Writing Table thumbnail 1
Writing Table thumbnail 2
Image of Gallery in South Kensington
On display at V&A South Kensington
Furniture, Room 133, The Dr Susan Weber Gallery

Writing Table

1775-80 (made)
Place of origin

This delicate table was made in the workshops of the most inventive cabinet-maker of the 1780s - David Roentgen. From his workshops in Neuwied, Germany, he sold pieces throughout Europe. He even designed them to be taken apart for packing - in this case, the legs unscrew.

The frieze panels, showing neither locks nor handles, open to provide a central drawer fitted with a writing panel, and with a nest of small drawers. The drawer is opened by pressing a metal stud under the front of the table. When it is fully opened, it automatically releases the catches of two side drawers that hinge out from the body of the table.

The top is decorated with Roentgen's particular form of marquetry, which used fine slips of different woods to create exceptional detail. It shows a scene from the Trojan Wars, as described in Virgil's poem the Aeneid, Book II, with Aeneas escaping from the burning city of Troy with his father and his son.

Object details

Object type
This object consists of 14 parts.

  • Drawer
  • Drawer
  • Writing Table
  • Drawer
  • Drawer
  • Drawer
  • Drawer
  • Drawer
  • Drawer
  • Drawer
  • Leg (Can Be Unscrewed)
  • Leg (Can Be Unscrewed)
  • Leg (Can Be Unscrewed)
  • Leg (Can Be Unscrewed)
Materials and techniques
Veneered in maple, mahogany, tulipwood, barberry and other woods on a carcase of cherry and oak, with mounts of gilt bronze
Brief description
Oval writing table veneered in maple, mahogany, tulipwood and other woods, on a carcase of cherry and oak. German, 1775-80, made in the workshop of David Roentgen, Neuwied, Germany, the top inlaid with a view of Aeneas carrying his father Anchises from the ruins of Troy.
Physical description
A small oval table, on four tapering, square-sectioned legs, veneered in maple, mahogany, tulipwood and other woods (some stained), on a carcase of oak , cherry and beech, and mounted with gilt-bronze. The top is inlaid with marquetry showing a scene of Aeneas rescuing his father Anchises from the ruins of Troy, the scene re-worked from a painting by Januarius Zick (1730-97).The frieze panels are inlaid with marquetry of military trophies and conceal one long spring-loaded drawer at the front and two short, spring-loaded, hinged drawers on the sides. The side drawers are released when the main drawer, which is fitted for writing, with small internal drawers, is pulled out beyond a certain point. The side drawers, which fly out on hinges, show open compartments above small drawers accessible only when the hinged compartment is open. The table is demountable, the legs attached with screw fittings.

The top is cross-banded on the outer edge with mahogany, the vertical edge similarly cross-banded and set with a plain, stepped astragal in gilt-bronze. The top is veneered with maple, inlaid with various woods cut into the thick ground with a shoulder knife. There is no hot-sand shading or engraving on the marquetry. The scene shows Aeneas carrying the aged Anchises towards a pair of ruined Corinthian columns, from which sprout vegetation and beyond which is a palm tree. He is followed by his young son Ascanius, who carries one of their household gods, a figure of Minerva, helmeted. In the background are buildings, including a pyramid, and plumes of smoke from the fires destroying the city. The figures and foreground elements show traces of coloured stain in the marquetry, whereas the buildings of Troy in the background, are uncoloured.

The frieze is veneered thickly with maple and inlaid with military trophies, a single design reversed for the two long sections of frieze (this including a circular shield, a shaped shield, a sword, spear and halberd) and another, similarly reversed, for the two short side sections of frieze (this including a helmet, breastplate, bow, spear and quiver). The inlaid frieze panels are framed with countersunk banding of gilt-bronze, cast with mille raies decoration, the mitred corners covered with turned bosses in gilt bronze, which serve to anchor the ends of the banding. Outside this banding, the thick veneer is set longitudinally, a continuation of the main panel.

The four tapering square legs are veneered in maple, the edges banded in mahogany. The block feet, veneered in mahogany, are bound with a broad, plain band of gilt bronze, and set on the top edge with a rounded moulding in brass. The top of each outer face of each leg is set with a gilt-bronze drop of husks, held at the top by a bow of ribbon, below a stepped, plain architrave in lacquered brass. Above each leg, the plain, longitudinally set veneer of maple on the frieze, above the legs, is set with a triglyph and mutules of the Doric Order, in mahogany, set with gilt-bronze guttae or drops.

