9369 A HIGHLY UNUSUAL CARVED WALNUT CENTER TABLE CARVED AS A BOY ATOP A TURTLE Continental. 18th or 19th century. Measurements: Height: 31″ (79cm) Width: 39″ (99cm) Depth: 26″ (66cm)
Of walnut. The shaped red and gray molded Languedoc marble top, old but probably not original, on replaced structural cross stretcher, supported by a kneeling boy, the whole raised on a base conceived as a turtle. Repairs to two toes.
The present highly unusual table is closely related to an example dated to 1697 in the Herrenhausen-Museum, Hanover (figure 1).1 That example is strikingly similar to the present piece in the conception of the stem as a single putti, with arms upraised supporting the flat surface of the table top above its head.
In the present table the figure, draped from the waist down, kneels, as if pressed down by the weight of the marble top, its lowered knee resting on the arched shell of a turtle. The use of a turtle in the base, with arms and legs outspread, is strikingly unusual and a far more inventive resolution than the more conventional scrolling downswept legs seen in the Hanover piece.
This curious and ingenious design seems likely to be a reference to the creation myths found in ancient India, where the creator of the world was held to have taken the form of a great turtle who held the flat surface of the world on his back. Here the echo of that tradition is translated into a classical idiom with the addition of the form of the putti; bringing with it an admixture of the classical myth of Atlas holding aloft the heavens in the garden of the Hesperides.
The table would have been ideally suited to the kunst und wunderkammer of a sophisticated connoisseur. These rooms, conceived as storehouses of objects of art (kunst) and marvels (wunder), combined the products of man with those of nature in an assemblage of dissimilar objects and diverse materials. The kunst und wunderkammer served to excite the wonder and curiosity of the viewer and to showcase the learned sophistication and panoramic education of the collector.
By the end of the seventeenth century a European collector would have been aware of a vast range of objects from around the globe, as the great maritime nations grew wealthy on the prosperity of overseas trade. Such a collector would have been increasingly familiar with the forms and traditions of the previously alien cultures of India and the Far East. So unusual a table as the present piece, with the central conceit of its design implying the curious customs of a far off world of different habits and traditions, would have fitted naturally into such a collection. The present table would therefore have been a piece of fashionable exoticism, designed to provoke discussion and admiration in equal measure.
1 Heinrich Kreisel, Die Kunst des deutschen Möbels, Zweiter Band Spätbarock und Rokoko, München (1970), Plate 63.