Inkstand, silver and petrified wood
Milan 1800-1803 by Giovanni Battista Scorzino
(engraved under the base “G.B. Scorzino Fe Milano”)
Original leather case with arms of Ignazio Busca
Sizes: 14 x 32,5 x 28 cm.
This is the work of one of the most skilled silversmiths of Neoclassical Milan, Giovanni Battista Scorzino, known since 1792 when he had his workshop in Contrada degli Orefici 3202.
From 1812 onwards, he seems to have changed his address but his mark remains the hunting horn wrapped around an S. He died in 1835 but the activities of the workshop continued under his son Luigi, as evidence by the altar vessels of Milan Cathedral designed by the founder of the company but finished by his heir. Whereas this set of devotional silverware is in full-fledged Restoration style with a character that seems to spring directly from the pen of Pelagio Palagi. This inkstand maintains the severe elegance of Lombard Neoclassicism as expressed in the creations of Giocondo Albertolli. In this sense, we can compare it with the image of the “piatto coperto per uso di tavola” illustrated in the last plate of the famous repertoire of engravings “Alcune decorazioni di nobili sale... ” printed in 1787 by Albertolli. Here we find a similar use of rows of leaves and gadroons perfectly balanced with the smooth surfaces that they decorate. These clean forms are expressed in this inkstand by the use of a single type of stone for the whole set : the pale and austere hues of petrified wood, a very unusual material in the Italian tradition, giving the whole a slightly Northern European appearance.
The arms under the cardinal’s hat at the centre of the leather-case are those of Ignazio Busca, born in Milan in 1731, son of Lodovico, third Marquis of Lomagna, and of Bianca Arconati Visconti.
After a brilliant career in the Papal administration as governor of two important towns in the Papal States (Rieti and later Fabriano) he settled in Rome in 1767 as the domestic prelate of Clement XIII. After taking holy orders on the advent of Pius VI in 1775, he soon rose to the post of Archbishop and was sent as papal Nuncio to Brussels where he was responsible for a delicate diplomatic mission. Ten years later, on his return to Rome, he was made Governor of the city. Appointed Cardinal in March 1789, he reached the peak of his career with his appointment as Secretary of State in 1796. However, the French Treaty of Tolentino between France and the Holy See in February 1797, leading him to resign shortly afterwards. As the situation deteriorated he was forced to leave the city at the beginning of 1798 : on February 12 of that year, a Roman diarist, Antonio Galimberti, notes that the occupying French troops had issued an arrest warrant for the Cardinal, who had already fled, and had confiscated his properties. He took refuge in Naples, where the Bourbon kings awarded him a subsidy of “100 scudi”. In October 1799 Busca passed through Rome on his way to the conclave of Venice. With the election of Pius VII in 1800, he returned permanently to the Curia where he was entrusted with important posts including the Prefect of the “Congregazione del Buon Governo”. He died in August 1803.
The information’s provided by Galimberti (A. Galimberti, “Memorie dell’Occupazione francese a Roma, ed. by L.Topi, Rome 2004, I vol, pag. 60) and others sources of the time concerning the seizure of the cardinal’s assets suggests that the writing set belonged to Busca after this event. Perhaps a gift from his family, given the Milanese origins of the piece, this exquisite expression of Lombard Neoclassicism probably came into the Cardinal’s possession after his return to Rome in 1800.
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