The opening of Pandora's box at Bonhams

Fine English Furniture, Sculpture & Works of Art
12 Jun 2013
London, New Bond Street

Inlaid centre table decorated with scenes from Greek mythology and longest table to come to auction

An early Victorian figured walnut centre table inlaid with scenes illustrating the Greek myth, The Opening of Pandora's Box and exhibited in The Great Exhibition of 1851 will be offered for sale in the Fine English Furniture sale at Bonhams, New Bond Street on 12th June. It is valued at £40,000 - £60,000.

The round walnut table is intricately decorated with brass, pewter, copper, mother of pearl and ivory with six engraved brass scenes illustrating The Opening of Pandora's box, by the ancient Greek poet and contemporary of Homer, Hesiod. Stamped by the makers, R.W Herring & Son with scenes designed by the sculptor Flaxman, the table is fixed with a brass label on the underside engraved with six lines from the poem relating to each of the six scenes illustrated on its surface.

The first literary telling of the myth of Pandora's box appears in Works and Days by Hesoid. When the Titan, Prometheus stole fire from heaven and took it to earth, Zeus decided to punish him. Zeus, King of the gods, ordered the god of craftmanship to create the beautiful Pandora from water and earth and present her to Prometheus's brother. According to Hesoid, Pandora was the first human woman on earth created by the Gods with unique gifts. Athena the goddess of civilization clothed her, Aphrodite the goddess of love gave her beauty, and Hermes, messenger of the Gods, gave her speech.

Pandora was given a beautiful container by the gods but forbidden ever to open it. The temptation was too great. Overcome by curiosity, Pandora opened the container and unknowingly she unleashed every evil that was stored within. Disease misery and death escaped and spread over the earth. The only thing that did not escape the jar was the Spirit of Hope, Elpis. "Only Hope was left within her unbreakable house, she remained under the lip of the jar, and did not fly away. Before Pandora replaced the lid of the jar."

The work was exhibited in the Great Exhibition, 1851 in London's Hyde Park which was an enormous success and which set the benchmark for the numerous World's Fairs in the second half of the 19th century. A third of the population turned out to visit the exhibition which was the brainchild of inventor Sir Henry Cole aided by Prince Albert and aimed to establish Britain at the forefront of design. The exhibition raised a wealth of funds for the arts which was used to found many cultural institutions, including the South Kensington Museum which was later to become the Victoria & Albert Museum.

Other highlights in the sale include a remarkable 30ft long Victorian mahogany table by Holland and Sons, estimated at £30,000-50,000. It is one of the largest period dining tables ever to appear on the market, comfortably seating thirty-two guests. The table was made for the great Victorian Collector Robert Staynor Holford for his dining room at Dorchester House, Park Lane, London circa 1856-58. Dorchester House was designed for Holford by the architect Lewis Vuillamy and was one of the most significant houses in London built in the mid 19th century. The house was demolished in 1929 to make way for the Dorchester Hotel.


Bonhams, founded in 1793, is one of the world's largest auctioneers of fine art and antiques. The present company was formed by the merger in November 2001 of Bonhams & Brooks and Phillips Son & Neale. In August 2002, the company acquired Butterfields, the principal firm of auctioneers on the West Coast of America. Today, Bonhams offers more sales than any of its rivals, through two major salerooms in London: New Bond Street and Knightsbridge; and a further three in the UK regions and Scotland. Sales are also held in San Francisco, Los Angeles, Carmel, New York and Connecticut in the USA; and Germany, France, Monaco, Hong Kong and Australia. Bonhams has a worldwide network of offices and regional representatives in 25 countries offering sales advice and valuation services in 60 specialist areas. For a full listing of upcoming sales, plus details of Bonhams specialist departments go to

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