Mechanical table (Table mécanique)

Maker: Jean Henri Riesener (French, Gladbeck, North Rhine-Westphalia 1734–1806 Paris)

Maker: mechanism by Jean-Gotfritt Mercklein (1733–1808)

Date: 1778

Culture: French, Paris

Medium: Oak veneered with marquetry of bois satiné, holly, amaranth, barberry, stained sycamore, and green-lacquered wood; gilt-bronze mounts; steel, iron and brass fittings; mirror glass; velvet (not original)

Dimensions: H. 31 x W. 44-1/2 x D. 27 1/4 in. (78.7 x 113.0 x 69.2 cm)

Classification: Woodwork-Furniture

Credit Line: Rogers Fund, 1933

Accession Number: 33.12


The number 2964 painted underneat the top of this table corresponds to an entry in the Journal du Garde-Meuble de la Couronne (a ledger listing new furniture for the royal residences) and identifies this multipurpose table as one of the first pieces ordered by Marie-Antoinette from her favorite cabinetmaker, Jean-Henri Riesener. A native of Westphalia, Riesener had a successful career in Paris and made many sumptuous pieces for the queen. This table was delivered to Versailles on December 12, 1778, exactly a week before the long-awaited birth of her first child, Marie-Thérèse-Charlotte. To alleviate Marie-Antoinette’s discomfort during the advanced state of her pregnancy, this table was fitted by Mercklein, a mécanicien in her service, with a special mechanism. Hidden behind a finely decorated gilt-bronze plaque at either end, this mechanism allowed the queen to use the table in either a seated or a standing position. By means of a detachable crank at one side, the top can be raised or lowered on ratcheted metal shafts that move up or down in the hollow legs (see detail below). The table could be used for various activities such as eating and writing and also reading and dressing, since the central panel of the top can be lifted to form a lectern and reversed to reveal a mirror. Pressing buttons along the front edge of the table releases the hinged lids to six compartments for the storage of cosmetic and writing equipment. The intricate marquetry decoration of the top has lost some of its subtle coloring over time. Framed alternately with natural (originally white) holly and black-stained holly, the bois satiné trelliswork encloses rosettes cut of an originally bright yellow barberry wood against a stained, soft yellow sycamore ground.

[Daniëlle Kisluk-Grosheide, 2010]