France, second half of the 18th century
Attributed to Thomas Compigné
Tortoiseshell and gold leaf
This small tortoiseshell medallion, engraved and gilt with leaf, represents a view of Rome animated by characters, surrounded by a gold edging. The singularities of tortoiseshell and golf are highlighted by a delicate work of engraving, giving relief to the composition.
The scene represents in the foreground the Tiber on which a boat is moved by a rower.
The view is taken from the rim bordered by greeneries and from a part of the triumphal arch in ruin on the right. The arrival of another boat on the left can be guessed. Several characters along the rim, difficult to distinguish, mix with vegetation of the two shores.
In the background, a wall preceded by aquatic plants is interrupted by a perron permitting the access to a large home with a neoclassical architecture. Presenting an Italian roofing, it draws a level opening by large windows rhythmed by pilasters with Corinthian capitals, along which runs a balcony, surmounting an imposing door with double leaf.
In the background, windows of a second large construction with a high roofing can be perceived behind the trees of the garden. In the distance, other houses allow us to see the city, which continues along the shore. An engraved ribbon in the upper part of the medallion is inscribed “View of Rome surroundings made on the tour”.
Paintings in Compigné
Of great preciousity and variety of materials, the paintings in Compigné were made according to a mysterious process starting from a sheet of tortoiseshell or cardboard to which a pewter or gold leaf was applied. The surface could then be decorated with gold, silver, gouache and coloured varnishes. These “miniatures”, known today under the name of Compigné, had a great success in the 1760s.The small format, characteristic of this production, required to work in extreme precision, probably with the help of a magnifying glass, to develop the perfection of these technical details and colours.
Arrived from Italy, probably around 1750, Thomas Compigni took the name Compigné when he settled under the sign of Roi David, rue Greneta, in Paris. As an ivory turner, he specialised in the manufacture and sale of boxes, knitting sets, draughts and chess sets, snuffboxes and other cane handles of blond tortoiseshell inlaid with gold. Renowned for the quality of his objects, he passed on to posterity through the production of precious paintings whose technique remains mysterious today. In 1773, he presented two views of the Château de Saint-Hubert to the King and obtained the title of “tabletier privilégié du Roi” under Louis XV and Louis XVI. His themes of predilection are most often views of towns, monuments and castles from the perspective of parks or landscapes animated by small characters.
Plaisir de France, « Les Compignés et leurs créateurs, ces délicats chefs-d’œuvre de la tabletterie au XVIIIe siècle », n° 427, mars 1975.
Compigné, peintre et tabletier du Roy, exhibition catalogue, Grasse, Villa-Musée Jean-Honoré Fragonard (Juin-Juillet 1991).