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'The Roman Pietra Dura Table'

Category

Furniture

Date

circa 1580

Materials

Marble, hardstone, gilt and painted lime wood, gesso

Measurements

92 cm (H); 257 cm (W); 134 cm (D)

Place of origin

Rome

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Collection

Powis Castle and Garden, Powys (Accredited Museum)

On show at

Cross Gallery, Powis Castle and Garden, Powys, Wales, National Trust

NT 1181054

Caption

Pietre dura table, Florence or Rome, c1600. It is a family tradition that this table came from the Borghese Palace, Rome, given to them by the Pope Innocent XI. A possibility as Roger Palmer, Earl of Castlemaine, nephew of the 1st Marquess of Powis, conducted an embassy from King James II to Pope Innocent XI, after being appointed the King’s ambassador-extraordinary in 1685. This is when such items as the twelve Caesars and the pietre dure table may have been acquired.

Summary

A giltwood and painted centre table with a pietre dura inlaid marble top, Italian, probably Rome, circa 1580. The rectangular marble top decorated with inlaid hardstones depicting insects and flowers, the central panels with roundels. Supported on two arches and six decorated Ionic columns above a solid base, the plinth to the table with six carved and giltwood figural monopodia, having lioness and lion's head and foot and with a human torso.

Full description

This magnificent Italian table dates from circa 1580 and is thought to be from the Borghese Palace in Rome. It was first documented at Powis in the inventory of 1793 but its date of acquisition is not recorded. A possible purchaser is George Herbert, second and last Earl of Powis of the second creation (1755-1801), whose Grand Tour took him to Rome in 1775-6 and which he visited again in 1782. However, it is also possible that the table arrived at Powis alongside a set of 12 marble busts of Caesars, delivered in 1704 from Powis House in Lincoln's Inn Fields. If the table did arrive from London its acquisition in Rome may have connected with the 1685 Embassy to Pope Innocent XI conducted by Roger Palmer, Earl of Castlemain (1634-1705), who was first cousin to William Herbert, third Lord Powis. It is unusual to find a pietra table of this size and date with what is likely to be its original base. The base is partly water gilded and painted to imitate porphyry, the fine lime wood carving on the lion and lioness monopodia and the ionic columns retain most of their original 16th century gilding. The capitals are carved with upright pears, a most unusual feature which may allude to the Peretti (little pear) family; Pope Sixtus V’s (1521-1590) family name. Certainly a number of pietra dura tables are listed in various Peretti inventories which would render a Peretti provenance possible. Lord Torrington (1740-1812) did not approve when he saw the table at Powis in 1793 and commented generally on the castle's furnishings 'There is not one carpet, not one bed fit to sleep in, nor, probably one hogshead of wine!! ..the inlaid Roman table should go towards the purchase of a good English dining table.' Andrews, 1936 p.296. For further discussion and extensive research see: Jervis & Dodd ‘Roman Splendour, English Arcadia, The English taste for Pietre Dure and the Sixtus Cabinet at Stourhead’ NT 2015. A similar pietra dura panel, almost certainly from the same workshop and also thought to be from the Borghese Palace, is in the National Trust collection at Charlecote Park (NT 532954). (James Weedon, March 2019)

Provenance

Part of the indigenous collection of Powis Castle accepted in part satisfaction of the Estate duty after the death of the Right Honourable George Charles, 4th Earl of Powis, on 9th November 1952. The contract of the 'Offer of Property in Satisfaction of Estate Duty under the National Land Fund Scheme' was completed on 21st March 1963. Conveyed to National Trust ownership in 1992.

References

Jervis and Dodd 2015 Simon Swynfen Jervis and Dudley Dodd, Roman Splendour, English Arcadia: the English taste for pietre dure and the Sixtus Cabinet at Stourhead, 2015, p.50-51 Giusti 1992: Anna Maria Giusti, Hardstone in furniture and decorations, Philip Wilson, 1992., p.29-30 Ostergard 2001 : D.E Ostergard, B.McLeod, A. Turpin (and other contributors) : William Beckford, 1760-1844 : An Eye for the Magnificent, Exhibition October 2001-April 2002, The Bard Graduate Center, New York and The Dulwich Picture Gallery, London, 2001, p.186-193 Wainwright, 1989: Clive Wainwright, The romantic interior: the British collector at home, 1750-1850. Studies in British Art. New Haven; London: Paul Mellon Centre for Studies in British Art by Yale University Press, 1989. [Charlecote pp.208-240] Koeppe 2008: Wolfram Koeppe, Annamaria Giusti, Art of the Royal Court, Treasures in Pietre Dure from the Palaces of Europe, exhibition July 1-September 21 2008, Metropolitan Museum, New York.

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