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AN ITALIAN SPECIMEN MARBLE AND PIETRA DURA TABLE TOP ON A GEORGE II IRISH GILTWOOD STAND
AN ITALIAN SPECIMEN MARBLE AND PIETRA DURA TABLE TOP ON A GEORGE II IRISH GILTWOOD STAND
AN ITALIAN SPECIMEN MARBLE TOP ON A GEORGE II IRISH GILTWOOD STAND
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THE CASTLE FORBES TABLE THE PROPERTY OF A LADY OF TITLE
AN ITALIAN SPECIMEN MARBLE AND PIETRA DURA TABLE TOP ON A GEORGE II IRISH GILTWOOD STAND

THE TOP ROME, LATE 16TH/EARLY 17TH CENTURY, THE STAND, CIRCA 1755, DESIGNED FOR THE TOP, EXECUTION ATTRIBUTED TO THOMAS JOHNSON, AFTER A DESIGN BY MATTHIAS DARLY OF 1754.

Details
AN ITALIAN SPECIMEN MARBLE AND PIETRA DURA TABLE TOP ON A GEORGE II IRISH GILTWOOD STAND

THE TOP ROME, LATE 16TH/EARLY 17TH CENTURY,
THE STAND, CIRCA 1755, DESIGNED FOR THE TOP, EXECUTION ATTRIBUTED TO THOMAS JOHNSON, AFTER A DESIGN BY MATTHIAS DARLY OF 1754.
The rectangular white marble top inlaid with a variety of marbles and hardstones including alabastro a tartaruga, alabastro rosso, bianco e nero giallo antico, rosso antico, brocatello di Spagna, lumachella, and various agates against a nero antico ground, the central oval medallion set within in a field of scrolling rinceaux and beads within a scrolling border, the outer geometric border decorated with conforming strapwork cartouches, peltae and panels, engraved to the underside (...)'RIA VICTORIA OVAE VIXIT ANNIS XLVI MEN(S)/ ESXXVI DECESSIT NON SEPT INPACE BEN(A)/ (V)RSACIVS FECIT X and further engraved (H)IS QVINQV DIES DECE DE(P)OSITA IIII (...) CONS BOETIO VC CONSVL(E),' within a later white and portasanta marble outer surround, probably addedin Rome circa 1755, on a giltwood stand carved with an egg-and-dart edge above a flowerhead-filled trellis frieze, with naturalistic oak branch supports issuing acorn and foliate swags, on root-entwined rockwork feet, the frame inscribed 'Phyllis McGoldrick', originally with grey and parcel-gilt decoration
35 in. (89 cm.) high; 57 ½ in. (146 cm.) wide; 36 ½ in. (92 cm.) deep
Provenance
Probably acquired by Admiral John Forbes (d. 1796) when in Rome in 1755, for Castle Forbes near Newtownforbes, County Longford, Ireland, and thence by descent.
Literature
C. Gilbert, 'The early furniture designs of Matthias Darly’, Furniture History Society, vol. XI, 1975, plate 94.

COMPARATIVE LITERATURE

Admiral, the Hon. John Forbes, Memoirs of the Earls of Granard, London, 1868.
M. Girouard, 'Curraghmore, Co. Waterford - III', Country Life, 21 February 1963.
M. Heckscher, 'Eighteenth-century rustic furniture designs’, Furniture History Society, vol. XI, 1975, pp. 59-65.
The Knight of Glin, Ireland, 'Fine Furniture before 1800', Macmillan Dictionary of Art, 1996, vol. 16.
J. Simon, 'Thomas Johnson’s “The Life of the Author”, Furniture History Society, vol. XXXIX, 2003, pp. 1-64.

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Lot Essay

THE CASTLE FORBES TABLE TOP
BY ALVAR GONZÀLEZ-PALACIOS

This rectangular table top is centred by an oval of alabastro rosso (‘red alabaster’) from Djebel Oust (Tunisia) which is set within a band of rosso antico containing a sequence of rectangles and circles. Around this central feature four large scrolls of brocatello di Spagna extend from the corners to the centre of each long side and are joined by a crenellated ornamental motif of lumachella, while on the short sides they are joined with a waisted shape of rosso antico and bianco e nero antico. The black ground is of nero antico Set into this, between the central oval and the scrolls, is an intricately interwoven polychrome design of vegetal ornament of lumachella and various types of alabaster as well as semesanto and giallo antico. Between the scrolls and the outer border are four five-petalled roses and two stylised flowers or palmettes, issuing dots of giallo antico (like stamens) which can also be seen in the pattern enclosed by the scrolls.
The wide outer border is of brocatello inlaid with a pattern of ovals of alabastro a tartaruga (‘tortoiseshell alabaster’) alternating with articulated rectangular frames containing stylised lilies.
The white marble outer edge and narrow strip of red portasanta were added at a later date to the original table top


