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Royal Collection © Her Majesty Queen Elizabeth II
This table, one of a pair, captures the essential qualities that Prince Albert and his artistic adviser, Ludwig Grüner sought to embody in the decoration of Osborne House on the isle of Wight: classical simplicity of form, bold, clear colours and fine workmanship. In the design and execution of the tops, the distant echo of sixteenth-century Florentine pietre dure reflects the Prince’s known taste for the Cinquecento.
The pair were shown by Thomas Woodruff at the Great Exhibition and were awarded Prize Medals in Classes 27 and 30. They were then placed below windows in the Principal Corridor at Osborne, where they mix happily with the boldly coloured Minton tiled floor and painted walls.
Woodruff established his business in marble masonry and statuary at Bakewell, in the Peak District of Derbyshire, specialising in the technique of inlaying local Ashford black marble. He first came to royal notice in 1840, when he sold a table top inlaid with birds, fruit and flowers to the Duke of Cambridge (1774-1850), seventh son of George III and uncle of Queen Victoria. Queen Adelaide (1792-1849), widow of William IV, was also a patron of the firm.
The 6th Duke of Devonshire, a significant patron of Woodruff, was indirectly responsible for this commission. Grüner obtained Woodruff’s address from the Duke and, having paid a visit to establish that Woodruff would be able to execute ‘his designs, placed the order for two console tables’.
Grüner’s involvement presumably extended to the design of the wooden underframes and bronzed iron lion monopodia supports, strikingly reminiscent of K.F. Schinkel’s work in Berlin of the early 1830s. The manufacturer of the iron bases is not known, although the Coalbrookdale Iron Works (also patronised by Prince Albert) must be a distinct possibility.
Text adapted from Victoria & Albert: Art & Love, London, 2010