WAG 10839


This colourful table-top, decorated with intricate 'pietra dura' - Italian for 'hard stone' - was made around sixteen hundred, probably in Rome. It's like a huge jigsaw-puzzle, made by slicing marble and other semi-precious stones into thin slivers, cutting them to different shapes and slotting them into place. As you can see, it's only possible to tell where the edges of the various shapes are from the contrasting colours. They've been cut with such precision there are no gaps, no visible joins. With its origins in Ancient Rome, this technique reached its height in the fifteen hundreds in Florence, Italy, where the Medici rulers founded a workshop and promoted it as the defining art of their court. In the early sixteen hundreds it found its way to India and the Mughal Court, where Emperor Shah Jahan used it to stunning effect in his wife's mausoleum, the Taj Mahal. Here the reds, yellows and greens are Italian marbles. The vibrant blues are lapis lazuli. This has been prized since antiquity, ground up to make expensive pigment. There are medieval paintings with lapis blue in Room One. Here on the table-top you'll find oak leaves and acorns. The oak tree symbolizes strength - appropriate for this mighty piece of furniture. Tables like this were the largest objects made with 'pietra dura'. They were popular with English royalty. And with aristocrats - particularly until the early eighteen hundreds, as a reminder of their visit to Italy known as the 'Grand Tour'. They were often used to display other precious objects - hence the plainer centre here. In the late eighteen hundreds this table held a large French clock.