This spectacular boulle marquetry table jeux, with games-board concealed beneath its hinged top, is boulle-veneered and ormolu-enriched in the early nineteenth Century antiquarian/Louis XIV manner, and displays the coat-of-arms of Sir Charles Stuart (1779-1845), Count of Machico and Marquis of Angra. It celebrates his marriage in 1818 to Elizabeth Margaret Yorke (1789-1867), youngest daughter of Philip, Earl of Hardwicke and is embellished with their cypher 'CES'.
In 1815, three years after becoming a Knight of the Order of the Bath, Sir Charles was appointed George, Prince Regent's Ambassador Extaordinary' to the French court. Following his appointment he occupied the Htel Charost, Paris, the htel given by Napoleon to his sister Pauline Borghese and still with its Empire furnishings intact, where he served two terms as ambassador from 1816-24 and 1828-31.
Many of Lord Stuart's circle of English friends in Paris were passionate collectors of French eighteenth century works of art, and included such celebrated figures as Lord Yarmouth, later the 3rd Marquess of Hertford (1777-1842), with whom he frequently attended sales and Lord Lowther, later Earl of Lonsdale (1787-1872), who like Lord Stuart, built a richly furnished town house on Carlton House Terrace. The greatest collector of all, the Prince Regent, charged him in 1822 with bringing 'several small articles from Paris'. It was therefore natural that Lord Stuart, like so many of his contemporaries, should turn to furniture of the ancien rgime and to antiquarian revival pieces like the remarkable table offered here. This table is likely to have formed part of the furnishings brought from Paris to furnish Lord Stuart's country seat Highcliffe Castle, Hampshire, which he was famously rebuilding in a romantic mediaeval style on the site of the house of his grandfather, John, 3rd Earl of Brute, King George III's Prime Minister, incorporating fragments including a stained glass window shipped stone by stone circa 1822-4 in specially constructed barges from the demolished Normandy house of the Bourbons, the Manoir des Andelys.
The boulle games table appears in a photograph of the Drawing Room at Highcliffe, which reveals the richly eclectic nature of the interiors, with Rgence boiseries combined with an array of Louis XV and Empire furniture. Lord Stuart's taste for boulle furniture is further revealed by a table from Highcliffe, now in the Victoria and Albert Museum, London incorporating a Louis XIV marquetry top, probably created by one of the London dealers specializing in such objects, possibly James Nixon, 'importer of foreign marbles and ancient furniture' who supplied chimney-pieces to Lord Stuart for Carlton House Terrace.
Lord Stuart did not live long to enjoy the splendours of Highcliffe, and died without male heirs in 1845. Highcliffe eventually passed to Elizabeth (Bettine) Stuart Wortley, who married the 8th Earl of Abingdon, and it was later sold to a Catholic missionary order, its contents being sold by Christie's, 5-7 July 1949. The remainder of the collection, including Empire furniture and jewellery, was eventually bequeathed to the Victoria and Albert Museum, London, in the 1980's (see S. Medlam, The Bettine, Lady Abingdon Collection, London, 1996
THE SOURCE FOR THE DESIGN
The ebony table top is filigreed with silver and golden 'boulle' inlay, in the manner of a Louis XIV dressing-table. Medallions, which display Charles and Elizabeth Stuart's 'CES' cypher, are tied at the spandrels by 'arabesque' ribbon scrolls and Roman acanthus in the antique fashion popularised by P.A. DuCerceau's 'Livre d'Ornements de feuillage' c.1650. An armorial medallion accompanied by figurative vignettes of Arcadian deities, symbolising the Elements, which are ribbon-tied in mosaic compartments in a tablet frame with hollowed centres and corners. The deities, revealed on veil-festooned pedestals framed by fruit-tazze or cassolettes, comprise corn-bearing Ceres with a lion symbolising 'Earth', trident-bearing Neptune with a sea-horse symbolising 'Water' thunder-bearing Jupiter with his eagle symbolising 'Fire', and cloud-bourne Juno with her Peacock symbolising 'Air'.
A related table top features on a bureau dressing-table at Blenheim Palace, Oxfordshire. its folding and similarily inlaid top having the same deities, with slight variations to Neptune and Juno, accompanying the crest of Louis-Marie d'Aumont de Rochebaron, 2nd duc d'Aumont (d.1704). The duc's cypher also appears in the centres of the border, while the spandrels display his heraldic escutcheons rendered with three rather than seven 'merlettes'. (The Connoisseur Year Book, 1951 p.16, pl. x11). The latter pattern appears on another table sold Chrisie's Monaco, 28 February 1992, lot 190; and in 'contre-partie' on a table, formerly in the Wernher Collection at Luton Hoo [no.386] sold Christie's London, 14 April 1983, lot 86. The distinctive drawing of the marquetry of the Rothesay games table with its extensive use of pewter and elaborate strapwork designs relate it to a series of bureaux and bonheurs-du-jour executed in Antwerp, including an example sold in these Rooms, 30 October 1997, lot 384, and another sold from the collection of the Earls of Rosebery, Mentmore Towers, Sotheby's house sale, 18 May 1977, lot 935. It is significant that the Luton Hoo table cited above bears the coats-of-arms of a North European family. It is certainly possible that Lord Stuart, who travelled extensively throughout Europe, may have acquired this remarkable games table in Antwerp.