This center table, with chessboard specimen marble top, represents the Regency taste of the early 19th century. A more subdued manifestation of the style than the extravagant pieces of furniture commissioned by the Prince Regent, the table nevertheless embodies the qualities that defined the period, characterized by symmetry, clean lines, and the archaeological influences of ancient societies.
The subtle lotus leaf carving of the stretcher evokes ancient Egypt, while the scrolled x-form legs, creating a guilloche motif in the center, reflects classical Greek and Roman architecture. The use of specimen marbles was popular in England at this time, either imported from Italy, or extracted locally from quarries such as those in Derbyshire. The present tabletop incorporates over a dozen unique specimen marbles and is centered by an inlaid chessboard with rectangular reserves of various geometric patterns on either side. The base of the table is made of rosewood, which, between c. 1820 and c. 1870, was the most widely used luxury tropical wood in British cabinetmaking after mahogany.1 It was viewed as a beautiful material on its own as well as “contrasting admirably”2 with other materials, and was “especially recommended for drawing rooms.”3
The present table shares certain decorative similarities with contemporary furniture designs depicted in various publications by the leading cabinetmakers of the day. Plate XII of George Smith’s The Cabinet Makers and Upholsterers Guide (1826) illustrates an occasional table with related scroll supports connected by a turned and lotus leaf carved stretcher (figure 1). A window seat illustrated in Rudolph Ackermann’s The Repository of Arts, published between 1809 and 1828, also takes an x-form shape and is edged with gilding. As noted in the text, the “design would have a very good effect executed in bronze, with the rosettes, fillets, and other ornaments of the frame, in mat gold”4 (figure 2).
The marble top is notable for its unusual use of Paesena marble in the divisions and borders. This interesting material, which has fossilized fern inclusions, was much prized in the Baroque period, and was set into the drawer fronts of Italian stipos.
This oak presentation center table represents a rare example from the nineteenth century practice of creating commemorative furniture from materials taken from buildings, ships or wood in particular locations. Perhaps the most notable piece from this tradition is the chair in the British Royal Collection, fashioned from an oak tree that grew on the battlefield at Waterloo by Thomas Chippendale the Younger in 1820. Another important example previously in the Carlton Hobbs Collection was a striking table created circa 1840 by Guillaume Grohé (1808-1885), one of the most celebrated and fashionable French cabinetmakers of the 19th century. Commissioned in France by the Pécoul family, who had extensive interests on the French Caribbean island colony of Martinique, the table’s top was constructed of a single massive specimen piece of Spanish cedar (Cedrela odorata) presumed to have come from a tree that grew on their large and successful sugar plantation.
The present table consists of timber and stone from several fascinating ancient locations, primarily in the West Riding of Yorkshire, especially from the environs of the great steel manufacturing city of Sheffield. The selection of materials from a tight locality appears to have been intentional, as an inscription on the table together with a remarkably unusual accompanying folder of documents, confirm that it was created in 1835 as a gift, to be presented to local community leader and businessman Benjamin Sayle (1770-1846).
Sheffield in the 1830s was booming. Although the steel industry had been present in the area for centuries, it was beginning to grow exponentially in the early decades of the nineteenth century. In 1787 there were eleven steel manufacturers, by 1856 that number had grown to 135. There is much evidence available that suggests around the time that this present table was made, Benjamin Sayle was at the forefront of local affairs in the city. He is frequently listed as an ‘Iron Master’ and as a partner of Booth and Co., who ran the Park Iron Works in the Brightside district. It is apparent that the company was highly successful; the great philosopher and social reformer Jeremy Bentham obtained quotes for the commissioning of the metal fittings for his planned national penitentiary in 1808 and the company was responsible for complex projects such as the construction of a 900 ton steel bridge in Dunham, Nottinghamshire which stood from 1832 to until 1975.
