffetti, the Cabinetmaker of His Majesty, Madama Palace

Cabinetmaker Pietro Piffetti (Turin 1701–1777), a pivotal figure in the history of furniture and ornaments in Italy, whose inlays in ivory, tortoise, metals and precious woods have brought the production of Piedmont cabinetmaking at the top of eighteenth-century European art.

In conjunction with the exhibition on cabinet making at the Reggia di Venaria, Palazzo Madama presents a new set-up which features the furnishings of Luigi Prinotto and Pietro Piffetti from the collections of Palazzo Madama. With their inlays in ivory, tortoise, precious metals and woods, Prinotto and Piffetti – pivotal figures in the history of furniture and ornaments in Italy – brought the Piedmontese cabinetry of the eighteenth century to the highest levels. The intervention was curated by Clelia Arnaldi di Balme, curator for the Baroque Arts of Palazzo Madama.

The new layout develops on the main floor between Sala Quattro Stagioni, Madama Reale’s Room, New Room and Chinese Cabinet and allows you to enhance the imaginative style of these furnishings, which include consoles, mallets, chests of drawers, crucifixes, tables. The new captions deepen the connections of their art with contemporary artistic culture in Europe and in the East, the treatises on cabinet-making, the interest in science and trompe l’oeil techniques.

Particular attention will be paid to the restoration and reassembly of the Planetarium attributed to Pietro Piffetti, a mechanical model that reproduces the configuration of the Solar System as it was known in the mid-eighteenth century, that is, with the planets up to Saturn.

The conservative intervention and scientific advice to put the movements back into operation were entirely carried out and supported by the Conservation and Restoration Center “La Venaria Reale”, by the Turin Astrophysical Observatory (INAF) and by Infini.to – Museum of Astronomy and Spazio, Planetarium of Turin – based in Pino Torinese, with the collaboration for the teaching apparatus and the preparation of the Inner Wheel Turin and Inner Wheel 45 ° parallel.

Made of wood and ivory around 1740–1750 to represent the dynamism between the Sun, Earth, Moon and the planets with their satellites, the planetarium (also called Orrery by Charles Boyle fourth count of Orrery, who built the first instrument of this genre in 1704) was used during astronomy lessons as a teaching tool for experimental demonstrations with students.

The restoration represents an important step in the knowledge of the history of scientific instruments, which in Turin in the eighteenth century attracted the interest of the duke Carlo Emanuele III of Savoy and the aristocracy, so much so that the physicist Jean-Antoine Nollet was called from Paris to hold a physics and astronomy course to Prince Vittorio Amedeo future king of Sardinia. Precisely thanks to the illustrations and descriptions provided by Abbot Nollet in his Leçons de physique expérimentale published in Paris from 1743, it was possible during the restoration phase to identify the various pieces and to restart the movements, which had never been used from the entry of the work into the collections of Palazzo Madama in 1874.

The Planetarium is exposed to the public in the New Room in the static configuration of the solar system according to the Copernican theory as known in the mid-eighteenth century, accompanied by a video illustrating the restoration and operation of the work, which served to illustrate: the simulation of the motion of two planets with circular orbit, the elliptical motion of a planet around the Sun, the concept of retrograde orbit, the Ptolemaic theory no longer in force, the orbital motion of the Moon around the Earth and other concepts of astronomy.

A selection of engravings on the theme of the ornament and the models of the furnishings, exhibited in the Chinese Cabinet, will also enrich the itinerary. Among them a reprint of the early nineteenth century of the plate engraved by Francesco Antonio Gilodi on a drawing by Pietro Piffetti recently acquired by the museum and depicting the true portrait of the glorious martyr San Vittorio venerated in the church of the Holy Spirit of Turin (1743), matrices of engravings and sheets from repertoires of engraved models and examples of recurring iconographies in inlay decorations.


Luigi Prinotto
Luigi Prinotto (Cissone in the Langhe 1685 – Turin 1780) received the qualification of “master” at the University of Minusieri in Turin in 1712 and since 1721 he has been active at the Savoyard court for the Prince of Piedmont Carlo Emanuele (future King Carlo Emanuele III) with refined bureaux, boxes, consoles, shelves intended for the Royal Palace and other residences. His furniture is decorated with ivory inlaid scenes that often reproduce the drawings of genre painters such as Pietro Domenico Olivero.

Pietro Piffetti
Pietro Piffetti (Turin 1701 – 1777) began his training in Rome, where he came into contact with the works of the French Pierre Daneau, who had settled in the city, who exerted a great influence on him for the variety of floral inlays. Called back to his homeland, in 1731 he was appointed the first court cabinetmaker of King Charles Emanuele III. In almost fifty years of activity, the master produces furniture and objects of formidable refinement and technical ability.

Exhibition space:

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Madama Reale’s room:
Between 1708 and 1715 the new bedroom of Maria Giovanna Battista was set up. The decorative program includes the four over doors with allegories of Authority, Kindness, Faithfulness and, perhaps, Charity. The carved wooden over fireplace with the portrait of Carlo Emanuele II, made in 1688-1889 by Cesare Neurone, comes from the old apartment of the Duchess.

