The tables are thought to have been commissioned by George Treby II. M.P. (d. 1742), who served as Lord of the Treasury to George II and built Plympton House, Devon in the 1720s. In 1724 he married Charity, daughter of Roger Hele of Devon, and the couple's silver dressing-table toilet service was supplied in that year by Paul de Lamerie (d. 1752). Part of the service, which is richly engraved with the Treby arms with Hele in pretence, is now in the Ashmolean Museum (J. Stone, 'La Plate del Museo Ashmolean de Oxford', Goya, no. 80, September 1967, pp. 89-92). The tables then passed by descent to Anne Mackworth-Praed of Delamore, Devon, the wife of Rear Admiral George Parker (d. 1904), and one of them was photographed in situ in the Big Drawing-Room at Delamore in 1888.
THE PIER TABLES
The pier-table frames, designed in the George I 'Roman' manner, are gessoed in bas relief and have their voluted truss legs and moulded friezes wrapped by Roman acanthus. Their pattern relates to that of a gesso-topped pier-table that was listed in a bedroom apartment at Erddig, Denbighshire, North Wales in 1726 (J. Cragg, 'The re-arrangement of room furnishing at Erddig', Apollo, April 2002, p.40, fig. 7). The latter is likely to have featured among the furniture supplied for the house in the early 1720's by the St. Paul's Chuchyard cabinet-maker, John Belchier (d.1753)
(G. Beard, The Dictionary of English Furniture Makers 1660-1840, Leeds, 1986, p.59).
THE ITALIAN SCAGLIOLA TOPS
The 'Roman mosaiced slabs' celebrate the triumph of Chistianity and display trompe l'oeil engravings and paintings framed in colourful scagliola borders and inlaid in black marble grounds. They were executed in imitation of Florentine hard-stone or 'pietre-dure' inlay by Petrus Antonius de Paulinus (Pietro Antonio di Paulino), whose signature appears in the central medallion of one table. The medallion celebrates ancient virtue with its Venetian engraving after the Venetian artist Titian's David and Goliath, that was executed in the 1540's for Santa Maria della Salute, Venice, while the other medallion also appears to illustrate a Titian, with a landscape vignette with hillside buildings (H.E. Wethey, The Paintings of Titian, pt. 1, nos. 84 and 5). A fly appears on one of the flanking chivalric medallions of a battle scene that evokes the engravings of Antonio Tempesta's illustrations of the 1620s for Torquato Tasso's, Gerusalemme liberata, while its companion illustrates a more contemporary scene of cavalry in the manner of Jan Wyck (d.1700). The second table's medallions depict Mediterranean coastal vignettes with trading ships and include ruins of Pagan temples in the manner of 17th Century Florentine pietre dure plaques. The medallions are set in antique-scrolled cartouche frames, which provide perches for birds while insects inhabit the arabesque scrolls of Roman acanthus that issue fruit and flowers emblematical of Peace and Plenty. Lozenged tablets frame these cartouches, while similar scagliola medallions embellish the top and bottom of the central medallion.
PETRUS ANTONIUS DE PAULINUS
The manufacturer and painter of scagliola, Petrus Antonius de Paulinus also signed another 'David' table-top engraving bearing the date 1737. The same engraving also appears on a serpentined commode top (sold from the Prince Littler collection, Chestham Park, Sussex, Christie's house sale, 18 April 1977, lot 182) and on a rectangular top also signed by de Paulinus and dated 1737 (sold Phillips, 23 April 1996, lot 206). The most celebrated example of de Paulinus' work, is a signed table bearing the date 1732 alongside a dedication to the Grand Duke of Tuscany. This was formerly displayed in the Galleria degli Uffizi (Dr. A.M. Massinelli, Il Mobile Toscano, Milan, 1993, fig. 141).
The coastal scene with ruins also appears on the Lichfield table-top (Victoria and Albert Museum), which is likely to have been ordered from de Paulinus in 1725 and bears the arms of George Henry Lee, 2nd Earl of Lichfield (d. 1742). One of its accompanying coastal vignettes is said to include the ship of his naval officer brother the Hon. Fitzroy Henry Lee (d. 1750) who visited the Tuscan seaport of Leghorn (Livorno) the following year and reported that the table would be the 'finest of the sort in Europe'. Livorno was then under Florentine rule, and there is a possibility that the workshops of de Paulinus were in Florence. Fitzroy Lee may have been shown a proposed design for the table, while de Paulinus was still awaiting details of his brother's armorials. (D. Fitzgerald, The Knight of Glin, Georgian Furniture, London, 1969, no. 21).