George IV Ebonized and Gilt-brass Mounted Center Table with Hardstone and Marble Inserts

August 31 2011, 1:12pm

This distinctive and highly unusual table houses a remarkable collection of semiprecious hardstones and marbles, and bears the mantle and coronet of either a Prince of Russia or a Prince of the Holy Roman Empire. Interestingly, each stone sample is inscribed on the reverse with its Latin name, indicating they constituted a geological collection. Tabletops inlaid with mineral collections brought back from the Grand Tour in Italy were highly desired in fashionable circles during this period. However, the majority use only marble specimens inlaid in concentric rings on a circular top for decorative effect, as can be seen on a table in the collection of the Victoria and Albert Museum. The inlaid armorial which centers the table, composed of a red or purple mantle, tasseled and draped and surmounted by a princely coronet, forms part of the arms of a number of royal European lines.  It also signifies either a Prince of Russia or a Prince of the Holy Roman Empire. It is interesting to note that a pair of armorials surmounted by a mantle and coronet similar to that on the present table can be seen on a music cabinet from Schwarzenau Castle in Austria, one of the two being centered by a monogram rather than a coat-of-arms. Despite the continental associations of the armorial on the present table, its detail reveals a markedly English character. The broadly cast mounts have a lively, somewhat sculptural appearance when compared to their French counterparts, which possess a decidedly precise and mechanical quality at this date. The brass-inlaid decoration on the table legs is also indicative of English manufacture. The stylized foliate design to the legs is typical of English “buhl-work,” which was more simplified and often more sparsely employed than its French equivalent. For example E.T. Joy, in his English Furniture 1800-1850 illustrates a commode and card table of the same period which use “buhl” decoration in a limited fashion to enliven friezes or drawers in much the same manner as the present cabinetmaker has restricted the technique to the legs of the table. The strong links between English royalty and the European royal and noble families give an indication as to why such an important piece, clearly intended for a European aristocratic household, was created in an English workshop. There were blood ties between the English monarchy and their Hanovarian cousins, themselves Princes of the Holy Roman Empire, and both George IV and William IV married Prussian noblewomen in the persons of Caroline, Duchess of Brunswick and Adelaide of Saxe-Meiningen. Frequent visits were made by members of these noble families to their relatives in England, and it is in such a context that it is likely the present table was commissioned.