A very suggestive atmosphere is that of Madama Reale’s room. The room, chosen in 1708-1709 by Maria Giovanna Battista di Savoia-Nemours, second Madame Reale, as her bedroom and private setting has a rich and eccentric style. The room is furnished with paintings and furniture that suggest, based on the documents, the ancient apparatus of the room, now lost.

Four Seasons Room:
A refined and refined environment is that of Sala Quattro Stagioni. The room takes its name from the rich decoration of the vault and dome which houses the allegories of the Seasons, The elaborate decoration, carried out in stucco and fresco, was made between 1708 and 1715 drawing on the decorative models, inspired by decorative models by Jean Bérain, French architect and ornamental designer at the court of Louis XIV.

Jewelry and Accessories

Lip ornament
1200 – 1521
This type of precious ornament, which could be made in metal or obsidian, or in rock crystal, was inserted into the lower lip through a hole made above the chin. The curved part was shaped so that it would rest against the gum. The head of the bird of prey, which is made with great realism, emerges from a crown of little spheres which divide the plain functional part from the ornamental part outside. In Mexican culture, these decorations were the prerogative of dignitaries and high-ranking warriors. This specimen was probably made by Mixtecan craftsmen, a population conquered and exploited by the Aztecs for their skills. The diverse works of the Mixtecs ranged from illustrated books to polychrome ceramics, to jewels in gold and hardstone.

Bow fibula
520 AD
This fibula of Ostrogothic origin is made of silver, with gold cloisonné compartments, green glass and garnets. The semicircular top is adorned with four stylised eagle heads, while the foot bears an interlaced-ribbon motif. In Germanic culture, these fibulae were used to fasten the mantle at shoulder height. It was discovered in mysterious circumstances in Desana, in an area between Vercelli and the Po River, together with other precious objects. A total of 47 items were found, including earrings, bracelets, pendants, rings, and spoons in silver, gold, and precious stones, dating from the fourth or fifth century AD, clearly illustrating Ostrogothic and Late Roman goldsmithing

Parure of necklaces, earrings, and part of a bracelet
Late 18th century – Early 19th century
The necklace consists of 14 oval medallions: the central one contains a little bouquet of violets above which hangs a garland of forget-me-nots; As they approach the clasp the medallions become smaller, as do the ivory bouquets within them. The bouquets have an extraordinary variety of leaves and flowers (daisies, roses, forget-me-nots, cornflowers, and more). All the details are clearly carved, changing in size as the necklace radiates out. the same exquisiteness and ethereality can be seen in the bracelet and in the pendants of the earrings, which are adorned on the piercing with two little doves.

Pendant with Marguerite de Valois
The pendant portrays Margaret of France, the daughter of Francis I of France and, in 1559, the wife of Duke Emanuel Philibert of Savoy. We see her wearing a sumptuous dress and a characteristic coiffure with a net cap fastened to her head by a string of set stones. The practice of sculpting unusual, pre-cious and rare materials in relief became commonplace in the Cinquecento as a result of the interest of princes and rulers in unique, amazing objects (rariora et mirabilia). This type of imagery is similar to that of portraits on coins and medals.

Madama Palace
Palazzo Madama and Casaforte degli Acaja is an architectural and historical complex located in the central Piazza Castello in Turin. Having played a leading role in its history from Roman times through to the present day, it was declared a World Heritage Site with the other Residences of the House of Savoy in 1997. Palazzo Madama, as part of the Savoy Residences serial site. The building houses the Civic Museum of Ancient Art.

It is a combination of two thousand years of Turin ‘s history, from the ancient eastern gate of the Roman colony of Julia Augusta Taurinorum to a defensive stronghold, then to a real castle, a symbol of Savoy power until at least the sixteenth century, when the current Royal Palace, as the seat of the Duke of Savoy.

The western part of the first medieval complex was later called Palazzo Madama because it was first inhabited by Madama Cristina of Bourbon-France, called the “first Royal Madama”, in the period around 1620 – 1663, then fromMaria Giovanna Battista di Savoia-Nemours, called the “second Royal Madama”, in the period 1666 – 1724. It was for the latter that the current facade was designed, in 1716 – 1718, by the court architect Filippo Juvarra.

The visit covers four floors, where the centuries-old story of its construction interacts with the collections of the Museo Civico d’Arte Antica, which have been here since 1934.

The early centuries of the Middle Ages are illustrated in the Mediaeval Stonework Collection on the moat level, with its sculptures, mosaics, and jewellery dating from the Later Antique period to the Romanesque. The fifteenth-century rooms on the ground floor contain paintings, sculptures, miniatures and precious objects from the thirteenth to the sixteenth century, mainly from Piedmont. In the circular room in the Treasure Tower there is a selection of masterpieces, including the famous Portrait of a Man by Antonello da Messina. On the piano nobile, with its stunning array of Baroque stuccoes and frescoes, there is the modern picture gallery with works from the Savoy Collections and an important selection of furniture made by Piedmontese, Italian, and French master cabinetmakers. Lastly, the top floor houses the decorative arts collections, which are a key part of the museum’s assets, with majolica and porcelain, glasswork and ivories, fabrics and lace, jewellery and metals, as well as the stunning collection of gilded, painted and sgraffito glass, unrivalled in terms of its quantity and quality.