11290 AN IMPOSING NEOCLASSICAL WALNUT WRITING TABLE Probably Liguria. Circa 1785. Measurements: Height 31″ (78 cm) Width: 82 3/4 “(211 cm) Depth: 46 1/2″ (119 cm).
Of cherry wood. The rectangular top with leather inset edged with a Greek key above a frieze carved with a Greek key and fitted to either side with two short drawers, each centred with a gilt bronze key escutcheon surmounted by ribbons and foliate husks. The reverse fitted with four square drawers mounted with gilt bronze escutcheons with circular laurel underneath ring handles, the drawers above a Greek key. The sides fitted with a pair of conforming drawers above a Greek key frieze, the corner posts carved with fluting, the whole raised on four square tapering stop – fluted legs.
Collection of Frederick P. Victoria New York City
The present writing table is an example of late 18th century Ligurian craftsmanship, marked by “simplicity and a practical aspect indicating and inherent sense of design.”1 The tapering, fluted legs and greek key motif surrounding the desk are part of the grammar of neoclassicism, which was revived in the 18th century from antiquity, and was translated from architectural elements into household furnishings. The use of walnut as a principal wood for cabinetmaking began in Italy in the 15th century, and it’s potential for fine carving ensured its dissemination and use in the country and throughout Europe in the following centuries.
A very similar table to the present piece can be seen in William Odom’s book, A History of Italian Furniture (figure 1).2 The table Odom illustrates is of walnut with elongated drawers, however the identical Greek key frieze below the drawers, coupled with the closely comparable fluted tapering legs and fluted corner-posts strongly suggest that both pieces share the same maker. The table illustrated by Odom is described as being either ‘Liguria or Emilia, Late XVIII Century.’
This massive desk was most likely made for one of the wealthy sea-trading merchants of Genoa and would have been a conspicuous symbol of their social status. Its sophisticated design is enhanced by having two distinctly separate faces; one set of opposing sides each displays two large drawers, while the others have a shallow frieze to facilitate ease of seating.
1. William Odom, A History of Italian Furniture, Volume II, New York 1918. 292.
2. Ibid. 263.