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Writing set

Valadier Giuseppe

(Rome 1762-1838)

The inkwell made of rock crystal, malachite and gilded bronze and the gold pen were not created as a single set, but appear to have been brought together to form a single writing set.

The inkwell is circular in shape and is set in a frame consisting of two palmette-decorated bands, between which are depicted the personifications of painting and sculpture and a laurel wreath, connected to the malachite base by three cornucopia-shaped handles, which take the form of a stylised ram’s head and end in rosettes. Applied to the base are depictions of a horse and a bull, both crowned, winged and with their bodies ending in a snake’s tail.

The pen is in the shape of a column, with the part corresponding to the shaft decorated with a plant motif with knurled lines interspersed with stylised rosette knots, and the end part, which has a polygonal band containing a perpetual calendar, completed by a bezel in the shape of a capital, for stamping sealing wax.

The presence of the hallmark of the Roman silversmith Giuseppe Valadier and the chamber stamp on the pen allows this object to be dated to 1807-1809.

Object details

gilded bronze, rock crystal, malachite, chiselled gold
contenitore inchiostro cm 5x18, penna cm 11

Made for Camillo Borghese between 1807 and 1809. Purchased by the State, 2005.

  • 2019-2020 Roma, Galleria Borghese


The rock crystal inkwell, which is circular and has an undulating rim to allow the pens to rest on it, is contained in a gilded bronze structure with openwork reliefs representing a laurel wreath and two female figures, in tunic and classical hairstyle, personifying Painting and Sculpture. This structure is bordered at the top and bottom by bands decorated with stylised palmettes. It is connected, by three scroll-like handles in the form of a cornucopia, to the broader circular malachite base, mounted on a bronze support. The leaves and flowers of the handles become, at the end, stylised goat heads concluded by a rosette in the shape of a circle; at the bottom, where the three handles are attached, three ram’s heads have been applied to the lower band. A precious decoration, also in gilded bronze, is applied on the malachite base: it depicts a horse and bull, both crowned, winged and with snake tails, perhaps a cultivated allusion to the Minotaur and Pegasus (Costamagna 2005, p. 18) and a laurel wreath with two long ribbons stretched out laterally.

The pen, cast in gold, is designed as a column; its shaft is decorated with knurled strokes that compose a motif of leaves and racemes interspersed with stylised rosette knots. At the top, it ends with a polygonal band, on which are engraved numbers and symbols forming a perpetual calendar. It is surmounted by a bezel, in the shape of a capital, for stamping sealing wax. The cylinder with the ink reservoir is attached to the nib, which is provided with a hole to prevent leakage.

The two objects, although not created together, have been brought together to create a single desk set. In fact, the style of the inkwell matches a well-established taste, while the pen is one of the earliest examples with such technical features.

Among the numbers and symbols on the perpetual calendar of the pen is the hallmark of the Roman silversmith Giuseppe Valadier, the same one used by his father Luigi. At the beginning of the 19th century, in parallel with his work as an architect, he ran the family workshop, together with his cousin Filippo, which had been producing sumptuous furnishings and utensils for the Borghese family since 1765.

Also visible near the nib attachment is the chamber stamp found on various works from 1807-1809 (Bulgari Calissoni, pp. 52-53, no. 144).

A desk set was among Camillo Borghese’s luggage when he moved to Turin in 1809 following his appointment as governor of the Transalpine Departments (Archivio Segreto Vaticano, Archivio Borghese, Atti di Famiglia, no. 28, f. 202) and then in 1814, among the objects that returned to Rome (Archivio Segreto Vaticano, Archivio Borghese, Indici e inventari, no. 7515, Stato generale delle tre spedizioni d’effetti d’argenteria, porcellana, lingeria, ed equipaggi appartenenti a S.S. il Principe Camillo Borghese, 3me Expedition, coffre n. 15, marque A). The inkwell seems more likely to be attributed to it (Barchiesi 2019, pp. 288-289, cat. 42), while the pen holder and sand spreader, which usually completed the writing utensils, are to be considered missing.

The possession of a stylus pen, more practical than the traditional quill pen, the use of which was destined to spread widely during the course of the century, conjures the image of a Camillo Borghese who was very up-to-date with technical advances.

Sonja Felici

  • A. Bulgari Calissoni, Maestri argentieri gemmari e orafi di Roma, Roma 1987, pp. 52-53, n. 144, p. 429, n. 1055.
  • G. Tetti, Appendice in Le delizie di Stupinigi e della "Danae" del Correggio. Camillo Borghese tra impero e restaurazione, a cura di M. Di Macco, Torino 1997, pp. 119-134.
  • A. Costamagna, La raffinatezza e il lusso: lo "stile" Borghese dal cardinale Scipione ai principi Camillo e Paolina in quattro piccoli "tesori" artistici, Roma 2005, pp. 11-22.
  • M. Minozzi, scheda in Lo stato dell’arte, l’arte dello stato: le acquisizioni del Ministero dei Beni e delle Attività Culturali e del Turismo; colmare le lacune, ricucire la storia, catalogo della mostra (Roma, Museo Nazionale di Castel Sant’Angelo, 2015), a cura di M.G. Bernardini, Roma 2015, p. 212, cat. 66.
  • S. Barchiesi, scheda in Valadier. Splendore nella Roma del Settecento, catalogo della mostra (Roma, Galleria Borghese, 2019-2020), a cura di A. Coliva, G. Leardi, Milano 2019, pp. 288-289, cat. 42.
  • Scheda di catalogo 12/99000392, S. Felici 2020.