From early in his career Sayle was involved in his community. He was a Trustee of the Brightside Sunday School by 1805, and in later decades his involvement in local affairs would broaden. Around the time the table was made he was involved in defending the interests of the Sheffield General Infirmary and prominent in the Sheffield Shakespeare society, where some of his speeches were published. He was a supporter the city’s Mechanics’ Library, a place where the working classes could learn and read, purchasing for display there a bust of James Watt, and a portrait of Samuel Glanville by John Raphael Smith, who established the first regular stage coach service from Sheffield to London in 1760, an entrepreneurial spirit whom he presumably admired. His political life is especially interesting; Sayle was a leading light in the Sheffield Reform Society, and by in 1836 was its chairman. The reform movement, which strove for improved parliamentary representation via the abolition of “rotten boroughs” and increasing MPs for the northern industrialized cities, dominated the short seven year reign of king William IV. Although the movement enjoyed considerable success achieving the Representation of the People Act in 1832, and further acts in 1835 and 1836, many still felt that suffrage was too narrow, and the campaigns would persist up until the twentieth century. At a pubic dinner held in 1825 to thank the important local humanitarian James Montgomery (1771 – 1854), a figure who is still associated with the abolition of slavery and the banning of children chimney sweeps, Sayle gave a lengthy speech, the chair was Lord Milton; the future Earl Wentworth. Indeed Sayle’s active community life appears to have put him in touch with the most prominent landowners of the area notably the Earl Fitzwilliam and the Duke of Norfolk. There is evidence in archives in both Sheffield and Nottingham that Sayle was in touch with these local grandees over various issues including a letter to the fifth Viscount Gallway about a new surgeon for the Sheffield Infirmary and another to Lord Milton, the future Earl Fitzwilliam, asking about his plans for the forthcoming elections.
The broad range of activities mentioned above give us an idea of Sayle’s political, charitable and religious preoccupations and his impressive connections. We should therefore not be surprised that he would receive such a gift as the present table. The piece has a brass band running around its edge that appears to explain the reasons for its commission and its presentation to Sayle. Frustratingly after nearly two centuries this has become close to illegible. However we can be confident, given Sayle’s activities, that it was some kind of gesture of gratitude, perhaps from one or several of the societies with which he was involved. To gather together all of these different materials used in the table from these various locations would have been no mean feat, and represents the clear esteem in which Benjamin Sayle was held by members of his community.
The places represented in the table have clearly been selected to reflect the history, culture and importance of the local region. Tankersley Hall is now a ruin, however it did enjoy a long history, and was home to the leading local Wentworth family until they built the much larger and grander Wentworth Woodhouse in the 1650s. Similarly, only a wing of Sheffield Manor remains standing. This was originally built in 1516 as a hunting lodge and country retreat for the fourth Earl of Shrewsbury and was used later in the century by the Sixth Earl as a prison for Mary Queen of Scots. Like many of the surrounding area it was inherited by the Dukes of Norfolk in the late seventeenth century. Two castles are mentioned; Pontefract, which remained an important strategic stronghold in the north of England up until the civil wars of the 1640s, and Conisbrough, famed for its particularly striking keep which still stands today. Religious institutions are well represented, including the ruined Roche Abbey, one of England’s finest cathedrals York Minster, and Trinity Church Sheffield, which would later become the city’s cathedral. For Sayle to be presented with this piece, made from some of the finest local antiquarian landmarks is clearly intended as a symbolic gift, and is comparable to being presented with the freedom of the borough, or the key to the city.
This was a perfectly selected gift for Sayle, as it is apparent he had considerable antiquarian interest and pride in it. The remarkable survival of a specially hand-made folder, likely to be original, with letters and notes relating to the woods and stones and their origins confirms that Sayle contacted historians and the donors of the materials for more information to keep with the table. It also contains two information cards on Tankersley Hall and a letter from a J. Hall of Greasbrough on which these cards appear to be based. Also included is another card on the history of Sheffield Manor and some more letters, on Conisborough Castle, one that mentions both Roche Abbey and Conisbrough Castle, one that deals just with Roche Abbey and another on Trinity Church Sheffield. Also within the folder is a diagram that appears to explain where each section of the table came from, in addition to the locations mentioned in the letters, it includes Pontefract Castle and York Minster. It is this diagram that clarifies sections of the table were presented with the blessings of the Earl Fitzwilliam and the Duke of Norfolk.
The last confirmed owner of the table was General Sir Henry C. Jackson K.C.B. (1879-1972), a senior British Army Officer in the early twentieth century, a descendent of Sayle’s. Sir Henry C. Jackson was the son of Henry Jackson O.M. (1839-1921) an eminent English Classicist and Senior Academic at the University of Cambridge, who was born in Sheffield. It was his grandfather, also Henry, a Sheffield Surgeon, who married Benjamin Sayle’s daughter Olivia in 1801.14 Thus a direct line own ownership can be traced from the table’s creation to almost the present day.
This table is a piece of industrial history, a symbol of philanthropic and civic pride, community interaction and nineteenth century antiquarianism.
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.
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.
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.
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.
The present table, with its elegant shaped front, designed to represent Cupid’s bow, is an unusual development of the side table as typically found in giltwood examples by, or in the manner of, Robert Adam. Adam was a pioneer of the English neoclassical movement, whose Works in Architecture (1773) helped popularize the Roman taste for harmonizing the architecture of a room and its furniture through the introduction of “tablets” and “medallions.”
