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Table

  • Place of origin:

    Antwerp (Probably. The marquetry in boulle technique (i.e. using turtle shell, ivory, metals and other materials) was practised in Antwerp from the middle of the 17th century. Antwerp makers particularly favoured setting the turtle shell against a bright scarlet ground. A table with a similar combination of turtle shell, ivory and wood marquetry (but without the pewter stringing) is illustrated in Thibaut Wolvesperges, <i>Le Meuble en Belgique 1500-1800</i>. Brussels, Editions Racine, 2000, p. 139, fig. 40. That table, which shows a similarly shaped stretcher, is raised on facetted columnar legs. It is dated to about 1660. That table does not show drawers in the frieze, which appear to be a development of the form which had spread to Paris by about 1685, although the most famous of such tables, dated 1689, and signed by Pieter de Looze (in the Rijksmuseum, Amsterdam) is supported on a carved, giltwood stand, without drawers.

    Turtle-shell against a red ground was also used in German cities, and notably Augsburg, but in that city it was usually combined with mother-of-pearl rather than ivory. There was considerable movement of craftsmen from Augsburg to Antwerp during the Thirty Years War (1618-1648) and knowledge of techniques probably travelled with them, as suggested by the panel sold at Christie's, London, 6 December 2012, lot 78, which was attribued to Michael Verbiest and Peter de Loose, Antwerp, about 1690. , made)

  • Date:

    ca. 1680-1700 (made)
    ca. 1850-1860 (restored)

  • Artist/Maker:

    Unknown (maker)

  • Materials and Techniques:

    Carcase of oak and pine, veneered with turtle shell set against a red ground, with pewter, brass, hardwoods, ivory, bone and horn, with engraved details added.

  • Credit Line:

    Purchased by H.M. Government from the estate of the 6th Earl of Rosebery and allocated to the Victoria and Albert Museum

  • Museum number:

    W.33:1 to 3 -1977

  • Gallery location:

    Europe 1600-1815, Room 5, The Friends of the V&A Gallery, case PL3 []

Boulle marquetry - that is, marquetry with a ground of turtle shell rather than wood - derived its name from André-Charles Boulle (1642-1732), who was cabinet-maker to Louis XIV in Paris. Although he made the technique famous, it was also practised by other cabinet-makers, both in France and in other centres in Europe. Antwerp cabinet-makers particularly favoured the use of a very bright red colouring under the turtle-shell, which was very different from the dark ground often used in Paris. They also experimented with the use of a wider range of materials, particularly ivory, as here, and also sometimes mother-of-pearl.

Such marquetry never really fell out of fashion and has been collected since the time that it was made. This table was re-built in the 19th century, probably because the structural woodwork had shrunk, upsetting the marquetry on the top. This table came to the Museum from the collections of the Rothschild family at Mentmore Towers, Buckinghamshire. The Rothschilds, with branches of the family living all over Europe, were exceptional collectors of European decorative arts, particularly from the 17th and 18th centuries.

Physical description

A rectangular centre table veneered all over in boulle marquetry, of turtle shell set against a bright red ground, with engraved pewter and ivory and with a tropical hardwood, the edges of the top and the legs with lacquered-brass mounts. The table is set with a drawer in the frieze and raised on tapering, square-sectioned legs, joined at the base by a shaped stretcher of x-form.

Design
The top is surrounded with a lacquered brass moulding. The red ground of the top is inlaid with complex, scrolling strapwork in pewter with engraved detail. The strapwork delineates a central oval, surrounded by lobed framing sections, all set within an outer frame which links shaped oval panels at the corners and larger shaped panels in the middle of the longer sides. The inner framed oval is linked at either end by pelta (Greek shield)-shaped panels to the outer framing. The scrolls of the strapwork are linked at intersections with brass collars engraved with chevrons or trelliswork.

The individual compartments outlined by the strapwork are filled with scrolling foliage in engraved pewter and ivory, and with flowers (including jasmine and a five-petalled trumpet-shaped flower) in engraved ivory, with green-stained bone foliage. Details are added in engraved brass and curving trails of brass stringing run out at the ends of many of the foliate scrolls, filling the ground. Amongst the foliage are further flower heads in ivory, with engraved details. The foliate scrolls emerge in some cases from a carrot like root. The corner compartments show scrolling foliage and flowers centreing in each on a gadrooned urn in pewter and brass. The central oval is inlaid with addorsed, mythical beast with eagle's heads arising from a single lion's paw, scrolls running from behind the head to form a larger, lyre form enclosing a bouquet of flowers emerging from a vase composed of foliage in horn, ivory and green-stained bone. To either side of the lyre form are putti heads in engraved ivory, with wings of engraved brass (these motifs, which are detached from the rest of the design, may well be an addition).

