circa 1805 - 1815
A rare early 19th century Regency period brass inlaid breakfront rosewood console table. The rosewood top is finely inlaid with a very unusual three leaf clover motif and brass stringing. The rosewood top retains a good colour and grain and sits above a shallow gilt ormolu moulding with a central plaque. The plaque depicts opposing griffins and anthemion designs that are archetypal of Egyptian architecture. The breakfront top is underpinned by rosewood 'S' scroll supports and surmounted Egyptian gilt metal sphinxes that are raised on elegant feet. The scroll supports are adorned with fine cast mounts and sit on a well figured rosewood plinth base.
The three leaf clover represents faith, hope and love while the mythical griffin has the body of a lion and the head and wings of an eagle. Since the lion was considered the 'king of the beasts' and the eagle the 'king of the air', the griffin was thought to be an especially powerful and majestic creature.
The Egyptian Revival
The attempt to naturalise Egyptian motifs and symbolism (and, in a few cases, architectural forms) dates from the first years of the 19th century. This revival follows Bonaparte’s expedition to Syria and Egypt in 1798-1801, in which an archaeological mission duplicated Bonaparte’s military staff, and a more intense interest was aroused in the art of Egypt, as surpassing in grandeur and strangeness any other of the visible works of man. After the campaign, Vivant Denon, the leading archaeologist of the expedition had a bedroom fitted up by Jacob Desmalter to his own design in the Egyptian style. The bed, which was of mahogany inlaid with silver, had three sides ornamented with bas-reliefs of kneeling figures; its head was decorated with a carved Isis and the legs with the Uraeus.
Farington, who visited Paris in 1802, noticed in Napoleon’s private apartment in the Tuileries that ‘the Egyptian figure [of] the Sphynx made part of the frame work of the Chairs in one of the apartments’(1), and Egyptian detail is figured in Percier and Fontaine’s 'Recueil de Décorations Intérieures' (1812) and introduced in their decorations for Napoleon as first Consul.
Archaeologists and travellers, such as Volney and Grohmann,(2) had led the way in the exploration of Egypt during the late years of the eighteenth century, and Piranesi(3) had used Egyptian motifs in his designs, maintaining that what had been called its rigidity and harshness was only a sign of the ‘harmonious force and solidity’ of the style. To the influence of these early pioneers must be assigned the silver candelabrum and a pair of candlesticks bearing the London hallmarks for the years 1791-2.(4) Egyptian motifs appear occasionally in Louis XVI furniture, and in the work of Henry Holland, who is known to have received drawings of Egyptian antiquities in Rome, made on his behalf between 1794 and 1796 by C. H. Tatham.
It was, however, not until the publication of Denon’s 'Voyages dans la Basse et Haute Egypte' in 1802 that this archaeological revival had any large following in England.(5) Its publication ‘gave use and life to a taste for this description of embellishment’(6). Its progress in this country (which also had its share in the Egyptian campaign) is recorded in magazines and architectural publications. In particular, Nelson’s victory of the Nile (1798) had fostered a taste, which, by 1806, had affected ‘many articles of interior decoration’ and had become the ‘present prevailing fashion’.(7) It was experimented in by Thomas Hope(8) (who had sketched the antiquities of Egypt for the room in which this part of his collections was housed). He was of course, concerned with the more scholarly aspects of the taste. The decoration, designed to ‘bear some analogy to its contents’, was taken from Egyptian mummy cases and papyri, the colouring of the walls, ceiling and furniture pale yellow and bluish green, relieved by masses of black and gold. He was considered to have ‘made a perfect hieroglyphic of most of our apartments(9). Hope warns the ‘young artist ‘that this style is not to be lightly undertaken, ‘the hieroglyphic figures, so universally employed by the Egyptians, can afford us little pleasure on account of their meaning since this is seldom intelligible’. A bookcase from Deepdene, in his Egyptian manner, has the entablature supported by terminating in Egyptian heads, while the supports to the lower stage are lion-headed.
