Changing Our “Initital” Idea

February 17 2011, 4:37pm

We’d like to share some exciting news regarding a pair of 18th century demilune card tables in our collection!

The tables once formed part of the David Roche collection in Australia. Mr. Roche had purchased them at the Grosvenor House Antiques Fair in 1992, where they were sold as being of English origin. However, we now suspect a Russian origin for various reasons. Under the patronage of Catherine the Great, the Scottish architect Charles Cameron was responsible for introducing furniture designs for his interiors in Russia which were often variants on the English models developed by his contemporary Robert Adam. Although the tables are, in form, typical of English gate leg action card or tea tables, they are decidedly Russian in their use of contrasting ebony and brass-inlaid decoration on a piece predominantly made of mahogany. One cabinetmaker whose keynote was this type of inlaid work is Heinrich Gambs, who was born in Germany, but emigrated to Russia, where he was flourishing by the late 1790s. Decoration with geometric brass ornament on a black background is a characteristic motif in Gambs’ mahogany furniture. The use of small gilt-brass “dots” as a decorative element on furniture, used here to create a variety of shapes, such as gothic arches and abstracted flowerheads, is highly unusual, and was found only on one other center table by Gambs, in Schloss Peterhof. Additionally, the table tops feature gilt-brass inlay of foliate decoration and an elaborate inlaid monogram of the initials “WD,” also framed by a circle of these distinctive dots, signaling the commission of an important patron.

That patron, we now believe, was a member of the eminent Woronzoff-Dashkoff family of Russia (sometimes spelled Vorontsov). The family played significant roles in Russian history from the 15th to the 17th century as military commanders, couriers, officers in the Tsar’s household and boyars. In the 18th century, under Empress Elizabeth, they reached the height of their power, serving various political positions. The Dashkoff surname was added at the beginning of the 19th century. The family owned many estates and houses, most notably a palace in Alupka, Ukraine. The Alupka Palace was built in several architectural styles, and includes Moorish, medieval Tudor and Gothic elements.

Exterior of the Vorontsov Palace, Alupka.

Interior of the Vorontsov Palace, Alupka.