The main drawer shows a bowed front and is open in the front half, showing the cherry carcase wood. The back half set with a nest of four small drawers, of irregular shape in plan, to follow the curve of the table, the sides, backs and bases of cherry. The fronts are veneered in tulipwood set vertically, the front edges of the frame with thick, applied veneers of oak, stained bright green. The small drawer fronts are set with small lacquered brass handles of axe shape. Above the nest a sliding writing panel, showing a panel of green Russia leather with gold tooling along the sides and front, inset into a frame of cross-banded tulipwood. This panel can be drawn forward to cover the open well of the drawer and provide a writing surface or, when the drawer is open, can be slide back to give access to the nest of drawers.

The recesses revealed when the spring-loaded, hinged side drawers are opened are lined throughout with tulipwood, the grain of the veneers set vertically on the sides, the bases in solid tulipwood. Top edges are cross-banded in tulipwood, recessed behind the thick veneer of the drawer fronts. The drawers are shallow but, when fully open, the back of each appears to be set with four drawer fronts, matching those of the nest in the central drawer, with a similar framing of green-stained wood. On each side, the top two drawer fronts are blind (set against the shallow recess of the drawer) but the lower two are the fronts of two ingeniously shaped small drawers which fit into the arc of the main drawer, below the upper recess. These drawers are in yew-wood.

The construction of these tables follows Roentgen's principle of making his furniture as easy as possible to pack and ship.

The top is made in three layers. The central of these is composed of six boards, the ends meeting at angles, the outer edges cut to create the oval. Within this framework there is a single muntin which spans the table front to back, with two rows of three boards, running side to side, to either side of this. These boards are presumably joined with tongue and groove construction. The underside of this oval is faced with a thick section of oak (approximately 8 mm), with its grain running front to back. The top surface is veneered with the inlaid panel, on which the grain also runs front to back.

This top is attached to the carcase section of the table with long, hand-made steel (IRON?) screws, running from the underside of the carcase section, just inside the legs, and locating in captured bolts presumably set into the framed layer of the top.

The carcase section is built on two substantial cross rails of oak that line the recess for the central drawer. At either end, these boards are built up with roughly triangular blocks of oak forming the blocks above the legs and creating the trapezoidal recesses for the hinged drawers at either end. The curved back frieze rail is presumably tenoned into the two back blocks. This rail, and the right-hand (PL) cross-rail are built up with a separate section creating the bottom 2.5 cm, but the left-hand (PR) rail is solid. The left- and right-hand rails forming the drawer fronts, are attached with small, curved knife hinges to the back edges of the drawer recesses, on the top and bottom edges of the blocks above the back legs and to the end-grain of the blocks forming the outer corners of the drawers.

The large drawer is of cherry, of dovetail construction, the base running in a groove in the front and sides of the drawer and under the back, although the back edge of the base has been cut back so that it now ends flush with the front edge of the back. The curved front of the drawer is built of layers of cherry, the curve cut in the solid. The outer corners have applied triangular sections under the veneer, to maintain the shape necessary on the curved outer face of the table. The grain of these blocks is vertical and the inner faces of them are veneered in cherry. A groove is cut in the inner surfaces of the sides and the front, in which fits a sliding writing panel. This is of pine, of three boards set laterally, veneered on the top with a writing panel in green Russia leather with gilt tooling around the edge in neo-classical styles with curving, upright leaves and arrow heads. This tooling does not reach all the way to the back corners, where the top surface would never be seen in normal use. When closed, the writing slide is fully forward, hiding the drawer space. Only when the drawer is open can the slide be pushed back, revealing the well of the drawer. The underside of the drawer is made of three cherry boards, set laterally. It is cut with a groove in which the steel spring, screwed to the back of the case, works, and with two metal plates that act as stops. A steel button catch under the front edge of the base of the table, releases this drawer.

At the back half of the well of the main drawer is a nest of four drawers, the carcase and drawer dividers in oak, the drawers in cherry, with dovetail construction. The fronts of the drawers are veneered in tulipwood with the grain set vertically. Each drawer is set with a small, axe-shaped lacquered brass handle. The front edge of the framing of the nest is set with applied facings of oak, stained green.

The two side drawers are each made as a nest of drawers, extended on either end by shaped, triangular blocks which complete the arc shape. The back of the recess into which each drawer fits is set with a steel spring, glued to the back and working against the drawer. These are released by metal plates set into to the base of the main drawer and activated when that drawer is pulled forward and the plates engage with catches.

