Rienzi, the MFAH house museum for European decorative arts, will soon be home to new—well, old—18th century relics thanks to the generosity of 78 Society members.
The group raised more than $214,000 to fund the acquisition of a tortoiseshell piqué inkstand with bell, penholder, powder sifter, and inkwells—circa 1735-1745—attributed to Giuseppe Sarao, a prolific artisan of the style that prospered in Naples several hundred years ago. The donations will also add an exquisite Neoclassical cabinet from 1785, decorated by Agostino Gerli and likely made by Italian Renaissance painter Giovanni Battista Maroni.
The annual dinner, a formal affair chaired this year by Courtnay and Mark Elias, offered guests a chance to preview the items available for acquisition and enjoy a three-course meal in Rienzi's formal ballroom; Swift + Company crafted both dinner and decor. The meal—a wedge salad, traditional Steak Diane with cognac-cream reduction and wild mushroom compote, cream spinach soufflé, roasted baby vegetables, and chocolate cake with vanilla ice cream and berries—was served at round tables with pink, gold, and magenta place settings. The theme carried through the rest of the ballroom that bloomed with pink and red floral arrangements of English garden roses, orchid sprays, French tulips, blooming branches, Italian ranunculus, and more.
To celebrate the 20th anniversary of Rienzi as part of MFAH, each dinner table was designated with the name of a prominent porcelain maker represented in the museum's celebrated ceramics collection—a nod to the 20th anniversary gift of china.
Each year, Rienzi Society members are invited to participate in selecting the pieces the annual dinner funds will purchase for the decorative collection, displayed on Kirby Drive in the former home of Carroll Sterling and Harris Masterson III.