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Naples' Exquisite Tortoiseshell

Published on , by Jean-Louis Gaillemin

Every two years, Alexis and Nicolas Kugel introduce us to an unknown or unusual field in the world of artefacts. This year, tortoiseshell inlaid with mother-of-pearl and gold "piqué" work awaits us in the Hôtel Collot.

  Naples' Exquisite Tortoiseshell
@ Galerie J. Kugel.
The Kugel brothers have accustomed us to spectacular exhibitions, which sometimes involve leading museums like the New York Frick Collection or the St Petersburg Hermitage. After the silver-gilt work of Strasbourg and the automata clocks of the Renaissance, star billing now goes to objects in tortoiseshell inlaid with gold and mother-of-pearl. Few and far between on the market (apart from the major Qizilbash collection, which went to auction in Paris in 2016), the objects brought together here provide a unique opportunity to discover an art as little-known as it is appealing. Imported from Asia and Africa by Portuguese companies from the Renaissance onwards, tortoiseshell was first used in fashionable accessories like combs, brooches and fans, or in cane and weapon handles. Cabinetmakers then began to combine it with ivory and silver to provide a framework for precious wood compositions, before André-Charles Boulle made it one of the components of his famous marquetry work. To work it, the material had to be heated with boiling water and olive oil before being moulded and shaped. But what gave it an unexpected beauty…
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