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Frieze Masters London 2019 

Cardinal Mazarin’s Chambers aux Tableaux 

The true usage during the Renaissance of the highly decorative and refined colored pottery known as Istoriato Maiolica has long been a matter of debate. Whether it was actually used, or was displayed by the side of the table on a credenza, or even handled and discussed in a demonstration of cultural knowledge and erudition are all points with equal validity. However in the seventeenth century it was highly regarded for its decorative qualities and its links with Urbino, the ideal renaissance city-state and in particular Uribno’s most famous son, the painter Raphael. 


The cardinal Jules Mazarin, chief minister of France and lover of the French Queen, was one of the most powerful men in Europe and an avid collector of paintings and sculpture. Although little is known about how his collection of Maiolica was formed, the inventory taken after his death in 1661 shows that it was displayed hung alongside paintings and framed in the same manner. Descriptions include a sa bordure (frame) noir a filletz d’or and verni dore a la chinoise. 


This evolution from the table to the wall literally elevated the status of Maiolica from that of utensil to the highest art form. This was reflected in the description of it in English as “Raphaelware” and led to the grand eighteenth century collections such as those of Sir Andrew Fountaine and Horace Walpole. Its enormous popularity in the nineteenth century is reflected in the important holdings of the British and the Victoria and Albert Museum, to name but two. 


With this display at Frieze Masters we hope to replicate in a small part of the chambers aux tableaux of cardinal Mazarin and show the decorative effect these small paintings may have had in the heyday of their collectability.

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