can't seem to help ourselves when it comes to acquiring library tables in the
Renaissance style. Each one we have had
brings a new flurry of research and an unceasing affection for this ancient
form that has proved a platform for boundless creativity in the hands of
craftsmen dating back to the 16th century.
For more about the history of the library table, see the following
items: 4176, 9210, and 9218.
table has the classic "H" shaped stretcher from which columns rise to
support the top. The columns on the
outer members of the "H" are larger and more elaborate than the ones
on the cross-member. However, they all
incorporate an elaborately carved bowl-and-cup design for the base. The central columns are united by arches,
above which a delicate floral design is carved even though it would be unlikely
to be viewed.
keeping with other Renaissance library tables, the sides of this table are
particularly elaborate in their carving and the range of symbolism
employed. The columns terminate in
corbels carved to resemble palm fronds, a favorite decorative device in the
Renaissance. Between the corbels is the
figure of a woman's head with flowing hair.
It is difficult to resist the urge to call her a Venus, with her flowing
hair reminiscent of Sandro Botticelli's goddess seen sailing on her scallop
shell toward land, in his famous Birth of Venus in the Uffizi Gallery in
either side of the corbels are female figures, also with flowing hair, whose
torsos taper into intricately carved dolphin tails and whose backs have
sprouted wings amidst acanthus leaves.
While similar to mermaids, the presence of the wings makes them
melusines, mythical creatures of fresh water areas of France associated with
the Celts, such as Brittany and Normandy.
Conrad Kreutzer's opera, The Fair Melusine, based on a story by Franz
Grillparzer, may well have been the inspiration for this table, especially
after Felix Mendelssohn's own overture of the same name became a staple of the
European orchestral repertoire. This
may also explain why it appears that the female figures were carved and added
later, perhaps in the early 20th century, to a table that dates from the
unique aspect of this table is that instead of having a draw-leaf top, as a
typical Renaissance library table would, this table has a drawer at each
end. The drawers are only noticeable
because of their pulls (replacements), set in the intricately carved frieze
designed to look like small acanthus leaves.
of the table is massive and, owing to its age, displays some scratches. As the pictures illustrate, the oak has a
magnificent patina and a rich grain, without the huge splits that often
characterize older table tops that have warped or shrunk.
base of the table has suffered some damage over the centuries, including from
insects. Our tests have revealed that
the holes resulting from insect damage are old and that there is no current
infestation. It also appears that the
feet have suffered the fate of too many antique tables - deterioration from
having been swiped with a wet mop while the floors around them were being
washed. What shines through is a
magnificent paw design of the feet - tightly wound acanthus leaves topped by an
intricately carved acanthus leaf. This
is the typical design from a library table owing its origins to Renaissance
Italy where the feet afforded an outlet for the carver's virtuosity and a
whimsical take on what a table or a chest's foot could be. Bringing us firmly back to France are the
fleur-de-lys at the center of the base on the outer sides of the table.
In addition to the female figures that we believe were added later, wedoubt that the toupies were the original ones for this table. This is because they do not incorporate any
of the design elements found elsewhere in the table and we would have expected
them to be more similar to those on table 9210. Nevertheless, they enhance the overall look of the table and
place it firmly in the firmament of library tables we have come to love.