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Small Antique Tables

Updated on July 18, 2009

After the Renaissance period, artisans no longer carved episodes from the lives of the saints or the cycles of romance, for these were superseded as decorative material by the fashion for classical mythology. During the quattrocento period in Italy (1400-1500), sumptuous tables of every description was executed at the bidding of the Medici and other patron princes. The cassone or marriage chest was particularly important and was highly decorated. The fashion for gilt grounds, pietra dura work, that is, the inlaying of slabs of colored and richly veined marbles, and tarsia, or certosina work, or marquetry (inlaying) of wood in geometrical patterns or floral designs, came quickly into vogue and spread rapidly across the Alps to other countries. During the reign of Henry VIII, Jean de Mabuse and Holbein introduced Italian fashions into England, and in France, as the result of the infiltration of Italian craftsmen, a mass of heavy and rich table was made. The frequent use of strap-work and the cartouche, which characterizes the Henri Deux style, is peculiarly French.


The Jacobean and Restoration styles, though overshadowed by the great floraison in table which marks the 18th century throughout Europe, evolved directly from the Elizabethan solidity, and were marked by increased use of upholstery, the evolution of present types of chair from the old, box-like structures, the appearance of simple sofas and gate-legged tables. Carving, though still abundant, became lighter and walnut began to come into its own. Under William and Mary, the Dutch influence brought a notable increase in comfort. The upholstered wing-chair (which has lasted till today), the slant-top desk, corner cabinets for display of china, all now made their appearance. Queen Anne table included secretaires, grandfather clocks, tallboys and lowboys. Dutch marquetry was especially popular.

Throughout the 18th century Chinoiserie had become increasingly popular and many tables were produced in an 'Anglo-Chinese' style. The publication of Edwards and Darly's New Book of Chinese Designs, 1754, and William Chambers' Chinese Designs, 1757, stimulated interest. Eventually Chinoiserie became over-exaggerated and unfashionable.

At the turn of the 17th and 18th centuries, the French ebeniste Andre Boulle, who owed his excellence in marquetry work (referred to as 'boulle' or 'buhl') to Florentine and Venetian craftsmen, exercised great influence. Boulle belongs to the Louis Quatorze period—the armoire in the Jones' collection at the Victoria and Albert Museum, South Kensington, London, is a beautiful example of his work—but though this period and the succeeding ones, the regency and the Louis Quinze or rococo, afford much that is both sumptuous and elegant, the cabinet-maker's art reaches its high-water mark just before the French revolution, that is, in the reign of Louis XVI.

In the Victoria and Albert Museum may be seen some splendid specimens of the work of Rontgen, Riesner and Gouthiere, who enjoyed the patronage of Marie Antoinette. Gouthiere was the chief founder and chaser of his day, and used to mount in ormulu or bronze-gilt the elegant commodes and cabinets which the other two had made. These men turned their backs on the frivolous, rampant vagaries of apostles of the rococo school such as Meissonier, Cressent and Pineau, and developed a beautiful restraint and delicacy accentuated by their preference for the classic forms. Thus the 'riotous curves' of the du Barry period gave place to medallions and the straight-lined patterns, which heralded a purer style.

The transitional work between the restrained classicism of Louis XVI and the heavier Empire style is known as Directoire table, and shows a gradual loss of delicacy and increasing use of Roman motifs. The Regency styles were much affected by the Directoire interpretation of classicism, but they were more severe, stiff and formal. Pedestal base tables were popular, chairs with Greek circular backs, sofas with rolled ends and bookcases with metal grilles. Mahogany and rosewood, black lacquer, gold banding and marble tops were fashionable. Two important publications of Regency designs were Thomas Hope's Household table & Decoration, 1807, and George Smith's Collection of Designs for Household table & Interior Decoration, 1808. Egyptian motifs became an important feature of the Regency style.


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