The central tablet of the frieze depicts Cupid and Psyche bringing a sacrificial basket of food to an altar, which is unveiled by one of their winged companions. It is inspired by the Egyptian romance, The Metamorphoses or Golden Ass written by the Isis priest Apuleius, which records the birth of Hedone (“Pleasure”) upon the marriage of Cupid and Psyche. The prototype for this bas-relief is likely to have derived from an engraving of the celebrated Sardonyx cameo from The Marlborough Collection of Gems, now in the Museum of Fine Arts, Boston (figure 1), depicting the marriage procession of Cupid and Psyche acted out by putti. Prior to the Marlborough collection, the gem belonged to other notable owners including Peter Paul Rubens and the Duke of Arundel. Josiah Wedgwood and John Flaxman reproduced the gem in 1778 in the form of a jasper tablet, making collectors and designers alike aware of this composition.
The table also has very distinctive features within its carved ornament connected with this romantic theme. For instance, the frieze is applied with repeating gilded feather motifs, which are probably intended to evoke the wing feathers of cupid and are an interesting variant on the more usual acanthine patterns found on tables in the manner of Adam. Another underlying allusion of the feathers may be to the sun-god Apollo, as poetry deity and leader of the Mt. Parnassus Muses of Artistic Inspiration. Similar feathered plumes feature on the ceiling of an Apollonian temple illustrated in Robert Wood’s, Ruins of the Temple of the Sun at Palmyra, 1753 (figure 2).
The central tablet and table frieze are framed by an Etruscan/Grecian pearl-string, which recalls the dress of the water-born Venus. Pearls also tie palm leaves to the acanthus-wreathed capitals of the tapered legs. Palms are typically used to represent a victory, and in this instance signify the Triumph of Love. The legs are further wreathed by bands of sunflower petals, another allusion to the sun-god Apollo, and raised on stepped and antique-fluted plinths. The frieze’s projecting corner tablets, which are sunk with lozenge and acanthus-flowered compartments, relate to the ceiling ornament of a temple at Palmyra (figure 3).
Sideboards with tapered legs, usually six or eight in number, are a signature element of Adamesque design, intended for a silver plate garniture and the presentation of food and wine.
The exceptionally large scale and opulent design of the present table, including the very unusual hue of bluish-green to the base, reflect its importance in providing a focal point for a banqueting or dining room. Here it served like a temple altar, with its paired legs providing a “triumphal-arch” space for a wine-bottle cistern. The feet are particularly noteworthy, being of spaded circular form and incised with fluting.
The table stood in Linton Park, a mansion built by Robert Mann in the 18th century on the hillside of the eponymous village in Kent. The estate was originally called Capells Court after its initial proprietors who sold it in the late 16th century to the Mayney family, wealthy broadcloth merchants. It was from the Mayney’s that Robert Mann acquired the estate and subsequently remodeled it (figure 4). The Mann family maintained Linton Park until 1935, and in 1938 the estate and its contents were purchased and restored to its original state by Ronald Olaf Hambro, merchant banker and Director of the London Assurance Company. After Hambro, the table eventually passed to a distinguished American private collection, where it can be seen in situ in figure 5.
The present table is a rare example of English lacquer furniture made in the reign of Queen Anne. Whilst bureaux and mirrors rendered in lacquer at this date are not uncommon, small elegant tables are few. The beautifully drawn cabriole leg supporting a cavetto frieze is particularly pleasing and is more normally associated with prototypes in figured walnut.
Trade between Europe and Asia in the 17th and 18th centuries resulted in a cultural exchange which sparked European enthusiasm for Far Eastern decorative arts, particularly painted furniture using lacquering technique. Lacquered furniture was first imported to Europe from China and Japan (hence the English term for the technique, “japanning”) and as contact with these countries increased, the “European rage for paint on furniture, through the ancient art of lacquer” was inspired. Japanned pieces were most often decorated with a black lacquer and decorated with raised and flat work often in the form of deities, pavilions, and fantastical creatures which were then gilded and detailed.
In England, “painted furniture gained popularity during the reign of William and Mary (1689-1792).” It reached its apogee in the early 18th century and demand was so high that the trade was unable to accommodate it. Books were published instructing the English in the art of japanning so that pieces could be made at home. In 1688 John Stalker and George Parker published their Treatise on Japanning and Varnishing, which provided detailed descriptions of lacquer recipes, processes, and designs. Tables, secretaries, chairs, and coffers were all made in this style, such as a tea table (circa 1710) similar to the present example in shape, which can be seen in figure 1. Furniture took contemporary British forms, but was decorated with distinctly Asian scenes of exotic animals and birds, flora, and landscapes. The English “worked hard to imitate the lustrous surface of Asian lacquerware, but the objects they created were distinctly European in character.”