The Linton Park Table
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.