In its overall form and inlaid decoration this commode conforms to exactly John Mayhew and William Ince's output of the early 1770s. The serpentine form, with doors opening at the side, allowingthe front to remain uninterrupted by divisions for drawers or doors, and therefore to be used for a virtuoso display of one of this firms great technical accomplishments - brilliantly executed marquetry. They adapted this unusual arrangement for use on both serpentine and rectangular commodes. An ealry example of the rectangular format is the pair supplied in 1767 to the 9th Earl of Exeter (1725-1793) for Burghley House, Lincolnshire, incorporating 17th Century floral marquetry. Both the Burghley commodes and the commode of the same form in the Lady Lever Art Gallery, supplied circa 1773 for Archibald Douglas (later 1st Baron Douglad (1748-1827) have the same gadrooned ormolu border as the Longleat commode (L. Wood, Catalogue of Commodes, London, 1994, pp. 195-202). The Douglas commode uses another of the firm's most favoured decorative devised - ribbon-tied swags of drapery or husks linking the sides to a central motif, a formula repeated throughout their work in the 1770s and 1780s. Another commode in the Lady Lever ARt Gallery (ibid., pp. 210-217) which is of the same serpentine profile as the Longleat commode and inspired by French Transitional examples features the patera motif heading the lyre, as on the Longleat commode. Paterae wheel medallions and ribbon-tied swags are also found on a pair of serpentine commodes almost certainly supplied by the firm to the 2nd Viscount Palmerston for Broadlands, Hampshire (H. Roberts, 'Furniture at Broadlands - II', Coutnry Life, 5 February 1981, p. 347, fig. 3). Similar tendril scrolls appear on the splendid rectangular commode firmly attributable but as yet undocumented, form teh Untermyer Collection (W. Rieder, The Untermyer Collection, New York, 1977, pp 175 - 176).
The commodes' elegantly bowed top celebrates lyric poetry and sacrifices at love's altar in antiquity. Poetic laurels festoon Love's sacred pearl-and-palm-wreathed urn, that is displayed on an 'Apollo' sunflowered tazza amongst antique rainceaux of Roman foliage. The commode's façcades are similarly embellished with laureled Roman tripod altars displayed at the side of a festive trophy that is intended to evoke festifities in antiquity. Beribboned laurels festoon the poetry deity's myrrtle-entwined lyre, which stands on bacchic ram-monopodia and is accompanied by veil-draped werers suspended beside a sunflowered libation-patera. The sarcophagus-scrolled commode is further embellished, in the French manner, with ormolu borders and cartouches of laureled Roman acanthus. The antique fashion for sacrifical ewers and paterae had been introduced to bedroom apartments in the 1750s by the architect James Stuart (d. 1788), and was later adopted by George III's 'architect' Robert Adam (d. 1792), who also introduced the Grecian lyre in chair patterns of the late 1760s (M. Tomlin, Catalogue of Adam Period Furniture, London, 1982, pp. 22 and 23). Vases and ram-headed tripods issuing from Roman acanthus also featured in the designs executed around 1770 by Thomas chippendale Junior (d. 1822), and in his pattern books Sketches of Ornament, issued in 1779 (see C. Gilbert, The Life and Work of Thomas Chippendale, London, 1978, vol. II, figs. 28-33).
Although no bills from or payments to Mayhew and Ince have yet come to light in the Longleat archive, there is a discernable group of furniture in the house which bears their hallmarks. As well as tehse two commodes (lots 344 and 345), it includes a pair of distinctive giltwood mirrors in the lower dining-room, a pier glass in the Chinese bedroom and a neat satinwood tripod table. The 3rd Viscount Weymouth, later 1st Marquess of Bath (1734-1796), was certainly commissioning leading cabinet-makers and silversmiths during the second half of the 18th Century, although his bank account at Drummonds only covers a very early phase, ending abruptly in 1766, and little remains in the Longleat archive to charge his life.
As an alternative to the 3rd Viscount Weymouth, it is possible that this commode once formed part of the celebrated collection of Alexander, 1st Lord Ashburton (1774-1848) at The Grange, Northington or his London residence, Bath House, Piccadilly. His daughter, Harriet married in 1830 Henry, 3rd Marquess of Bath (1797-1837), and following her husband's early death, moved to Muntham Court near Worthing, Sussex. On her death, her son Lord Henry Thynne (1832-1904) inherited Muntham and when he died the contents were sold by Christie's, 20-21 June 1899. Among the items in the Christie's sale was a floral marquetry commode now in the Lady Lever Art Gallery (Wood, op, cit ., pp. 135-137, no. 12). It is entirely possible therefore that the present commode was inherited by Harriet, and then left to her eldest son, John Alexander, 4th Marquess of Bath, himself a connoisseur and collector of furniture, especially as it is listed among his heirlooms in 1896, rather than his grandfather's, the 2nd Marquees'. The 1st Lord Ashburton ws a well-traveled collector of wide-ranging taste, whose furniture collection fell into two categories: fashionable 'Buhl' pieces (some of which were in the 1899 Christie's sale mentioned above) and English neo-classical marquetry furniture, of which he appears to have been one of the earliest actual collectors. Interestingly, one of his marquetry commodes, also by Mayehw and Ince, was inherited by Harriet's sister, Anne, the wife of Humphrey St. John-Mildmay, and sold anonymously in these Rooms, 29 March 1984, lot 196.