THE INLAID TABLE TOP
There are a number of points of comparison between the Forbes table top and the Farnese Table, which is the most famous of inlaid tables made in Rome in the sixteenth century. It is now in the Metropolitan Museum, New York but originally came from the Palazzo Farnese and belonged to Cardinal Alessandro Farnese, grandson of Pope Paul III. Some of the ornamental elements of the Farnese masterpiece are very similar to the dominant motif of the table shown here including the four scrolls centred on an oval found on the long sides and the many five petalled roses featured in the dividing bands of the Tavolo Farnese. A similar idea is also found in a drawing in the Uffizi, the attribution of which varies between the architect Giovanni Antonio Dosio (who was Tuscan but often in Rome) and the knowledgeable Florentine collector Niccolò Gaddi (1). The artistic concept behind both tables owes much to work being carried out in Rome at that time. It is well known that relations between Rome and Florence were extremely complex in this period with Tuscan artists constantly coming and going, drawn by the antiquities and techniques which were part of the traditions of the Eternal City and had never been completely lost.

However what is more significant is how these ornamental elements turn up in a table top (or what remains of a table top because all that survives is the marble framework showing the outlines of the ornament but no inlays) which is in the Casa de Pilatos in Seville belonging to the Dukes of Medinaceli. It probably came into their possession through the Duke of Alcalá, Viceroy of Naples who had died in 1571. Although it is reduced to a shadow of its former glory this bizarre object demonstrates how marble table tops were made in Rome. The design was cut out of the stone ground leaving shallow depressions into which thin slices of coloured marbles were laid. Hard or siliceous stones were seldom used in Rome, not just because of their rarity and high cost but also because they were difficult to work. Coloured marbles were used instead, many of which came from excavations. The technique differs from that used in Florence where the pieces of stone were put together in such a way that the joining edges of the mosaic were hardly visible. The Roman method presented great technical challenges and the success or otherwise of the result remains a good indication of the quality and date of a particular piece. It is on the basis of this reasoning that Bertrand Jestaz attributes the Tavolo Farnese to the most famous craftsman of the late sixteenth century in Rome, the Frenchman Jean Ménard (2). The name of a Giovanni Franzese (probably Ménard, known also as il Franciosino) is also found in the accounts of Cardinal Alessandro in 1569 (3).

It is, however, my opinion that the floral pattern that winds its way through the black ground of the Forbes table, as it does on other well known examples such as that from the château de Richelieu, now in the Louvre, or that in the Lisbon Museum (4), dates to a slightly later period than the Farnese table, around the end of the sixteenth century or the beginning of the next. The same type of floral ornament is not found on earlier tables including those which are still in the Palazzo Farnese today. Nor is it found on tables which are definitely older such as that in the Sala di Venere or the one in the Museo degli Argenti that belonged to Cardinal Ferdinando de’ Medici (both of which are Roman and were surely made before Cardinal de’ Medici became Grand Duke of Tuscany in 1587, and returned to live in Florence) (5).

Such observations allow us, I believe, to consider the Forbes table as the work of one of the best craftsmen in Rome who would probably have used the design of an architect or an artist familiar with what was technically possible at this date, between 1570-1600.

THE INSCRIPTIONS ON THE UNDERSIDE OF THE MARBLE TOP
The block of white marble (141 x 87.5 cm.) into which the coloured marble pieces are set bears two inscriptions on the reverse which have been carved by two craftsmen at two different times. The first inscription is much the clearer:
...RIA . VICTORIA QVAEVIXIT ANNIS XLVI MEN(S)
… E SXXVI DECESSITNONSEPT INPACE BENE(A?)
(N o V?)RSACIVS FECIT
The second inscription which runs in the other direction and along the other edge of the slab has been carved by a more primitive hand and reads:
(H)IS QVINQV(..) DIES DECE DEP(O)SITA IIII…
CONS BOETIOVC CONSUL(E)

It is very difficult to guess the meaning of these words. Their fragmentary appearance makes comprehension harder still. It certainly involves the memorial of a deceased woman of whom we are able to understand only her name, Vittoria, and that she lived 46 years. The author of the inscription could be (but this is only supposition) someone called Benedetto whose surname ends RSACIVS (or perhaps RSACE in Italian).

