Inkwell in coral of Trapani


End of 17th century


Measurements :


Base : H : 12 in.                                  Sprinkler: H : 4,7 in.

           L : 12 in.                                   Inkwell : H : 4,7 in.

                                                           Bell : H : 6,2 in.



Bibliography :


Splendori di Sicilia, Maria Concetta Di Natale

FMR, L’Art du corail, février/mars 2006.


Our engraved object made out gilded bronze is a whole composed with an inkwell, a sprinkler and a bell. The unit rests on a multifoil base of triangular form supported by three small feet, decorated with shell continuing in scrolls centred of a flower.

Each part is finely encrusted with a floral and stylized decoration made of coral of Trapani.
The inkwell and the sprinkler are embellished with a similar decoration of gadroons on the cap and the collar, of three rosettes on the belly and oriental arabesques patterns.

The bell of convex form is ornate on higher part by round coral cabochons and it finishing by a cornelian on its top.


Above all, this whole with naturalist decoration testifies to a taste for the coral, at that time so rare and so invaluable. Indeed, we can locate the source of this coral in the Sicilian area of Trapani, place known since the 15th century for its coral resources, like for the very particular way working it.


Since the Antiquity, coral profits of a great marvel, thanks to its colour, the one of blood, and its constitution, because it births under the sea where it has plant litheness and hardens with air contact.

Indians, Tibetans, Babylonians, Egyptians, Phoenicians and Carthaginians, afterwards Greeks and Romans, give to the coral a function of protect against the devil strength and occult. Coral is an excellent esoteric element, its power was saving and during centuries has healing properties.


During the Middle Age, coral propagates the Christian belief and a lot of paintings represent Jesus child with a little coral bangle. Some chaplets or rosaries are made with coral grains.




During this time, Occident and Orient are two universes in Schism and establish themselves on sides of the Mediterranean Sea. Consequently, Sicily becomes the open door on the Near Orient, which fascinating the world and all the more from now on thanks to its accessibility.


During more than six centuries, the use of coral was a common factor for the Mediterranean cultures (Moslem, Jewish and Christian), mixing things sacred and profane.

Symbiosis between coral and faith, between paganism, Christianity, and the Judaism, is carried out in Trapani.

Following Sicilian Vespers in 1282, sovereigns of Catalonia settle in Sicily, landing in the nearest port to Barcelona: in Trapani, city where economy is founded on the trade and piracy.


Between the 14th and the beginning of the 15th century, inhabitants of Trapani intensify the coral fishing in harmony with the Catalans, in thanks of their assistance during the conquest of Sicily.


This small maritime republic sheltered an important Hebraic community, which grants to the coral a transcendental nature.

In the Old Testament, the coral is the symbol of the highest virtues of the man, the purity and the beauty of princes of Sion whose body was red, like the coral. Four hands of reading (to read the Torah without touching the sacred text), were found in Poland, Galicie, Germany and in Holland, they had a handle in silver and the hand was out of coral.

Because of this religious dimension, the Hebraic community carried out the transformation of the coral. Between the 15th century and the 18th century this kind of trade becomes flourishing thanks to this community and the strategic position of Trapani, which is the convergence point between the western world and the eastern world but also by the creation of workshops, specialized in the artisanal work of creations to dimension symbolic system for all the religious cultures.  The Jewish artists mix the sculptures and decorative elements made of coral on a support in brass, copper, silver or gilded bronze, creating a beautiful chromatic contrast, and massively produce chains intended for the prayers, collars, bracelets, small amulets and other hanging intended for the Muslims.


Our inkwell was created in Trapani. It is about a Mediterranean coral, called Corallium rubrum, of red color of various nuances, being able to go until colorings pale pink.

Each coral element that we present is realised thanks to a meticulous choice of the rough coral, according to its form, of its colour, its size. The technique of realization is the result of many experiences gained during centuries, inspired by Islamic and Judaic works to the Middle Ages - which knew the art of incrustation on various objects like guards of swords and jewels - thus making it possible the coral to impose themselves in the universe of art and to compete with matters like the marble and the precious stones. The coral part is firmly stuck hot on wood supports mingled with paper suifé to lubricate the blade. The size is done then in the mass by sawing by means of a piercing-saw frame. The incisions can be done by means of small clippers and of files. The part is modelled with a grinding stone. Then trimmed, outlined, it passes in the hands of the engraver who specifies and completes his decoration using gravers of various forms and dimensions. The last phase is that of the polishing, during which the coral is detached from its wood support, then immersed in a hydrogen peroxide bath, before being smoothed with pounce and oil, brushed with a preparation containing acid, then washed out of running water. The pipe fittings thus obtained are then integrated into the decoration of the objects which requires the intervention of several corporations, of which carpenters, cabinetmakers, founders engravers, goldsmiths, enamellers, monumental masons or of the mirror cutters.


At the end of the 16th century, pieces created with Trapani cease being artisanal and empirical to become artistic and cultural. The artists of Trapani have a perfect command of the techniques and refined them in order to obtain the creations of Master unequalled and held in high regard in all Europe. The artists create masterpieces out of metal thanks to the incrustation of coral fragment in metal in the shape of star or flowers. 

Our unit profited from all these techniques matured by the artists of Trapani, who make of them parts of a very great quality.

It is a good example of the achievements and knowledge to make these artists of the 17th century. The lines of the inkwell and their display unit are underlined perfectly by the play of the coral ornamentation. The manufactured objects with Trapani but also with Naples or Torre LED greco - large workshops of coral sculpture in the style of Trapani of which they draw the technique by the importation from parts, and the emigration of the artists at the 17th century - were often offered like diplomatic gifts to the kings, princes, cardinals and popes, and decorated the aristocratic residences and the churches of all Europe. More the large families of Italy, of Spain but also of all Europe and the Middle East, order parts of devotion, but also of the majestic decorative parts to decorate their interior.


We can find such objects in the most prestigious places: in the museum of Pepoli  in Trapani, but also the museum of the Beloeil Castle, and the kings of Spain preserve the most beautiful collections of objects assembled out of coral.