At galerie J. Kugel, tortoiseshell and gold in a royal setting

Nicolas Kugel explains the technique of Giuseppe Sarao’s art in Naples in 1730

Every year in September, theKugel brothers, Alexis and Nicolas, strike the Parisian scene with a fantastic exhibition of objects. This year, they introduced a rare series of boxes, tables and plates in tortoiseshell, incrusted whith mother-of-pearl and gold, made in Naples in 1730 to 1740. The art of “Piqué” was performed by “Tartarugari”, artisans specialized in this technique, and Giuseppe Sarao was their star. 

Detail of an oval dish with chinoiseries, by Giuseppe Sarao

They used boiling water and olive oil to mould the tortoiseshell and included chinoiseries in the shell using gold and mother-of-pearl. Charles of Bourbon, who was King of Naples in 1734, used these precious boxes or trays as diplomatic presents. Most of the pieces shown here were collected by the Rothschilds at the turn of the century but also by Sir Julian Golsdmid.

Attr. to Giuseppe Sarao, Naples ca 1730-1740

The atmosphere was quite electrical at the antique dealer’s house on opening day, because the very privileged guests were not accustomed to be so surprised. Yet most of these very affluent collectors had never seen or heard of such rare pieces before.

They were running around wanting to be told the story of each piece by one of the numerous experts who were patiently telling their story. This is one of the rare antique dealers left in Paris, set in a superb house overlooking the Seine, where everyone is lovely and patient, as if they really thought that you were a potential client, even though most pieces are worth over 60 000 €.

Top of a table lent by the Ermitage museum in St Petersburg

The table made in 1730 by Sarao and lent by Musée de l’Ermitage in St Petersburg, is the only known table in “piqué” to have kept its original base. It is ornate underneath with the Spanish Habsburg coat of arm.

A catalog of these treasures is published by Rizzoli in English and Monelle Hayot in French. It is a privilege to visit this “Ali Baba cave” and you should all go.

It’s open every day from 10.30 to 7 pm until December 8 and it is free. Galerie J. Kugel, 25 quai Anatole France.

Ensemble of “Piqué” treasures from Naples

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