This impressive table bears the celebrated armorial of the Barberini family of three bees, in this case with the addition of a cardinal's hat. The members of the family likely to have commissioned it include the cardinals Francesco Barberini (1597-1679, made cardinal in 1623), Antonio Barberini the elder (1569-1646, made cardinal in 1628), and Antonio Barberini the younger (made cardinal in 1627), all of whom were appointed cardinal by Maffeo Barberini (1568-1644), brother of Antonio the elder and uncle of Francesco, and who was elected Pope Urban VIII in 1623. Following his election as Pope, Urban embarked on a lavish building program, including notably the Palazzo Barberini, which was started by the architect Carlo Maderno, but completed after his death in 1629 by Gianlorenzo Bernini, with the assistance of the young Francesco Borromini.
Alvar González-Palacios (op. cit.) attributes this table to the carver Alessandro Nave, who is mentioned in the Barberini archives as 'M. ro Alessandro Nave falegname di palazzo', and was recorded as working for the family at the Convento dei Padri Cappucini from 1632, from 1629 at the Palazzo Barberini and from 1637 at Castel Gandolfo. Little else is known about Nave, although his son Francesco also worked for the Barberini family, supplying bookcases with the arms of Antonio Barberini the elder for the sacristy of S. Maria sopra Minerva (illustrated Lizzani and González-Palacios, op. cit., p. XVII, fig. XX).
The bold, muscular carving of this table is a defining feature of Roman furniture of the period. A table with the armorial of Cardinal Sfondrato, featuring closely related scrolls framing a shell motif, as on the top of the legs of the Barberini table, is illustrated in González-Palacios op. cit., vol. II, p. 53, figs. 82-3. A medal cabinet with the Barberini arms, of similarly strong architectural form, likely to have been supplied to Maffeo Barberini as its armorial combines a bishop's cross with a cardinal's hat (uniquely among the Barberini cardinals, he was made a bishop before being made cardinal), is in the Art Institute of Chicago (illustrated in A. González-Palacios, Il Mobile di Corte Italiano, 1985, p. 59, and recently exhibited in S. Walker and F. Hammond eds., Life and the Arts in Baroque Rome, New York, 1999, cat. 61).
Two frames supplied to the Barberini family are also known which are carved in a boldly muscular mannerist vein similar to this table. One, framing a remarkable ancient mosaic of the Rape of Europa, is documented as having been supplied by Giovanni Maria Giorgetti in 1675-1677 (illustrated González-Palacios op. cit., vol. II, p. 61, fig. 104). The second, framing a fresco by Guido Reni, is recorded in a 1649 inventory of Francesco Barberini, and features swags and husk trails remarkably similar to the table offered here (illustrated Lizzani op. cit., p. 243).
Most recently this table was in the renowned Contini-Bonacossi collection. The collection belonged to Alessandro Contini-Bonacossi, who resided in the Villa Pratello Orsini, previously of the Strozzi familly, which Count Alessandro re-batized Villa Vittoria (today it is the Palazzo dei Congressi), before much it passed to the State and the Uffizi collection. It comprised and impressive group of Old Master paintings, important early maiolica and Renaissance furniture.
This table will also be published in the forthcoming book by A. González-Palacios, Arredi e Ornamenti alla Corte di Roma.