Unusual Side Table

December 6 2010, 2:13pm

Probably Sicilian. Circa 1790.

This intriguing table was made in Italy during the last quarter of the eighteenth century at a time when excavations, such as those at Herculaneum, Capua and Trebbia, provided new sources for furniture designers working in the neoclassical idiom.  The revival of neoclassicism had strong nationalist overtones in the still independent regions of Italy, yet while this table was probably conceived as a recreation of a glorious Italian past, contemporary collectors, such as William Hamilton, were already questioning the Roman and Etruscan origins of many of the artefacts found.  In 1765 Hamilton wrote, ‘I have collected a great number of Etruscan vases [and in] my opinion few are really Etruscan, but made by Greek artists.’ While contemporary Italians were unwilling to accept the Greek origins of their antiquities, it is clear that the present table is derived from a uniquely Greek prototype. Figure 1 shows an example of a Greek stool thought to date from the first half of the fifth century BC in which the legs consist of a rounded upper section above a tapering shaft terminating in a very fine point.  The designer of the table is likely to have found this distinctive form on a stool as, ‘tables with the Greeks had much fewer uses than they have with us.’ It was more usual for cabinet-makers to look to classical architecture rather than furniture for inspiration.  Not only is it extraordinary to find a table derived from an Ancient Greek form, it is also rare for a piece to capture so accurately the atmosphere and spirit of antiquity. Measurements: Height: 36 1/2" (93cm); Width: 47" (119cm); Depth: 23" (58cm).