Table top owned by Fra’ Sabba da Castiglione

Table top owned by Fra’ Sabba da Castiglione

Fra Damiano Zambelli

wood and inlay
112 × 114 × 3.5 cm
source of the artwork

1543: Faenza, Commenda di Santa Maria Maddalena della Magione, study of Fra’ Sabba da Castiglione; until the turn of the 18th century: Faenza, Commenda di Santa Maria Maddalena della Magione, library then parish priest’s abode; 1866: Faenza, Biblioteca Comunale, Pinacoteca civica.

short description

The surface of the table top is decorated with inlaid geometrical motifs and, in the centre, with the patron’s coat-of-arms surrounded by scrolls containing edifying Latin verses. Reflecting the item’s original function and context, the inscriptions urge moderation, sobriety and self-control. The table top, owned by Sabba da Castiglione, an art collector, connoisseur and Knight Hospitaller, was made by his friend the Dominican friar and inlay artist Damiano Zambelli. Along with other works of art and books, it graced the study of Fra’ Sabba’s abode in the complex of Santa Maria Maddalena della Magione in Faenza.

inventary n°

The square table top is fully inlaid with various different woods that lend its decoration a varied colouring ranging from lighter to darker shades of brown. The decoration consists of oval, floral or lozenge shapes around the exterior, while the internal part comprises geometrical motifs with entwined or floral decorations, lending the whole something of the air of a carpet. The octagon in the centre bears the patron’s coat-of-arms surrounded by four ovals containing scrolls with the Latin verses: «FRVGALITAS VOLVP/TATI IMPERET» [frugality governs pleasure], «TEMPERANTIA CORPORIS, / ANIMAE[QVE] CERTISSIMA SALVS» [temperance in body and mind brings certainty of health], «NATVRA EXIGVO PARA/BILIQVE CONTENTA» [nature contents itself with paucity and simplicity] and «VOLVPTATES ABEVNTES / SI SAPIS COGITA» [if you are wise, consider the transient nature of pleasure]. The table top’s condition is less than satisfactory, yet beneath the many lacunae one can make out the underlying support comprising three planks with their preparatory marks for the now missing inlay.

The table top was made for the Knight Hospitaller Fra’ Sabba da Castiglione (Milan, c. 1480 – Faenza, 1554) – a humanist and an enthusiastic antiquarian, collector and patron of the arts, who took possession of, and established his residence in, the Faenza Commandery in 1515 – by his dear friend the Dominican Friar Damiano Zambelli, a master of the art of inlay, in 1543. This date is confirmed by an inscription in Roman characters that can just be made out on the right-hand side («A[D] M[D]LII[I]»). Along with the work of other artists used by Fra’ Sabba to furnish and to adorn his studio, which was situated by the bell tower of the church of Santa Maria Maddalena della Magione in Faenza, the inlaid table top is listed by Fra’ Sabba himself in the chapter in his Ricordi, overo ammaestramenti (published in 1561) on the «adornment of the home». Inspired by Seneca, and in accordance with Christian Stoic philososphy, the four Latin maxims inlaid into the table top counsel moderation, sobriety and self-control, alluding to the item’s function as an eating table. The table appears in Fra’ Sabba’s first will and testament drafted in January 1546 as a «quadrettum unum (a mensa) ligneum (opera quidem non Humana sed divina potius)» [a square (table) in wood (certainly made not by human hand but by the hand of God)], along with other work by the Dominican master then in his ownership, but now lost: two panels with Heads of Saints, i.e. the Dominican’s so-called “inlay pictures”, and a small dagger with an inlaid handle. The table is next mentioned in Fra’ Sabba’s second and final will and testament dictated in 1550 after his friend’s death: «mensam unam, quadrum nuncupatam, intersiatam, manu eiusdem fratris Damiani» [a table, called a square, inlaid by hand by said Brother Damiano]. In addition to the table top, the Pinacoteca di Faenza also owns other items that once furnished Fra’ Sabba’s residence in the Commenda, including «an ancient urn of oriental alabaster, with several veins of chalcedony», thus named in the Ricordi, a marble bust of the young St. John the Baptist attributed to Benedetto da Maiano, and a terracotta relief depicting St. Jerome at prayer by Alfonso Lombardi.

S. Casadei, Pinacoteca di Faenza, Bologna 1991, p. 57, n. 110

S. Cortesi, (ed). I due testamenti di fra Sabba da Castiglione, Faenza 2000, pp. 34, 36, 172, 178

COVA 2018
P. Cova, Le arti e la spada: la committenza artistica dei Templari e dei cavalieri di Malta in Emilia e in Romagna, ed. by M. Medica, F. Lollini, Bologna 2018, p. 148

M. Ferretti, A. Colombi Ferretti, Due amici di Fra Sabba. Damiano da Bergamo e Francesco Menzocchi. In Sabba da Castiglione, 1480 – 1554, Dalle corti rinascimentali alla commenda di Faenza, proceedings of the conference, Faenza, May 19th – 20th, 2000, ed. A. R. Gentilini, Firenze 2004, pp. 379-436

L. Mascheretti, Fuori dai cori: tre “quadri di tarsia” di fra Damiano Zambelli da Bergamo (1480 circa – 1549), exhibition catalogue ed. L. Mascheretti, Bologna, Museo Davia Bargellini, 02.10.-05.12.2021, Parigi 2021

D. Thornton, “Le mie cose”: Fra Sabba da Castiglione e i suoi oggetti, in Sabba da Castiglione, 1480 – 1554. Dalle corti rinascimentali alla commenda di Faenza, proceedings of the conference, Faenza, May 19th – 20th, 2000, ed. A. R. Gentilini, Firenze 2004, pp. 313-328 (particularly p. 320)

The images are the property of the Pinacoteca Comunale di Faenza. For the use of the images, please write to

written by
Alice Festi