11255 AN ELEGANT OVAL GILTWOOD CENTER TABLE IN THE DIRECTOIRE TASTE SET WITH AN INLAID MARBLE TOP ATTRIBUTED TO GIACOMO RAFFAELLI The Base English, Made For the Top. The Top Rome. Both Circa 1795. Measurements: Height: 30 7/8″ (78.4 cm) Width: 34 5/8″ (87.9 cm) Depth: 20 5/8″(52.3 cm).
Of giltwood with gilt-brass mounts. The oval statuary marble top inlaid with pietra dura decoration of a central urn motif flanked by circular reserves depicting birds surrounded by small oval stone specimens all within a specimen border, and surrounded by a gilt-brass guilloche gallery, above a frieze with molded elongated hexagonal decoration, the whole raised on four tapering circular stop-fluted legs terminating in shaped tapering gilt-brass feet and casters, joined by a double incurved stretcher. Formerly later painted green and gilt; this coating removed to reveal original gesso and bole with traces of gilt. All the last mentioned retained and sympathetically gilded to match.
The present table, with its elegant elongated oval form is notable in two respects. The distinctive marble inlay to the Italian neoclassical statuary top is so reminiscent of the work of the master mosaicist and marmoraro, Giacomo Raffaelli (1753-1836) as to suggest an attribution to him with confidence.
Two early 19th century examples of his work in the Hermitage Museum combine features that exist on the present top. The first, “Vase with Flowers,” incorporates flower and bird motifs with hardstone inlaid vase designs. Notably, a vase of the same shape with distinctive “shading” appears on this top as well as the present piece, in addition to related bird vignettes (figure 1). The second table in the Hermitage is set with a variety of hardstone and marble specimens in different geometric shapes and patterns. The repeating circular “necklace” motif of oval stones surrounding the central quartzite panel and along the border of the Hermitage table can be compared to the oval colored marbles surrounding the circular bird insets of the present table top (figure 2).
Raffaelli was born in Rome and worked there most of his life, apart from a sixteen-year interval spent in Milan in the early 19th century, where he was appointed principal of the Scuola del Mosaico in 1804. He is typically credited for innovating the techniques of micromosaic in the late 18th century, which took the art to a new level. It involved refining the range of color and decreasing the size of the tesserae (small, cubic tiles) used.1 “Although Raffaelli’s first specialty was micromosaics, over time his furniture became enriched with ornaments and appliqués in a variety of materials, including hardstones, which were becoming more important in his work by the time of his arrival in Milan.”2
His exceptional work was sought after throughout Europe by the likes of Tsar Alexander I, Stanislas Augustus Poniatowski, King of Poland, and Napoleon Bonaparte. In England, his masterpieces in marble were acquired by collectors for some of the most important country houses of the day including the Duke of Northumberland at Syon House and Clifford Constable of Burton Constable, Yorkshire. Furthermore, a micromosaic top by Raffaelli was almost certainly acquired by Thomas Hope in Rome circa 1795 and mounted on a side table designed by Hope for the Picture Gallery at his Duchess Street home in London (published in the Victoria & Albert Museum 2008 exhibition catalog Thomas Hope, Regency Designer, No. 78.
The unusual shape of the present table top is not typical for Italy, and suggests that it was a direct order from an English patron or architect. Additionally, the distinguished, understated giltwood base can be defined stylistically as being in the “English Directoire” taste, drawing down on overt French influences of the 1780s and 1790s. The person most credited with bringing this style to Great Britain was the neoclassicist architect Henry Holland. His keynote was always toward the subtle and restrained; consequently the style chimed well with his aesthetic.
Holland’s notable building and remodeling projects include Berrington Hall, Woburn Abbey and Southill Park. In these interiors Holland established a style that drew on the restrained richness of the Louis XVI manner, assimilating the latest developments of French taste into the more sober tradition of English design.3
He also famously worked for the Prince of Wales, later George IV, at Carlton House in the years between 1783 and circa 1795, and it was here that he likely honed his Frenchified decorative taste, due to the Prince’s well-known Francophile leanings. Holland was directly involved with such notable French craftsmen, suppliers and designers as Francis Hervé, L.A. Delabrière, William Gaubert and Dominique Daguerre. It is likely that Holland made a special visit to Paris in 1787 concerning the Carlton House project and “it is from this point that the decidedly French aspects of the project begin to impress so strongly.”4
Holland is thought to have designed the Frenchified furniture for his project at Southill Park, Bedforshire, seat of the Whitbread family, undertaken initially for Samuel Whitbread I and then for his son from 1795.5 This iconic decorative program is remarkable for being almost entirely intact to this day. Within the scheme one can witness furniture of similar character to the present table, such as the overtly Directoire style giltwood chairs in the boudoir of Southill (figure 3). An occasional table in this style, also from the boudoir, is notably mounted with a mosaic pietra dura panel top.
The Directoire taste in France was actually known as “le style étrusque,” and Francis Collard notes it as “a move away from the highly decorated pieces ornamented with ormolu, marquetry, pietra dura and Sèvres plaques, towards designs for chairs and commodes à la anglaise.”6 Thus, Francophilia in England and Anglomania in France melded to form examples in furniture, decoration and fashion of distinctly cool and elegant character, of which the present table is a particularly pure example.
- Massinelli, Anna Maria. “The Magnificent Micro-Mosaic Top.” The Thomas Hope Table: A Rediscovered Masterpiece. Carlton Hobbs. 68-88.
- 1. Koeppe, Wolfram, Anna Maria Giusti, and Cristina Acidini Luchinat. Art of the Royal Court: Treasures in Pietre Dure from the Palaces of Europe. New York: Metropolitan Museum of Art, 2008. 312.
- A.E. Richardson et al., Southill: A Regency House, London: Faber and Faber (1951), p.21.
- Francis Collard, Regency Furniture, Antique Collector’s Club (1987 ed.), 33.
- Ibid., 44.
- Ibid., 34.