table, article of furniture employed for household or ecclesiastical purposes. Elaborately decorated tables of wood or metal were known in ancient Egypt and Assyria, and the Greeks used small tables of low construction to be placed beside a couch. During the Roman Empire massive rectangular pieces were developed, which were made of marble and supported by carved end slabs as well as square or circular forms of bronze supported on a pedestal or on legs often representing wild beasts, sphinxes, or other figures. Although small tables of various shapes, some covered with precious metals, were used during the Middle Ages, the most common form was the long trestle table that was disassembled and removed after meals. Tables of the Italian and Spanish Renaissance were rectangular with end supports braced by stretchers; they often had an arcade of columns through the center. The magnificent Farnese table of marble inlay, attributed to Vignola (Metropolitan Museum of Art), is a notable piece from this period. Tables of the Elizabethan Age were supported on bulbous legs and included the draw table, forerunner of the extension dining table. By the end of the 17th cent. the console, the gateleg, and a variety of occasional tables had come into use. Striking tables of modern workmanship include elegant, simple designs in glass and chromium or stainless steel, and in a great variety of unvarnished woods. Tables vary in size with their purpose from the smallest candlestand to the great banquet table. They are named according to the place for which they are intended (center, library, side, sofa, tavern), their use (tea, china, drawing, writing, sewing, billiard, dining), their form (folding, console, extension, parson's trestle or sawhorse, piecrust, gateleg, butterfly, drop-leaf, tilt-top, nest), period or style (Gothic, Queen Anne, Empire), or the names of designers who created distinctive types (Adam, Chippendale, Hepplewhite, Sheraton, or Phyfe).
The Columbia Electronic Encyclopedia, 6th ed. Copyright © 2012, Columbia University Press. All rights reserved.