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The Art of Monarchy

A collaboration with BBC Radio 4 to mark Her Majesty The Queen’s Diamond Jubilee

Sèvres porcelain factory

Table of the Great Commanders of Antiquity 1806-12

RCIN 2634

Blue Drawing Room, Buckingham Palace

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Known as the Table des Grands Capitaines, the table was commissioned by Napoleon in 1806 and was originally intended to form part of a set of four grand presentation tables designed to immortalise his reign.  

Made almost entirely of hard-paste Sèvres porcelain, it took six years to complete and combines some of the finest and most technically challenging work achieved by the factory in the early nineteenth century.  

The most striking and original feature of the table is the elaborately decorated top, painted in imitation of sardonyx, with heads and scenes resembling cameos. In the centre, the profile head of Alexander the Great is surrounded by 12 smaller heads of other commanders and philosophers from antiquity and scenes recalling notable events of their lives. Starting from the top right of the table, the depicted figures are: Pericles, Scipio Africanus, Pompey, Augustus, Septimus Severus, Constantine, Trajan, Caesar, Mithridates, Hannibal, Themistocles and Miltiades.

The table was the most prestigious and conspicuous present given to George IV by a grateful Louis XVIII, two years after the defeat of Napoleon. So highly did George IV regard this gift, and such was its status in his eyes, that it became part of the ceremonial backdrop for all his state portraits.