The nest of each side drawer is of oak, of dovetailed construction, the extensions also of oak, showing as end-grain on the underside, the inner side hidden by tulipwood veneers. The framing on the front of the nest is applied with green-stained oak facings, as on the main drawer. The two lower drawers on each side (below the false drawer fronts which are set against the well of the upper part of the drawer) are shaped to fit the arc. The drawers are faced with tulipwood, running laterally, but the carcases of the drawers are made in yew-wood, of dovetail construction.
  • Height: 77.8cm
  • Width: 74.5cm
  • Depth: 51.6cm
checked by LC 19.8.10
Marks and inscriptions
. to .... (Each leg marked at the top of the leg with one to four dots, this marking repeated on the gilt-bronze architrave mount and on the screw which holds in place the top. Some of the architrave mounts are also chisel-marked with roman numerals, including 'VII' on the front left leg.)
Gallery label
  • [label text by Peter Thornton] Lady's Desk German (Neuwied); about 1780-85 Veneered with satinwood, mahogany and marquetry. This had a mechanism similar to the other oval table shown here, which was also made in the famous workshops of David Roentgen. This table is of later date than the other example and has a pictorial marquetry top executed after a design by Januarius Zick. Possibly acquired by Jones at the sale of Captain Rickett's furniture in 1855, when a table 'inlaid with Aeneas and Anchises' was sold for £455 - a high price at the time. Jones Collection Museum No. 1060-1882(c. 1980)
  • Writing Table 1780–5 Designed and made in the workshop of David Roentgen (1743–1807) Design of the top by Januarius Zick (1730–97) Germany (Neuwied) Carcase: cherry and oak Veneer: maple, mahogany, tulipwood and other woods Mounts: gilded brass Bequest of John Jones Museum no. 1060-1882 Roentgen produced many versions of this table for different markets, some with fewer gilded mounts. The legs unscrew, so the table can be taken apart and ‘flat-packed’ for transportation. The top is decorated with Roentgen’s ‘painterly’ form of marquetry. Its exceptional detail is created by using fine slips of stained maple instead of the more usual sand shading and engraving. (01/12/2012)
Credit line
Bequeathed by John Jones
Object history
This table is a production of the workshop of David Roentgen, who took over his father Abraham's workshop in Neuwied, Germany, in 1772. Abraham had already become noted for luxurious marquetry furniture, but David developed the designs of the business, in particular developing a new form of marquetry. Traditionally, marquetry used many small pieces of veneer, cut by saw and fitted together like a jig-saw, to cover the surface of the carcase wood completely. David Roentgen created his designs in a different fashion. He covered the ground with large areas of veneer, on this table the whole top. He then placed on the flat surface smaller pieces, such as the wall or columns shown here, marked their position, then cut into the veneer ground with a special tool known as a 'shoulder knife' (a blade held in a very long handle, which could be steadied and levered against the shoulder to exert pressure). He inlaid the pieces into the recess made, then repeated the process with every smaller pieces, such as the small pieces of veneer that form the plants running over the columns.

The Roentgen workshops used relatively few expensive tropical woods, although here the main panel is outlined in a cross-banding of mahogany and the inner drawers are veneered in tulipwood. For the pictorial marquetry woods such as maple and box were used but were often stained in vivid colours, such as the green which survives unfaded on the inside of the drawers. Marquetry makers had traditionally relied on two techniques to give liveliness to their work: they had dipped the individual pieces of marquetry into hot sand to singe the edges, which could give the effect of shadow on a three-dimensional object, and they also engraved the inlaid plaques and filled the engraved lines with coloured mastic (usually black) to create the details of the design. David rejected both such ideas in the 1770s and set about creating his complex design using only very small or fine pieces of wood, as on the clothing of Aeneas here. He was however, very interested in dyeing woods for marquetry. The top of this table shows faded evidence that some of the woods were dyed and inside the drawers, the deep green is a reminder of the startling nature of such colouring in the eighteenth century.

David Roengen's other revolutionary venture was to create designs for furniture which could be 'flat-packed' to be sent all over Europe. This table is a neat example of what he wanted to accomplish. By removing a few screws which hold the mounts at the top of the legs in place, it is possible to unscrews each leg. The marquetry top is also attached with four specially made screws which would allow the marquetry of the top to be carried out independently of the making of the box or carcase of the table, so that the two trades could be carried on simultaneously in different workshops.

He had a large clientele, ranging from the Empress of Russia, to quite middling people. He travelled extensively himself and in 1774 and again in 1779 he visited Paris. In 1780 he was accepted as a member of the Paris guild of carvers and cabinet-makers, which was an extraordinary tribute to his skill but which was also valuable to him in allowing him to sell his wares freely in Paris, without objection from the guild. The French inscription under the writing slide of this table (visible only if the table is partially dismantled) is in French (see Marks) suggesting that it was made for the Paris market.

Roentgen was adept at tailoring his products to his markets, with the same design of table or commode being produced in both luxurious and slightly simpler versions. The Museum itself holds another version of this table (Museum No. 381-1874) and several other versions are known, including one in the Rijksmuseum, Amsterdam.

The design for the scene of Aeneas fleeing the burning ruins of Troy is taken from a painting by Januarius Zick (1730-1797), a painter who supplied many designs to Roentgen. The main figures are close to Zick's design but many elements of the painting have been compressed, with less room between the figures, to reduce the scene to a scale suitable for a table top. Zick's image was re-drawn for the marquetry design, almost certainly by the engraver Elie Gervais (1721-1791) who noted, in November 1774, that he and his assistants worked two days on an oval table, he himself drawing the heads, hands and feet.

