Wednesday, November 7, 2012

Lacca Povera

Detail of a Lacca Povera table, Venice, circa 1750,
shows the allegorical theme of the continents.
Photo:  Benedicte Petit.
The Italian furniture known as Lacca Povera, which translates as "poor man's lacquer," dates from the 18th century and may or may not have originated in Venice.  Also known as Lacca Contraffa, or "counterfeit lacquer," it is an imitation of the Oriental lacquer--of sorts.
A fall front secretary, Venice, circa 1770,
shows the later preferences for leisurely country pursuits.
Photo:  Bay Hippisley.
The technique involves printed paper images pasted on the painted furniture surface and then coated with many coats of varnish to create the illusion of high-gloss lacquer decoration.
One of a pair of corner cabinets, Italy, circa 1780,
illustrates an answer to the 18th century demand for lacquer furniture.
Photo:  Briga Fairholme.
Other Italian cities produced Lacca Povera furniture as well, as did Paris and London at its height of popularity.  To satisfy the demand for a less expensive version of the true lacquer decoration, printers produced sheets of engravings specifically for Lacca Povera decoration.  Chinoiserie figures, shepherds and sheperdesses, huntsmen, garlands, and bouquets of flowers are all common printed motifs.

A detail of a folding screen, Venice, circa 1750,
portrays the themes of mythology, courtship, and the Orient.
Photo:  Belmont Galleries, London.
One of the printing firms that produced sheets of motifs specifically intended to be cut out to create Lacca Povera furniture was Giovanni Antonio Remondini.  That firm produced the small engraved scenes and motifs that decorate the bureau cabinet below.
A bureau cabinet, Venice, circa 1750,
features mirrored doors.
Photo:  Mark E. Smith.
As interest in the classical revival style of Louis XVI resulted in the waning of the Roccoco period, the popularity of lacquer and Lacca Povera declined.  By the time of the 1797 unopposed invasion of Venice by Napoleon's army, the city was no longer the great sea power and center of European banking, but already becoming a tourist center.

A Northern Italy cabinet, circa 1760, displays
the lavish frivolity of late Baroque and Rocco tastes.
Photo:  Bay Hippisley.
The charm of Lacca Povera furnishings is appreciated today, however, and occasionally a piece may be found in the most stylish interiors.
All photos are from the February, 1989, issue of


  1. As usual I am indebted to the Devoted Classicist Masterclass! I have seen this furniture, but never knew the story behind it. To my eyes it is very Italian, so that certainly makes sense. By and large it is too ornate for my personal tastes, although I have to say that the piece you show in your last photograph is rather beautiful, with Japanese like qualities, both in the look of the faux lacquer and the similarity to a tansu.

    1. Columnist, many of the examples we see today are 20th century revival pieces, certainly decorative but lacking, as you might imagine, the subtle charm of the earlier periods. I am glad you have discovered a new appreciation.

  2. I adored this post!

    I am fortunate to own 3 pieces of "lacca provera" a pair of small commodes my mother bought in Venice in the 60's; and a lovely console I found at an estate in Montecito!

    I love lacquer also; but given the choice; (an unusual occurrence ;I prefer the "provera"

    It has so much charm!

    1. Dear Penelope, I am sure that your pieces are delightful. Thank you for commenting.


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