In spite of Hope’s warning, Egyptian detail became the vogue. At Crawley House, in Bedfordshire, the wallpaper of the drawing-room preserves its borders in which a mummy serves as a ‘stop’ to divide two sphinxes, and a chimney-glass in the same room is decorated with a lotus and anthemion frieze and ‘Egyptian female heads to the pilasters’, as entered in the upholsterer Collis’s bill in 1806. At Harewood House, in Yorkshire, according to Jewell,(10) the entrance hall was ‘fitted up in the Egyptian style’, and in a description of 'White Knights', published in the same year, one room is described as ‘ornamented with a painted cornice and capitals in the Egyptian manner’, while the chimney-piece was ‘sculptured in the same style of art, each side being supported by an Isis’.
At Stourhead in Wiltshire is a quantity of furniture in mahogany and satinwood made by the younger Thomas Chippendale for the Wiltshire antiquary, Sir Richard Colt Hoare, in the early years of the nineteenth century. Among the bills is an entry of a set of ‘eight mahogany chairs with circular backs, broad sweep panelled tops, with circle elbows, carved Egyptian heads and fluted therm feet, the rails moulded and carved, cane seats and brass socket castors’ for the library, and the mahogany table and pedestal writing-table are also enriched with Egyptian, combined, in the case of the writing-table, with classic heads. The tapering and fluted sheaths finish below in human feet, both in the engaged supports upon the front of the table and in the free-standing Egyptian supports between the plinth and semi-circular ends. The finely finished heads are carved, not inserted in cast brass, which became customary in furniture of this type. Such decoration was often no more than superficial.
A silver candelabrum in the style, which was made for the Duke of Cumberland in 1805, has the shaft in the form of a triform Egyptian figure resting on a triangular base supported by winged sphinxes. The candle branches are shaped as foliated scrolls terminating in dolphin heads.
That the Egyptian style did not stop short at archaeological motifs we have the evidence of a description of a house in 'Our Village', in which the library is Egyptian, ‘all covered with hieroglyphics and swarming with furniture crocodiles and Sphinxes’.(11) The sofa, a piece of sheer extravagance which might have come from this library, is a unique survival of this swarm.
The Egyptian style was still approved by the Nicholsons as late as 1826, and may have lingered until about 1830.
Mahogany pedestal library table, made by Thomas Chippendale, the younger, in 1804-5 for Sir Richard Colt Hoare. (‘A large mahogany Library table with pedestals and drawers inside pedestals, mahogany pannell’d doors, thermed legs with Philosophers’ heads carved on Do.4 end therms with Egyptian heads, the top part fitted up with drawers of fine wood, the whole made to take to pieces, and strong iron castors £115’ – Thomas Chippendale’s bill, 1805.) Height, 2 ft 6½ in.; length, 8 ft 3in.
(1) Farington Diary, September 11, 1802
(2) Volney, Voyage en Egypte (1787). Translation of Norden’s Voyage d’Egypte et de Nubie (1795). Grohmann, Restes d’architecture Egyptienne (1799).
(3) Diverse maniere d’adornare i camini (1769). The room, the caffè inglese, in the Piazza di Spagna, in Rome, must have been well known to travellers.
(4) Jackson, Illustrated History of English Plate (1911), Vol. II, p. 875.
(5) Holland possessed a copy of the work.
(6) George Smith, Cabinet-Maker’s and Upholsterer’s Guide (1828), p. vi. (Published in 1828, although engraved title page is dated 1826.)
(7) J. Randall, A Collection of Architectural Designs for Mansions (1806).
(8) In the bibliography in his Household Furniture Hope mentions Denon’s and Norden’s works as having been among the most useful to him.
(9) Edinburgh Review (1807), Vol. X, p. 485.
(10) Jewell, Tourist’s Companion (1819), p.21.
(11) ‘Only think of a crocodile couch and a Sphinx sofa’ – Miss Mitford, Our Village, Vol. IV, pp. 239-40.
Extract taken from Margaret Jourdain’s ‘Regency Furniture’ revised by Ralph Fastnedge
Height 90.00cm (35.43 inches)
Width 145.00cm (57.09 inches)
Depth 40.00cm (15.75 inches)
Stock No: 11289