This is an exceptional example of marble table tops or 'slabs' that were acquired by English patrons on their Grand Tour in Italy and subsequently mounted on English bases. The fashion for specimen marble inlays is referred to by Peter and Michaelangelo Nicholson in the Practical Cabinet-Maker of 1827 where they state 'the tops of tables are often beautifully ornamented with mosaic work'. The technique, pietra dura, where marbles and stones are inset into a marble ground in pictorial or geometric patterns was introduced by Duke Francesco de Medici in Florence in 1580.
The remarkable top incorporating a black marble and rich polychromed mosaic of pietra dura inlay to create a trompe l'oeil rotunda-dome with octagons and lunettes was executed in Rome by Alfonso Cavamelli in 1846. It was purchased in February the following year by Charles Tilt of Bathwick Priory, Bath. A contemporary leaflet printed in English which originally accompanied the table (its whereabouts now unknown), identified each of the two hundred and fifty stones and now provides a fascinating insight to the table's maker and design:
Description of Marble Circular Table, bought at Rome, in 1847, and now placed in the Library at Bathwick Priory, Aug. 1850.
This table was manufactured in Rome, in the year 1846, by Signore Alfonso Cavamelli, who has, for many years, enthusiastically devoted himself to collecting specimens of rare and curious marbles, and semi-precious stones. The design is taken, with some minor alterations, from a splendid mosaic pavement, discovered among the Ruins of the Palace of the Caesars, Rome.
The table is composed of two hundred and fifty different stones, many of them of great rarity and value. They were collected from many parts of the World. Among them are many specimens of 'Ancient' Marble. By the word 'Ancient' must be understood those that have been found among the Remains of Palaces, Temples, Baths, etc. in and near Rome, and other parts of the Roman Empire. A large proportion of the Ancient Marbles, came originally from Quarries, now exhausted, or no longer known. These are much valued and eagerly sought for by Collectors. The table is four feet inches in diameter..., it has a slab of white marble for its base, and the design is mounted in...[here follow the descriptions of seven marbles and hardstones, and the site or quarry where they were found or mined.]
The centre is composed of various semi-precious stones (Pietra Dure). It is formed by the artist in imitation of Quartz Brescia or Puddingstone. Among them are specimens of Rare Jaspers, Agates, Sardoix, Lapis Lazuli, Malachite, Topazes, Avenurina, etc., etc.
The names and descriptions of the stones are taken from the most accredited authors, and especially from the able work of the learned advocate, Fausterio Corsi, a Roman, whose book is highly valued for the exactness with which he has indicated the colour and peculiar marks of each marble and where practicable, the quarry from where it came.
The artist Signore Cavamelli, who composed this table, flatters himself when the beauty of the general design, harmonious arrangement of the whole, skillful blending of the colours, and the exraordinary beauty and variety of the various marble, here brought together are clearly appreciated, this table will greatly interest all who possess refined taste, and know how to value precious objects (A. Coleridge, op. cit., p. 449).
The frame, of tripod-altar form and comprised of Venus's dolphins, is likely to have been executed at Bath, possibly by Messr. Charles Wadman (d. circa 1900) of James Street who exhibited a similar dolphin-supported table in the Great Exhibition of 1851. Another Bath cabinetmaker and upholsterer, Henry Palmer, exhibited an acanthus-scrolled table with figurative supports in the 1851 exhibition, and may be responsible for this base. The overall form relates to one in the Marine Pavilion, Brighton, illustrated in C. Musgrave, Regency Furniture, 1961, fig. 29, and another from Moccas Court, Herefordshire, sold in these Rooms, 14-15 October 1994, lot 416 (illustrated in J. Fowler and J. Cornforth, English Decoration in the 18th Century, 2nd. edn., 1978, p. 143, fig. 123).
Bathwick Priory was probably built between 1829 and 1832 by a Thomas Kingsbury. Charles Tilt appears to have come into possession in 1850 and is listed in the directories in 1852 and 1854.