This elegant table combines the two main features for which the Roentgen workshop was becoming increasingly famous in the 1760's: it has an intricate and sophisticated mechanism, allowing it to be used in no less than four different guises, apart from the immediately apparent one as a side-table; and it is decorated with superb and highly original marquetry. It was produced at one of the most significant periods in the history of the workshop, when David Roentgen (1743-1807) was collaborating with his father Abraham (1711-1793), slowly preparing to take over the enterprise which he did in 1772.
This particular type of mechanism had already been elaborated by Abraham in the 1740's and 1750's. It is strongly influenced by English prototypes of which Abraham Roentgen had learnt the secrets when working as a journeyman in London from about 1733 to 1738.
The distinctive marquetry, on the other hand, is entirely typical of the period 1765-1769 and may well have been elaborated by David Roentgen. The bold patterns stand out through a rare and extremely successful integration of ornament - rocaille- and naturalistic elements such as flowers, fruit, birds and insects. It is not known who the designer of these patterns was - could it have been David Roentgen himself? From the 1770's the well-known painter, Januarius Zick (1732-1797), designed figurative marquetry for David Roentgen, but the inventor of these earlier patterns must have been an ornamental draughtsman. He was strongly influenced by contemporary German engravings by artists such as Johann Esaias Nilsson and Franz Xaver Habermann.
The marquetry patterns are elaborately engraved and stained in various colours. This engraving is typical of Roentgen's marquetry of the mid-1760's. Soon after he was to introduce his famous à la mosaïque method, whereby the entire picture was composed, like a jigsaw puzzle, of tiny pieces of wood and no engraving was needed.
The companion piece
A very closely related games' and writing table was sold anonymously, Sotheby's London, 13th December 1991, Lot 149 (see comparative literature). Of the same configuration, this has marquetry which in most of its principal features is identical to that of the offered piece. However, there are some important differences. In particular, on the table sold in 1991 a large exotic bird is seated on a branch issuing from the structure to the left of the composition on the top; this is absent from the present piece, where in its place an owl is flying in mid-air. This is an illustration of Roentgen's way of slightly varying particular models and patterns. He used the same motifs on other pieces as well: thus the owl also occurs on a drop-front secretaire from this same period, and the exotic bird figures on another similar one. Both these secretaires originally belonged to the Prince Bishop of Würzburg and Bamberg, Adam Friedrich von Seinsheim (1708-1779), and are now at the Residenz at Würzburg (Fabian, 1996, Nos. 340 and 342).
The 1769 lottery
The activity of David Roentgen who came increasingly to the fore in his father's workshop in the 1760's led to a greatly increased production. As the Moravian brotherhood, to which both father and son Roentgen belonged, objected to the free expansion of trade, the sale of this abundant stock was not without problems and the firm found itself in an extremely difficult financial situation. David therefore devised the plan to hold a lottery of 100 pieces of furniture. Notwithstanding acute protests from the Moravians, this was held in Hamburg in 1769 and its printed announcement listing all the prizes, issued in 1768, survives. Item nine, and also the ninth most highly valued piece, was Ein sehr schöner mit Blumen, Vögels, Früchten und Insecten eingelegter Spiel-Tisch, welcher kann dreymal aufgeschlagen werden, und erstlich ein Hombre-Tisch, zweytens einen Damen-Spiel, drittens einen sehr bequemen Schreib-Tisch mit einem Pult vorstellt; sodann springet aus demselben viertens vonselbst heraus, ein wohlgearbeiteter Kasten zum Dockendilien-Spiel, valued at 50 Ducats (H. Huth, Roentgen Furniture, Abraham and David Roentgen, European Cabinet-makers, London and New York, 1974, fig. 3b). This description exactly fits both the offered table and the example sold in 1991, and when the latter came up at auction it was identified with the lottery prize. With the discovery of this second table, this cannot be automatically assumed anymore. It is quite likely that either of the two tables was indeed the one offered as a prize at the 1769 lottery, but apparently at least another one was also made at the Roentgen workshop. This was probably done prior rather than subsequent to the lottery, as after 1769 Roentgen firmly turned to the development of his marquetry à la mosaïque.
Godollo, in the county of PestPilis-Solt-Kiskin, north-east of Budapest, was the summer residence of the Hungarian Royal family, and the Royal Castle was built in the second half of the 18th Century by Prince Anton Grassalkovich. With its beautiful domains, it was presented by the Hungarian nation to Emperor Francis Joseph I of Austria on his coronation as King of Hungary in 1867.
We are grateful to Dr. Reinier Baarsen for his help in preparing this catalogue entry.