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  • Place of origin:

    Derbyshire (made)

  • Date:

    ca. 1862 (made)

  • Artist/Maker:

    Birley, Samuel (designer)

  • Materials and Techniques:

    Pencil, watercolour, cotton cloth

  • Credit Line:

    Given by Louise Birley and Stuart Samuel Birley

  • Museum number:


  • Gallery location:

    Prints & Drawings Study Room, level D, case LD, shelf 28

Samuel Birley made the table for the London International Exhibition of 1862. It won prizes in the furniture and the mining classes. In his Report on Decorative Work and Upholstery, Class 15, in the Exhibition, Matthew Digby Wyatt compared Birley's table top with the pietra dura exhibited by Italian firms: 'Many very good samples of the usual imitations of flowers, &c., inlaid in black marble for table tops and cabinets, are contributed by various Florentine manufacturers, amongst whom the jury specially noted the houses of Barzanti, Betti, and Rinaldini. In the same class of goods the table top exhibited by our solitary producer in the same line, Mr. Samuel Birley, of Ashford, Derbyshire, was much admired. Observations were, however, made upon the inequality of scale in which the centre group of flowers and the surrounding wreath had been worked out.' (Reports on the Paris Universal Exhibition, 1867, Vol. II, p.355)

Birley, based in Derbyshire, specialised in inlaid marble objects. These imitated the Italian mosaic inlaying technique known as pietra dura, or 'hardstone'. Artisans working for the powerful Medici family developed the art of pietra dura in Florence in the 16th century. The technique is similar to marquetry on furniture. This achieves its decorative effect by arranging sections of differently coloured veneers in the manner of a jigsaw. In this technique, thin polished slices of hard or semi-precious stone are used. They are cut to form images, for example of flowers or fruit. Often the colours of the stones are used to produce highly naturalistic detail. This piece is one of the most elaborate pieces known.

Physical description

Design for pietra-dura table.

Place of Origin

Derbyshire (made)


ca. 1862 (made)


Birley, Samuel (designer)

Materials and Techniques

Pencil, watercolour, cotton cloth


Length: 370 mm, Width: 450 mm

Object history note

Donated by Louise Birley, descendant of the designer.

Descriptive line

Design, for pietra dura table, by Samuel Birley, Derbyshire, ca. 1862.

Subjects depicted



Designs; Furniture


Prints, Drawings & Paintings Collection

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