This sumptuous piece of ebony furniture has a semiprecious stone panel in the lower part depicting a vase of flowers inserted in a niche, with floral elements on its ledge. The shelf adorned with flowers in semiprecious stone is supported by two jasper columns with bases and capitals in gilt bronze. The upper part has by a mosaic panel depicting the Baptism of Christ. This is mounted in a frame made of semiprecious stones featuring small-stemmed flowers and four scrolls in lapis lazuli inlaid with silver gilt letters. The portable altar is completed with two semiprecious stone ovals portraying respectively a rose between two hyacinths and three roses with the stems wrapped in a cartouche.
The work comes from the bedroom of the Grand Duchess, Maria Maddalena of Austria, on the ground floor of her apartments in the Villa del Poggio Imperiale. Archive documents testify that the piece of furniture originally had a precious reliquary on the top, which has been lost, attached to the cherub’s gilt bronze head, which is still in the tympanum. In addition, in the place of the mosaic panel the piece had a panel portraying Maddalena, considered at the time to be by Leonardo da Vinci. The picture, still in the piece in 1654, has been recognized as the Santa Maria Maddalena by the Florentine painter Francesco di Ubertino Verdi, known as Bachiacca, conserved in the Palatine Gallery.
The mosaic panel, initialled “I.B.C.V.”, was executed in 1620 by Giovanni Battista Calandra, the well-known mosaic artist active in Rome at the pontifical court of Urban VIII Barberini. It is based on a painting by the young Agostino Ciampelli and very probably came to Florence as a gift. The semiprecious stone ornamentation of the mosaic was carried out in the grand ducal workshops before 1621, the year of the death of Cosimo II, whose intertwined initials “CM” are inlaid together with those of the Grand Duchess Maria Maddalena, “MM”, in two of the four ovals in lapis lazuli on the edge of the frame. The design of the panel in semiprecious stone with a vase and flowers and an uninhibited naturalism, typical of other works executed in semiprecious stone in the workshops of the court based on the models of the master, is attributable to the Veronese painter Jacopo Ligozzi.