In each of the intermediate ground areas between the outer framing compartments and the centre, the marquetry includes a single bird, of the finch family, in wood marquetry, one with an area of feathers in green-stained bone. Details on the birds are set in ebony , purplewood and a variety of other woods. The birds are set so that the symmetry of a centre table is maintained, i.e. as viewed from the side of the drawer, the further two birds appear upside-down, even though the central motif is designed to be seen from a single direction.

The frieze, with a single, large drawer, and the legs of the table are similarly veneered with boulle marquetry, the turtle shell laid on a red ground. They are inlaid with scrolling foliate motifs in engraved pewter and a reddish hardwoood, ending in flower trails in engraved ivory and green-stained bone. As on the top, the scrolls emerge in some cases from a carrot-like root. The side frieze sections show two short panels, separated by a panel with addorsed S-scrolls in engraved pewter. The front and back friezes each show two elongated panels, separated by the the same addorsed S-scroll panel and each set with scrolls and flowers set within shaped panels with semi-circular ends, outlined in pewter stringing. The design on each centres on a wreath like arrangment of flowers. Beyond the stringing each frieze is set with a sprig of flowers in the same materials. Some of the leaves are in horn, coloured behind with a strong, malachite-like green, very different from the green-stained bone used on the top and it is possible that these are replacements or denote addition. The frieze is set, on its lower edge, with an ebonized moulding.

The legs, of square section, have bases and double collars at the top framing a frieze-like setion on each leg set with a whirligig patera in engraved pewter composed of four acanthus leaves. Below the lacquered-brass bases are top-shaped feet in turned, ebonized beech.

The low, flat, x-shaped stretcher panel is veneered in red turtle shell with edge fillets of pewter, these interlacing at points to create compartments which are inlaid with scrolling foliage in a red hardwood (mahogany?) and pewter, both elements engraved to give detailing. Some leaves are in horn, set against a deep, malachite green, similar to that on the frieze. Flower heads (5-petalled) are cut in ivory, with engraved detail. At the centre, the stretcher panel enlarges into an oval with similar scrolled foliage and flowers, morphing into addorsed eagles' heads in ivory, below, in the true centre, a figure of a phoenix or eagle, standing with one foot on an orb, its head turned to its right in profile, on what may be a mount, above a heraldic wreath. The sides of the stretcher panel are also veneered in turtle shell set against a red ground.

Construction
The top, stretcher panel, the drawer and presumably the legs are in oak, the frame of the frieze section in softwood (probably pine). All visible surfaces underneath are stained black. The turned feet are in ebonized beech.

The top is composed of 5 boards, with inset, cleated ends. The line of joints of the boards are set slightly diagonal to the line of the top. The outer brass rim of the top is attached with screw-threaded bolts brazed to the underside. These are fixed on the underside of the top with square brass nuts, countersunk into wedge-shaped recesses and the the outer edges of the nuts ground off at an angle to follow the chamfering of the underside of the top.

The stretcher is made in 5 sections, the grain of each following the main direction of the section, attached to each other with mortice and tenon joints. The edges of the central section are supported at either end, where they meet the diagonal sections, with additional spandrel pieces, which stabilise the joint.

The legs are made attached with circular tenons into the underside of the frieze panel and through the outermost corners of the stretcher panel to the separate feet of turned beech.

The back and side panels of the frieze section are presumably dove-tailed together and have clearly been re-built, almost certainly in the mid-19th century. The top is attached with large, machine-made screws, attached diagonally through the upper edge of the frame. The side panels are each cut away inside in the centre , this recess accomodating glue blocks without interfering with the movement of the drawer. The back frame is deeper than those at the sides, which show an additional framing section, which also runs across the front, forming the bottom edge to the drawer compartment. These three pieces are tenone together at the front corners and into the upper edge of the back panel of the frieze section. This framing provides a wider ledge to support the fixing of the legs to the underside of the frieze compartment. It appears to be cut from wood showing signs of old infestation with woodworm, and some of the channels are cut through in the re-working of this wood. The boards used to construct the frieze show widths of 6 inches or 2 1/2 inches, suggesting that this section may have been re-made in Britain in the 19th century, rather than in continental Europe.

