11094 A FINE AND LARGE SPECIMEN MARBLE AND HARDSTONE TABLE TOP CENTERED BY AN ARMORIAL MICROMOSAIC RONDEL, POSSIBLY BY VINCENZO RAFAELLI PROBABLY Rome. Circa 1842. Measurements: Table: Height: 17 3/4 (45 cm) Width: 57″ (145 cm). Top: 29 5/8 (75.2 cm) Width: 57″ (145 cm) Depth: 1 1/8 (3 cm).
Of rectangular form with curved corners, edged with white Cararra marble, with a ribbon-tied border of malachite and lapis specimens on a rosso antico ground, inlaid into Paragone de Belgo, the center with a floral paterae the petals of various specimens (see below), with a micro-mosaic impaled coat-of-arms of the Parkinson and Folwer families in the center within an amethyst border, on two later ebonized wooden paired faceted column bases.
Probably commissioned by John Parkinson of Kinnersley Castle, Herefordshire to celebrate his marriage in 1842.
Collection of Michael Davidson, Elm Park Gardens, London.
The present tabletop is a particularly fine example of the superlative effect created by the combination of fine stone inlay and micromosaic. Although both techniques are associated with Roman workshops, it is not until the mid nineteenth century that they are combined on tabletops, and even then such examples remain rare. It has been posited that this top could be the work of Vincenzo Raffaelli (1783-1865), son of the most famous Roman worker of micro-mosaics, Giacomo Raffaelli, who is credited with taking the art form to renewed levels of complexity in the late eighteenth century, carefully refining the range of colors and decreasing the size of the minute tiles (tessarae) used. Hot enamel of varied color, was pulled to form long strands and then cut into tiny pieces to make tesserae of the kind seen in the central panel of the present piece. The most complex works in micromosaic contained “more than 5,000 tesserae per square inch”1 and would take several years to complete. Although Giacomo died in 1836, Vincenzo continued his father’s workshop successfully into the mid nineteenth century, the period from which the present tabletop dates.
The family was equally skilled in marble and hardstone inlay, and easily had the ability to create the other decorative elements on the present piece, such as the exquisite rolling ribbon of amethyst that surrounds the central area of micromosaic. This material occasionally appears on other works produced by the Raffaellis, such as the famous clock from the Gilbert Collection that combines exquisite hardstone, marble and micromosaic inlay, and columns made from amethyst.2 Of particular interest is the flower-shaped patera that dominates the tabletop consisting of samples of Roman marbles, some of which are rare. These include Giallo Tigrato, a favorite of the ancient Romans Marmo Africano, Fior di Pesco, Bianco e Nero di Aquitania, Cipollino Mandolato, a type of Lumachella, the especially rare Cipollino Marino, Verde Antico which was favored by Roman emperors for their sarcophagi and three kinds of Egyptian alabaster. The design on the top is skillfully defined throughout with an outline of yellow sienna marble. The samples are set into a plate of Paragone del Belgio marble, so called because it was quarried in the area around Belgium since antiquity. A similar paterae design was employed on a table made by Giacomo Raffaelli in 1831 for Lord John and Lady Augusta Kennedy-Erskine that recently appeared on the New York art market (figure 1).
This clearly carefully-planned and selected array of marbles reminds us that such tabletops were aimed at being representative of the taste, connoisseurship and erudition of their owners. This is a smaller-scale version of an earlier fashion for marble sample table tops, which itself grew out of the taste for collections of rock samples, popular with connoisseurs keen to show off their knowledge of the marbles and stones used in classical sculpture and architecture. It was a fashion that naturally began in the 1760s in the epicenters of glyptic art, Rome and Florence, which spread to other European cities including London and Paris and was still strong by the mid nineteenth century.
An especially fine feature here is the beautifully wrought ribbon tie motif around the tabletop’s edge, consisting of bright malachite and silver-veined lapis lazuli set into a border of Rosso Antico. The two former stones are among the most sought after and valuable, and would have been an expensive embellishment. During the Renaissance the main source of lapis was Badakhshan in distant Afghanistan, hence its rarity and expense, however at the end of the eighteenth century new reserves were found in Siberia in Russia, marginally increasing levels of supply. Similarly malachite saw a return to favor around the same time when it was discovered in the Ural Mountains; it was immediately seized upon by the Tsars, becoming their favored material for creating diplomatic gifts. A Rosso Antico border can be found on other productions of the Raffaelli family including the magnificent micomosaic tabletop in the Carlton Hobbs collection; it appears that this piece was bought by Thomas Hope directly from the maker by circa 1795.
A marble sample tabletop now at Temple Newsam House outside of Leeds was ordered by Sir Thomas Aston Clifford-Constable on his honeymoon in Rome.3 It seems likely that the present table was also ordered under similar circumstances, as it is clear that the ‘impaled’ coat of arms is intended to represent the joining of two families in marriage. The arms on the left have been identified as those of the Parkinson family, those on the right as the Fowlers, and the table is thus linked to the wedding of John Parkinson of Kinnersley Castle, Herefordshire (1810-1859) and Sarah Levine Fowler (b.1815) in 1842. The motto displayed on the Parkison coat of arms Paradisi in Sole was first coined by the seventeenth century English botanist John Parkinson as his own Latin interpretation of his name; ‘Park-in-sun’. There is evidence that it was especially fashionable for noble families to order tables emblazoned with their coats of arms in micromosaic in the mid nineteenth century. A tabletop made for the Duke of Norfolk at Arundel Castle was commissioned from Rafaelli’s rival Michelangelo Barberi (1787-1867) to commemorate the visit of Queen Victoria in 1847.4 Notably like the present table it prominently displays the 13th Duke’s arms impaled with those of his wife (figure 2). Gioacchino Barberi made another example for an unknown member of the Rothschild family in 1840, which again has a black marble ground with a large inlaid micromosaic of the family’s coat of arms (figure 3).5
The shape of the present piece, rectangular with curved corners, is unusual and would suggest that the it was to be used in a central position of a room or entrance lobby.
1. Massinelli, Anna Maria. “The Magnificent Micro-Mosaic Top.” The Thomas Hope Table: A Rediscovered Masterpiece. Carlton Hobbs. 68-88.
2. See Massinelli, Anna Maria. The Gilbert Collection: Hardstones, 2000, p. 62, the clock was made to be presented by Pope Pius VII to Napoleon Bonaparte.
3. Ibid, p. 112.
4. Gabriel, Jeanette Hanisee. The Gilbert Collection: Micromosaics, 2000, p.21.
5. Gonzalez-Palacios, Alvar. Il Tempio del Gusto, Rome 1984, p.71.