11198 A RARE STATUARY MARBLE AND ALABASTRO FIORITO MONOPODIAE SIDE TABLE OF ELEGANT PROPORTIONS Probably English. First Quarter Of The Nineteenth Century. Measurements: Height: 37″ (93.9 cm) Width: 85 1/2″(217.2 cm) Depth: 16 1/2 ” (41.9 cm).
Of statuary marble, alabastro fiorito, veneered and carved mahogany. The bow ended mahogany and ebony strung crossbanded top with laurel and berry carved edge is old, but possibly not original, and rests upon an alabastro fiorito frieze enclosed by statuary marble ogee undermold and ‘D’ section. The frieze interrupted by projecting square blocks with finely carved rosette roundels. The whole raised on two superbly drawn carved lion monopodiae. Very old repairs to frieze and leg. The small octagonal blocks under the two lion monopodiae possibly very old replacements.
Sir James Goldsmith Collection, Paris.
The present table is an example of Regency furniture design, which drew heavily on the study of surviving artifacts from the ancient world, particularly from Greece, Rome and Egypt. Indeed it is exceptionally rare for a large side table to be composed nearly all of marble, being directly evocative of furniture of the ancient world. An English table of closely related form and proportions, but executed in wood, was previously in the collection of Viscount Norwich and Lady Diana Cooper (figure 1)
The excavations of Pompeii and Herculaneum in the mid-18th century and scholarly campaigns that followed, led to the dissemination of ancient models which were incorporated into furniture by Regency designers. This decorative trend included the use of monopodiae, ornamental supports comprising the head and one leg of an animal, a lion in the case of the present piece. A related ancient example of lion-form monopodium is a marble table leg from Corinth illustrated in The Furniture of the Greeks, Etruscans and Romans (Richter, 1966, Figure 575) 1(figure 2).
The frieze of the table is veneered with alabastro fiorito. The stone is among the most beautiful ancient stones, with its distinct veining, warm color and translucent luster. According to Pliny the Elder, alabaster of the type which he described as “melleo” or honey colored was the most prized.2 He mentions that alabaster takes its name from a the castle of Alabastro near the city of Thebes in Egypt.3The Romans started to import the stone during the 2nd century BC when it was used to make busts of gods and prominent individuals, as well as vessels to contain perfumes and ointments, as it was believed that alabaster would best preserve these. Alabaster was also used to make columns, such as the large column from the Museum of the Villa Albani that Faustino Corsi Romano refers to in his Pietre Antiche of 1843.
The very restrained design and form of the present table indicates that it was a piece made in England (or possibly in Italy for an English client). Although the crafting of marble is more readily associated with Italy and France, the existence in England of an important chimney surround industry meant this country was home to large numbers of craftsmen capable of the high quality work found on the present table. During the 18th century and early years of the 19th century, it is estimated from extant bills that up to 15% of a new quality house budget was expended on the chimneypieces.4 Many great sculptors were employed for the carving, with stellar names such as John Michael Rysbrack, Nicholas Read, Joseph Nollekens, and the Richard Westmacotts, elder and younger, to name a few.
The present table was formerly in the collection of Sir James Goldsmith, an Anglo-French financier and politician. His father, Frank, was born into the prosperous Goldschmidt banking family (in certain branches related to the Rothschilds) and went on to serve as a Member of Parliment and control dozens of luxury hotels across France. After serving in the army, James built and sold a series of businesses in England, France and the United States. He shifted his interest toward investing in the 1980s and, after retiring from business altogether, Goldsmith went into politics, launching the Referendum Party in the 1990s. Goldsmith had estates in Spain and Mexico, a Georgian house outside London, a 17th century château in Burgundy, which he furnished with 16th and 17th century antiques, and a home in Paris, which once belonged to Cole Porter and where the present table stood. Of his collections Goldsmith said “I buy what I like, which doesn’t mean I buy what I want. I don’t compete for the great trophies, and I don’t buy based on erudition.”5