THE ALABASTER TOPS
Shirburn Castle's golden table-tops of beautifully figured alabaster may have been acquired in Italy around 1720 by Viscount George Parker, later 2nd Earl of Macclesfield (d.1764) during his Grand Tour (see 'The Macclesfield Sculpture' sale, Christie's London, 1 December 2005 lots 50-81). Pairs of such slabs, then called 'tables', provided 'Roman' sideboard-tables for banqueting salons in Vitruvian Palladian-styled mansions. Other alabaster 'tables' imported in the early 18th century by the Child family of East India merchants and bankers, had elegant 'table frames' designed for them in the 1770s Roman Etruscan style of the Rome-trained architect Robert Adam (d. 1792) to serve as sideboard-tables at Osterley, Middlesex (M. Tomlin, Catalogue of Adam Period Furniture, London, 1982, K/2). In 1772 Adam also designed frames for alabaster slabs displayed in the Great Saloon at Saltram, Devon (E. Harris, The Genius of Robert Adam: His Interiors, New Haven and London, 2001, p. 252, fig. 375).
THE TABLE FRAMES
The golden frames for these 'tables', reflecting the William IV 'Louis Quatorze' Roman fashion, may have been designed to harmonise with the shell-decked chimney-piece and French 'picturesque' embellishments of Shirburn's new Grand Saloon, following its construction in 1830 by George Parker, 4th Earl of Macclesfield (1755-1842). Here Ceres' festoons of fruit and flowers issue from the shell-scalloped and bubble-embossed cartouches Roman foliage that clasps their serpentined frames, whose truss-scrolled legs terminate in wave-scrolled volutes. Probably executed in native oak from the Macclesfield's estates, their fashion reflects a robust version of the English 'Chippendale' style revived by the publisher John Weale's, Interior Decoration in the Old French and Antique Styles, 1834. The fourth Earl, although undertaking building work in the 1830s was dead by 1842 and Thomas, the fifth Earl's tenure ended soon after in 1850. Perhaps the most likely patron was his eldest son, Thomas, 6th Earl who in 1842 married Mary Frances Grosvenor, daughter of 2nd Marquess of Westminster, and lived at Shirburn until his death in 1896.