Tuesday, July 15, 2014

Her Majesty's Furniture: The Birley-Randell Marble Table, 1862

The Victoria & Albert Museum

The International Exhibition of 1862 in London revisited some of the artistic triumphs of the Great Exhibition of 1851. Manufacturers and artists from across the world sought to show their skills. S. Birley of Derbyshire made this table for the Exhibition. The magnificent work of pietra dura won prizes in the furniture and the mining classes.

Samuel Birley was known for gorgeous inlaid marble objects which imitated the Italian mosaic inlaying technique that had been prized for centuries since being developed for Italy’s powerful Medici family. This is one of Birley’s most exceptional pieces--thin polished slices of hardstone and semi-precious stone have been used to create a brilliantly colored, naturalistic pattern of flowers and foliage. The design, much admired by Queen Victoria, was created by Birley’s associate, J. Randell.

Matthew Digby Wyatt, in judging the group, compared Birley's table with the pietra dura exhibited by the Italian firms in attendance. He said, “Many very good samples of the usual imitations of flowers, &c., inlaid in black marble for table tops and cabinets, are contributed by various Florentine manufacturers, amongst whom the jury specially noted the houses of Barzanti, Betti, and Rinaldini. In the same class of goods the table top exhibited by our solitary producer in the same line, Mr. Samuel Birley, of Ashford, Derbyshire, was much admired. Observations were, however, made upon the inequality of scale in which the centre group of flowers and the surrounding wreath had been worked out.”

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