The second inscription includes the letters CONS (Gonzalo, Consalvo, or Costanzo) BOETIO, (Boezio in Italian). The last letters probably stand for his rank, VC CONSUL(E), vice consul – could it perhaps be the vice consul of the marble workers? But from which city? Rome? And what is the date? It is impossible to decipher because the original slab of marble has been cut down as a result of which some of the letters are missing. At a later date, probably in the eighteenth century, cramps have been used on the back to fix an outer frame of white stone to the original piece of marble. The corrosion of these cramps has rendered the lettering even more difficult to read.

The base if this pier table, which is of carved and gilded wood, was probably made specifically for he inlaid top; it is work of rococò taste and certainly Irish and datable to the 1750s.

QUESTIONS OF PROVENANCE
It is probable that it could have been acquired by the Hon. John Forbes (171401796), second son of George Forbes, 3rd Earl of Granard, who visited Italy in 1755. Forbes was in Rome in March of that year and knew Cardinal Alessandro Albani, the greatest collector (and occasionally dealer) f antiquities and works in marble of the time. Forbes is recorded asking Cardinal Alessando Albani to acquire for him some fragment connected with marine symbols. The Cardinal gave him an antique fragment with the attributes Neptune.(6)

Notes

1. C. Acidini Luchinat, “Niccolò Gaddi collezionista e dilettante nel Cinquecento”, in Paragone, XXXI, nos. 359-361, p. 161 ff.; A. Morrogh, Disegni di architetti fiorentini 1540-1640, Florence, 1985, p.116.

2. A. González-Palacios, Mosaici e pietre dure, II, Milan, 1981; idem, “Itinerario da Roma a Firenze” in Splendori di pietre dure, exhibition catalogue, Palazzo Pitti, Florence, 1988; F. Tuena, “Appunti per la storia del commesso romano: il Franciosino”, in Antologia di Belle Arti, nos. 33-34, 1988, pp. 58,69: J.N. Ronfort, “Jean Ménard (c. 1525-1582). Marqueteur et sculpteur en marbre et sa famille”, in Antologia di Belle Arti, nos. 39-42, 1991-92, pp. 139-147; B. Jestaz “Jean Ménard et les tables de marbres romaines d’après un document nouveau”, in Mélanges de l’École française de Rome, 2012, nos.124-1, pp. 1-23.

3. The document covering the accounts of Cardinal Alessandro Farnese is mentioned by Jestaz cit. at note 2; A. González-Palacios, Las Colecciones Reales Españolas de Mosaicos y Piedras Duras, Madrid, Museo del Prado, 2001, p. 49, dated the table on the basis of stylistic considerations to about 1570 while O. Raggio, “The Farnese Table: A Rediscovered Work by Vignola”, in The Metropolitan Museum of Art Bulletin, March 1960, pp. 213-231, who first wrote brilliantly about the Farnese table, considered it to be slightly earlier, around 1565.

4. A. González-Palacios, Las Colecciones, cit. at note 3 illustrates the Lisbon table and the Richelieu table pp. 52,53; on pp. 25 and 26 are two tables which belonged to the Duke of Lerma which for the same reasons are dated to between the sixteenth and seventeenth centuries.

5. B. Jestaz, “Les tables de marbre au Palais Farnèse”, in Mélanges de l’École française de Rome, 2010, n. 122-2, p. 297, 310 ; A. González-Palacios, Las Colecciones, cit. at note 3 reproduces other earlier tables that do not feature decoration with flowers, pp. 56, 57, 59, 62, 63. The table tops with interweaving floral ornament on a dark ground are on pp. 65, 67, 69, and 73. There are two further table tops related to the one offered here, neither of which I have seen in person. One was offered at Christie’s, New York, 19 October 2007, lot 250, the other sold at Christie’s, New York, 21 October 2005, lot 484.