A total of 28 tables of this design are known today, including examples in several museums. Two were shown in the 2012 exhibition at the Metropolitan Museum, New York and published in Wolfram Koeppe, Extravagant Inventions. The Princely Furniture of the Roentgens. New York: Metropolitan Museum of Art, 2012, nos. 21 and 22, pp. 102-105.

A table of this pattern was sold by Maelrondt, Paris on 15 November 1824, lot 325, 'Une table ovale en marqueterie par David; le dessus représente Enée enlevant son père...' . It is not known to which of the 28 known tables this refers, but illustrates the high regard in which 'David' was held.

Possibly acquired by John Jones at the sale of Captain Rickett's furniture in 1855, when a table 'inlaid with Aeneas and Anchises' was sold for £455 - a high price at the time. It was sold to a buyer named Addington, but could have been bought later by Jones. Another table, in the sale of the Bernal Collection, March 1855, lot 4125 was 'A BEAUTIFUL SMALL OVAL-SHAPED TABLE, OLD MARQUETRIE, with Aeneas carrying Anchises from Troy, on the top' musical trophies surround the saide, with three drawers containing smaller ones', but that table was additionally described and have 'openwork ormoulu gallery and ornaments', which the V&A table does not have.

In 1882 in the larger front Drawing-Room in John Jones's house at 95 Piccadilly. In the Handbook of the Jones Collection in the South Kensington Museum (published by the Museum, 1883), pp. 33-4, it was noted 'Five small tables (Nos. 1057-1061), were in a rank close together in front of the three windows. Each table served to support and show something'.

This was at one point thought to have been a copy made in the 19th century, but scholars no longer think that this is likely.

The catalogue to the exhibition 'Extravagant Inventions: the Princely Furniture of the Roentgens', shown at the Metropolitan Museum, New York, illustrates a portrait of Lady Eden by J.S. Sargent, 1906, in which a closely similar table is shown. An article in Country Life 3 October 2012, vol. CCVI, no. 40, pp. 96-98, illustrates, as fig. 6, a portrait of Mrs Wertheimer by J.S. Sargent. She is shown sitting next to a similar table. It is noted that she is 'depicted with some of her treasures', but it seems that the table was in fact one of Sargent's studio props, as it appears in two other portraits in addition to those of Lady Eden and Mrs Wertheimer. The Country Life article illustrates the other version of the table in the V&A collections (381-1874).

Subjects depicted
Place depicted
Literary referenceVirgil - 'The Aenead', book 2 - The Flight from Troy, showing Aeneas carrying his father Anchises and leading his son Ascanius from the city
This delicate table was made in the workshops of the most inventive cabinet-maker of the 1780s - David Roentgen. From his workshops in Neuwied, Germany, he sold pieces throughout Europe. He even designed them to be taken apart for packing - in this case, the legs unscrew.

The frieze panels, showing neither locks nor handles, open to provide a central drawer fitted with a writing panel, and with a nest of small drawers. The drawer is opened by pressing a metal stud under the front of the table. When it is fully opened, it automatically releases the catches of two side drawers that hinge out from the body of the table.

The top is decorated with Roentgen's particular form of marquetry, which used fine slips of different woods to create exceptional detail. It shows a scene from the Trojan Wars, as described in Virgil's poem the Aeneid, Book II, with Aeneas escaping from the burning city of Troy with his father and his son.
Associated object
381-1874 (Series)
Bibliographic references
  • Greber, Josef Maria. Abraham und David Roentgen. Möbel für Europa. Starnberg: Josef Keller Verlag, 1980. ISBN 3-7808-0126-4. Band 2, fig. 615, p.311.
  • Huth, Hans, Roentgen Furniture. London and New York: Sotheby Parke Bernet, 1974. ISBN 0 85667 003 0, fig. 213.
  • Elizabeth Miller and Hilary Young, eds., The Arts of Living. Europe 1600-1815. V&A Publishing, 2015. ISBN: 978 1 85177 807 2, illustrated p. 126
  • Handbook of the Jones Collection in the South Kensington Museum: with portraits and woodcuts. Published by the Museum, 1883, pp. 33-4 lists this table with four other in the large Drawing-Room at the front of John Jones's house at 95 Piccadilly.
  • Champeaux, Alfred De: Le Meuble II, XVIIe, XVIIIe and XIXe Siècles. Paris, Société Française d'Editions d'Art, 1885, p. 274
  • Dilke, Lady Emilia Francis Strong, French furniture and decoration in the XVIIIth century, (G. Bell & Sons, London, 1901), illus. opposite p. 186
Accession number
1060:1 to 3-1882

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Record createdMarch 13, 2006
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