The drawer is of quarter-cut oak, finished with a very red varnish. Like the frieze section, it appears to be of 19th-century date.The back shows some sapwood on the lower edge. The sides are dove-tailed to the front and back of the drawer. The base, chamfered at each edge, runs in grooves in the sides and front and runs under the back, which is nailed up with wire nails, replacing earlier nails. It is composed of two boards, the grain running laterally. The top edge of the back of the drawer is set lower than the sides and front. The front of the drawer is set with an inset steel lock, with double-throw action, throwing two bolts. The keyhole shows a quatrefoil shaping for the pipe of the key. The base of the keyhole is flat.

Place of Origin

Antwerp (Probably. The marquetry in boulle technique (i.e. using turtle shell, ivory, metals and other materials) was practised in Antwerp from the middle of the 17th century. Antwerp makers particularly favoured setting the turtle shell against a bright scarlet ground. A table with a similar combination of turtle shell, ivory and wood marquetry (but without the pewter stringing) is illustrated in Thibaut Wolvesperges, Le Meuble en Belgique 1500-1800. Brussels, Editions Racine, 2000, p. 139, fig. 40. That table, which shows a similarly shaped stretcher, is raised on facetted columnar legs. It is dated to about 1660. That table does not show drawers in the frieze, which appear to be a development of the form which had spread to Paris by about 1685, although the most famous of such tables, dated 1689, and signed by Pieter de Looze (in the Rijksmuseum, Amsterdam) is supported on a carved, giltwood stand, without drawers.

Turtle-shell against a red ground was also used in German cities, and notably Augsburg, but in that city it was usually combined with mother-of-pearl rather than ivory. There was considerable movement of craftsmen from Augsburg to Antwerp during the Thirty Years War (1618-1648) and knowledge of techniques probably travelled with them, as suggested by the panel sold at Christie's, London, 6 December 2012, lot 78, which was attribued to Michael Verbiest and Peter de Loose, Antwerp, about 1690. , made)

Date

ca. 1680-1700 (made)
ca. 1850-1860 (restored)

Artist/maker

Unknown (maker)

Materials and Techniques

Carcase of oak and pine, veneered with turtle shell set against a red ground, with pewter, brass, hardwoods, ivory, bone and horn, with engraved details added.

Marks and inscriptions

242
Inscribed in ink on samll rectangular label with printed blue border, under the front rail

34
Inscribed in ink on a circular paper label printed with a blue border

857. A BOULLE CENTRE TABLE in scarlet tortoiseshell inlaid with pewter strapwork with green-stained and natural flowers and foliage, on square tapering legs, 3 ft. 5 in. wide (104 cm) circa 1700, Low Countries, the frieze now with a drawer and the feet replaced.
Mentmore, Volume II, page 172, number 82.
This label is a cutting from the Mentmore sale catalogue, Sotheby's 18-20 May 1977.

Dimensions

Height: 755 mm, Width: 1042 mm, Depth: 692 mm

Object history note

In the collection of Mayer Amschel de Rothschild, Mentmore Towers, Buckinghamshire, before 1977. Earlier history of the table is at present unknown.

Descriptive line

A rectangular centre table veneered all over in boulle marquetry, of turtle shell set against a bright red ground, with engraved pewter and ivory and with a tropical hardwood, the edges of the top and the legs with gilt-brass mounts. The table is set with a drawer in the frieze and raised on tapering, square-sectioned legs, joined at the base by a shaped stretcher of x-form.

Bibliographic References (Citation, Note/Abstract, NAL no)

Mentmore. Edinburgh: R. and R. Clark, privately printed, 1884, vol. II, p. 172, no. 82.
Mentmore, volume I. Catalogue of French and Continental Furniture, Tapestries and Clocks, sold on behalf of the Executors of the 6th Earl of Rosebery and his family. Sotheby Parke Bernet & Co., 18-20 May 1977 at Mentmore, Buckinghamshire. Lot 857.

Labels and date

Table
About 1680-1700

Probably Southern Netherlands, now Belgium (Antwerp)
Oak and pine, veneered with turtke shell; marquetry in pewter, brass, hardwoods, ivory, bone and horn
Purchased by H.M. Government from the estate of the 6th Earl of Rosebery and allocated to the Victoria and Albert Museum [2015]

Materials

Oak; Pine; Turtle shell; Pewter; Brass; Hardwood; Ivory; Bone; Horn

Techniques

Cabinet-making; Boulle marquetry; Veneering; Inlay; Technique

Categories

Marquetry; Furniture

Collection

Furniture and Woodwork Collection

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