6. J. Ingamells, A Dictionary of British and Irish Travellers in Italy. 1701-1800, London, 1997, p. 368.

Translated from the Italian by Emma-Louise Bassett


THE IRISH GILTWOOD STAND

MATTHIAS DARLY

The stand in the French picturesque manner derives from designs for 'rustic furniture’, in particular a virtually identical table with tree roots and bark-covered branches below a blind fret frieze published in 1754 in Edwards and Darly’s A New Book of Chinese Designs (illustrated). It corresponds to the fashion for Chinoiserie 'root’ furniture, considered appropriate in the 1750s for both garden and tea houses, and drawing-rooms. Matthias Darly (fl. 1741-73), engraver, designer, caricaturist and publisher, who amusingly styled himself 'Professor of Ornament to the Academy of Great Britain’, with premises at the sign of the 'Acorn’ on the Strand, London, is renowned for engraving a significant number of plates in 1753 for the first edition of Chippendale’s Director (1754), and also contributed to Mayhew & Ince’s Universal System (published between 1759 and 1762); the latter includes a rustic candle stand described as having 'gained great Applause in the execution’ (plate LXIX). In 1754, Darly, together with his book illustrator associate, George Edwards (d. 1773), published A New Book of Chinese Designs, one of the most influential source books of the period; the book remained popular, and was reissued in 1766.

THOMAS JOHNSON

The stand was almost certainly crafted by Thomas Johnson (d. 1778), described by Helena Hayward as one of the most influential English designers of the 18th century, and a renowned carver and gilder (Simon, op. cit., p. 1). Johnson also embraced the 'rustic’ style in his Twelve Gerandoles (1755) and Collection of Designs (1758) including a base for a table in the form of a tree (plate 40). He customarily referred to works by earlier designers such as Jean Bérain and Daniel Marot, and Francis Barlow’s Aesop’s Fables (1687) was undoubtedly influential for his rustic themes. Johnson’s Life of the Author (1793) reveals that in the mid-1740s as an apprentice in the workshop of James Whittle he worked with Matthias Lock (d. 1765) who also incorporated rustic elements in his pattern book, A New Book of Ornaments (1752), and lent his drawings to Johnson to copy. With Lock as his mentor, Johnson almost certainly knew Edwards and Darly’s A New Book of Chinese Designs.
Between 1753 and 1755 Johnson was working in Dublin where he produced decorative carving for interiors in addition to mirror and table frames. Although he was employed by a 'Mr. Partridge’, possibly William Partridge, a 'principal carver’ supplying frames to looking-glass shops, he brought three of his own apprentices and four journeymen from London suggesting he was intending to undertake independent work. Johnson describes a Gothic chimneypiece he supplied to leading Dublin society figure, Lady Arabella Denny, which attracted the attention of her nephew, Lord Shelburne, who subsequently invited him to work for him either in Dublin or at his country seat, probably Bowood, Wiltshire. On an earlier visit to Dublin in 1746-48 Johnson had worked for a 'Mr. Houghton’, this was possibly John Houghton (d. 1761) of Duke Street, the leading Irish carver, described by Johnson in his biography as 'the best wood-carver, for basso-relievo figures, I ever saw before or since. I made great improvements from him, and his apprentices from me’. Johnson stated that he had received 'many advantageous offers’ although unfortunately he does not describe his work or commissions, and as no furniture bills in Johnson’s name have been identified, it is likely much of his finest work sold under another’s name (Simon, op. cit., p. 6).
The present stand is related to a pair of Irish pier tables, attributed to Johnson, sold Christie’s, King Street, 3 July 1997, lot 90. These tables are likely to have been commissioned by Marcus Beresford, 1st Earl of Tyrone (d. 1763), circa 1750, for the 'New Apartment' at Curraghmore, County Waterford. These rustic tables formed part of the embellishments introduced to their medieval-towered home, while the Earl and his Countess Catherine were also introducing a shell-encrusted grotto and other whimsical pavilions to their ancient demesne, with its river, cascades, fountains and 'natural wilderness of tall venerable oak' spread beneath the Comeragh Mountains (Girouard, op. cit., p. 371, fig. 8). The Tyrones, who had a house in Dublin, also patronised the specialist carver Houghton for whom Johnson worked in 1746-48, so there is a possibility that through Houghton, the Tyrones became acquainted with Johnson's artistry (Knight of Glin, op. cit., chapter VI, p. 26).

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