An Exquisite Trapani Ivory Religious Scene
by Andrea Tipa
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This exquisite ivory sculpture, carved in full relief in a form identified with Bottega dei Tipa and depicting the Virgin Mary according to traditional Christian iconography of the Immaculate Conception, was made in the workshop of Andrea and Alberto Tipa. They were the best known members of a sculptor’s family active in Trapani, Sicily, in the 17th and 18th century, and who specialized in a very fine working technique for ivory, alabaster, and stone. Works from the House of Tipa during the 17th & 18th century were sometimes elaborately decorated in a variety of themes, with the use of red coral, lapis lazuli or vivid fired enamels, mother of pearl, gold, silver, and ivory or alabaster figures in stylistic, exquisitely choreographed themes.
The oldest reference source on Andrea Tipa, Giuseppe Maria Di Ferro (1774-1836), opined that the sculptor produced “a good number of ivory crucifixes ... he gave these small simulacra the advantage of lifelike fineness, and he affirms also that the sculptor, even in the smallest works, surpassed his companions. He made various beautiful nativity scenes with ivory and alabaster figurines".
Andrea Tipa (1725-1766), Giuseppe’s son and Alberto’s brother (1732-1783), both also sculptors, was also known for his work on monumental sculptures. He created, among others, the Carlo III statue, in 1750, which was displayed in the Trapani Marina, and is now lost. He was well known to produce sculptures identical to the ivory carving illustrated here.
The central figure is mounted standing above a manicured garden consisting of wire coiled canvas hedges with applied wax-anchored red flowers, surmounted on a pyramidal ebony platform. Rows of carefully inlaid diamond-shaped terrazzo tiles lie between garden sections, created with a foundation of red coral dust and imbedded with ivory and gold fragments, clearly sourced from the original coral, ivory, and gold carving efforts.
The central figure is centered by an ebony arch topped with an ivory Cherub representing the Massacre of the Innocents and flanked on each side by ivory cornice carvings. She is surrounded by four columns that consist of brilliant blue enamel fired onto copper with 22k gold adornment mounts fitted onto ebony supports and each topped by a single large red coral bead. The ebony railing surrounding the garden is adorned with 30 vertical 22k column posts and topped with ivory and red coral beads affixed with tiny 9k nails. The ebony base is fitted with a single front drawer composed of rosewood with bronze period lock. Five sides of the hexagonal base are fitted with regal bird decor in bronze over 9k gold plates.
The few missing pieces are under evaluation for re-creation to bring this delightful Trapani work to full restoration.