This ostentatious table on three immense supports has sculpted decoration in the forms of harpies, laurel swags, fruit garlands, acanthus leaves, and acanthus rosettes, all pronounced with gilded highlighting. The central axis is shaped as a baluster of substantial size. A channeled molding carries the hexagonal top with stylized palmette edge. The proportion of that piece, especially the thickness of its boards, seems relatively thin given the massive appearance of the other components. The table’s support with three stands recalling ancient prototypes, and the popular tripod, was deftly chosen here, as such a structure will, to a certain degree, correct the table’s position on an uneven floor. The three feet are shaped as monumental carved paws appearing as though they are bound to the ground, evoking an animalistic force. A three-legged or spreading structure is one of the most simple but calculated designs to guarantee such stability.(1) The form was in place in the Early Renaissance and has survived in several fine works, which led to a revival of the shape as a library table beginning in the eighteenth century.(2) Since early medieval times, harpies, the mythological pagan monsters with head and breasts (here covered by acanthus) and the stylized acanthus wings and claws of a bird of prey, were part of the scheme of the seven deadly sins.(3) In this case they condemn the carrying of the weight of humanist knowledge, as spread through heavy books. The gold highlights may allude to golden balls or apples — symbols of the miser’s hoarded wealth that turns into perishable decoration. Here, the three monsters are securely bound to the central baluster by fruit festoons, another sign of plenty.
Catalogue entry from: Wolfram Koeppe. The Robert Lehman Collection. Decorative Arts, Vol. XV. Wolfram Koeppe, et al. New York: The Metropolitan Museum of Art in association with Princeton University Press, 2012, pp. 270-71.
1. Schottmüller, Frida. Furniture and Interior Decoration of the Italian Renaissance. 2nd ed. Stuttgart, 1928, ill. pp. 154 – 63; The Viola E. Bray Renaissance Gallery. DeWaters Art Center, Flint Institute of Arts. Flint, Michigan, 1963, n.p.; Kisluk-Grosheide, Danielle O., Wolfram Koeppe, and William Rieder. European Furniture in The Metropolitan Museum of Art: Highlights of the Collection. New York, 2006, p. 20.
2. For hexagonal and octagonal comparisons, see Schottmüller, pp. 161, 247, fig. 365 (table with massive festoons then in the Kaiser-Friedrich Museum, Berlin); DeWaters Art Center 1963, n.p.; Aronson, Joseph. Furniture in the Bob Jones University Collection. Greenville, S.C., 1976, no. 90. See also Metropolitan Museum, 69.213.5 (Koeppe, Wolfram. “French and Italian Renaissance Furniture at The Metropolitan Museum of Art: Notes on a Survey.” Apollo 139 (June) 1994, fig. 12).
3. Hall, James. Dictionary of Subjects and Symbols in Art. New York, 1974, [Reprint ed., 1979.], s.v. “Avarice.”