Carlton Hobbs octagonal 1

In Italy carved and gilded furniture of the finest quality was often executed by highly trained sculptors, rather than furniture makers and it is very likely that this superbly-drawn table is a product of this long-standing tradition. Notable sculptors who created pieces of furniture, for example, were Filippo Parodi (1630-1702) from Genoa, Agostino Carlini (circa 1718-1790) who was also from Genoa, but worked both for the courts in Holland and in England and Andrea Brustolon (1662-1732), who worked in Venice. An example in the neoclassical period is Antonio Landucci, who had been commissioned by Principe Marcantonio Borghese, to supply furniture to the Palazzo Borghese in the 1770-80s.

The present table is inspired by ancient Roman marble tripod tables of the type found at sites in Pompeii and Herculaneum. In line with these prototypes, a bust (or more usually an animal mask) emerges from an acanthine flourish, which terminates into zoomorphic legs and feet. The designer of this piece clearly had knowledge of sculpted artifacts from the ancient world and it is, therefore, interesting that he chose to depart from precedent by employing four monopodiae instead of the classical three-leg tripod form. This close formation of powerfully-sculpted supports imbues the table with an unusual sense of density rarely seen in neoclassical furniture.

Carlton Hobbs octagonal 2

In the case of the present table, the busts, with their paired butterfly wings, represent Psyche, who in Greek mythology, was the deification of the human soul. Born too beautiful for her own safety, she incited Venus’ jealousy, but as a direct result of the latter’s devious plans, Psyche gained both Cupid’s love and immortality. The word psyche in Greek means spirit or life, and is also the word for butterfly and she was portrayed in ancient mosaics as a goddess with butterfly wings.

The legs of the table do not follow the more typical leonine form, but are modeled as goats’ cloven hooves. The goat has strong associations in mythology with masculinity, lust, and fertility, creating an unusual harmony of opposites within the table. Interestingly, Antonio Landucci is credited with having carved a pair of jardin?res based on a similar design idea, with a male and female figure jointly supporting the top, both emerging from leafy foliage and both terminating in cloven feet.

Figure 1

Figure 1

The marmorista thought to be the creator of the present tabletops with their interlocking geometric forms is Giuseppe Canart (d. 1791).?Flemish by birth and Roman by adoption, Canart was brought to Naples in 1738, where his known commissions were predominantly executed. There exists a group of table tops which are closely related to the present piece, including one from the Florence Court, the seat of the Earls of Enniskillen (figure 1).? The composition of the top is similar in that it incorporates marble specimens inside a complex interlaced framework, composed of overlapping and interlocking rings with a black border to the edge. The Florence Court table has been placed in Giuseppe Canart’s body of work, due to the similarity to a pair of tables in the Palazzo Reale, Naples, whose tops were known to have been constructed by Canart. They are decorated with a “grid of oval patterns” [that] alludes to the ornamental repertoire derived from the mosaic floors found in Herculaneum and Pompeii.

The present top is unusual as it is a departure from his attributed output in two ways. Because he was based in Naples, Canart would select from the wide range of very hard volcanic stones found locally. In this case, however, the top employs none from this group, and instead are all probably marble reworked from ancient Roman fragments. The shape and size also appears to be unprecedented within the Canart group, which are typically rectangular in form and one to two meters in length.

As an obvious special commission, the present table was also fitted with a finely cast gilded bronze guilloche casing mold, with integral gallery. It is the accepted wisdom that Italian table tops encased within high-quality gilt-bronze moldings are a product of Rome. This clue, combined with its ancient Roman design precedent, combines to give a strong likelihood that it was made in this important center. Furthermore, the proximity to Rome of the likely manufacture of the top in Naples lends further weight to this hypothesis.

Figure 2

Figure 2

The present table was formerly owned by the Maitland family of Loughton Hall, Essex. Loughton Hall had been built in the medieval period and was owned briefly by Mary Tudor before she became queen in 1553. The manor was later owned by the Wroth family, where it was host to an important literary circle including Lady Mary Wroth, Ben Johnson and Sir Philip Sidney. In the mid-18th century, Loughton came into the possession of the Whitaker family, at which time the hall was known as a very imposing building with an interior stone staircase said to be designed by Inigo Jones.

In 1825 Sir John Maitland, Lord of the Manor of Woodford, inherited Loughton Hall from Anne Whitaker. It passed to his William Whitaker Maitland, who spent considerable sums of money on the hall only to see it destroyed by fire on December 11, 1836.?The building as it stands today was built in the Queen Anne Style in by architect W Eden Nesfield. The entrance contained a Roman mosaic brought back from one of the Maitland’s Grand Tours. The Hall’s final owner, Sir John Whitaker Maitland, lived there “in some style” until the Second World War when the home was used as an officers’ billet.

Figure 2 depicts the table in situ on the far right on the drawing room of Loughton Hall circa 1950.