The dining room at Highclere castle,
Featuring a mahogany dining table,
Painting of Charles I by Sir Anthony van Dyck (1599-1651),
© Highclere Castle / Lady Carnarvon website
When you give a lunch or a dinner...
Jesus said to his host, one of the leading Pharisees, ‘When you give a lunch or a dinner, do not ask your friends, brothers, relations or rich neighbours, for fear they repay your courtesy by inviting you in return. No; when you have a party, invite the poor, the crippled, the lame, the blind; that they cannot pay you back means that you are fortunate, because repayment will be made to you when the virtuous rise again.’
Reflection on the Dining Room
In our Gospel reading today, Jesus is addressing a wealthy Pharisee who was his host at a meal. The Pharisees tended to eat only with their own kind. Jesus challenges his host to invite to his table those he would not normally invite, people beyond his circle. Jesus, in contrast to his host, shared table with a myriad of different people, with the rich and the poor, with the sick and healthy, with the educated and uneducated, with the religious and non believers, etc… His very broad table was a symbol of his whole ministry.
In ancient civilisations such as those of the Egyptians, Greeks, and Romans, people reclined on low couches or sat on stools around low tables to share meals. It is really only during the Middle Ages that higher dining tables as we know them now started being used. These usually were simple trestle tables, consisting of a long, narrow board resting on two or more trestles or supports, so they could be easily assembled and disassembled, making them practical for large feasts and banquets. The Renaissance saw a shift toward more ornate and decorative dining tables, often featuring intricate carvings, inlays, and veneers. Woods were carefully selected to function as a discreet backdrop for the porcelain and silver services in many of the stately homes.
A fine example of a mahogany dining room table is this table featured in the dining room of Highclere Castle. Many of you may recognise this room from the Downton Abbey series filmed there. Worth noting also is the large portrait at the back: King Charles I on his horse at the gates of Paris, by Sir by Anthony van Dyck. Painted around 1633, it portrays the king as a firm, focussed, wise leader and a powerful warrior who embodies the divine right to rule. However, he turned out maybe not to be so wise. He failed to listen to his close advisors and and catapulted England into civil war, and sixteen years later became the first and only English King to be executed by his subjects. The painting was reputedly found on the estate some time after the death of Lord Protector Oliver Cromwell in 1658. It was rolled up and being used to prop open a barn door.
As a side note, as we are discussing furniture today, one of the more noteworthy pieces of furniture at Highclere caste is a desk and armchair which Napoleon took with him in exile on St. Helena where he died.
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