The Australian - Wish Magazine
Dealer-designer Richard Shapiro has nurtured a rich, layered aesthetic during a life of passionate curiosity
DuringtheItalianRenaissance,anewroomwas born. Small but opulently appointed, it came to be known as the studiolo. A refuge of study and contemplation, it announced its owner’s embraceofthespiritofartsandlettersstemmingfromthe “rediscovery”ofclassicalculture,whichdistinguishedthe epoch as one of the greatest in all of human achievement. Walls might be adorned with cycles of paintings inspired by Greek or Roman mythology, speaking to his, or on occasion, her, virtue; while collections of manuscripts, medals and sculpture, both ancient and contemporary, attested to cultivation and learning.
Studioli morphed over time into works of art in their own right and a handful survive today – at least the cabinets do, if not their assemblages of curiosities. One is the studiolo and grotta commissioned for the ducal palace in Mantua by Isabella d’Este, the uberchic marchioness believed by some, for a time, to have been the model for Leonardo’s Mona Lisa. And another, created by Federico III da Montefeltro at the ducal palace in Gubbio – Federico was the father-in-law of Isabella’s sister – eventually made it all the way to New York, where it now resides at the Metropolitan Museum.
Speaking of the New World, it was while leafing through a copy of Architectural Digest in the early 2000s that I had my first encounter with the concept of the studiolo. It belonged not to an Italian blueblood of the 15th century but to Richard Shapiro, a designerantiquarianaliveandkickingin21st-centuryLosAngeles. Shapiro had taken the name of that jewel box of a room and applied it to his design business, his striking single and double-page advertisements revealing over time a gutsy but elegant aesthetic. White slip-covered sofas with the finest of arms were offset by étagères and tiered side tablesrecallingJansenorMarcduPlantier,whilefringed clubchairsandBordonileatherscreensconjuredtherich theatricality of the Cordoba leather-clad Paris drawing room of Rudolf Nureyev. So far these are all Shapiro’s own designs, though punctuated by fabulous antiquities and other pieces from the 17th and 18th centuries.
Appearing in a plethora of publications over subsequent years, images of the dealer-designer’s own homes added to this vision of a romantic but erudite oeuvre. First came the Florentine Villa, Shapiro’s Italianate reworking of a 1920s Hispano-Moorish home in Holmby Hills, Los Angeles. That was followed by