If you're seeing this message, it means we're having trouble loading external resources on our website.

If you're behind a web filter, please make sure that the domains *.kastatic.org and *.kasandbox.org are unblocked.

Main content

Construction of an 18th-century French mechanical table

The innovative mechanics and artistry of Jean-François Oeben's table continue to amaze. Created by Getty Museum.

Want to join the conversation?

Video transcript

This table's ornate exterior hides an elaborate mechanized system. At its core is an oak frame. A complex brass and steel mechanism, including rails, gears, and a release lever controls a movable writing desk. A desk's assembly incorporates lidded compartments, a concealed latch, a spring-activated drawer, and a writing surface that also serves as a book stand. A bolt prevents the desk from moving too far. A tabletop has metal fittings that engage gears and bolts. Long rods prevent the tabletop from sliding too far. A large key is used to wind the mechanism's coil springs. A small key unlocks and opens the desk. As the desk is closed, the spring mechanism rewinds. The marquetry tabletop surface has a ground of purple heartwood into which thin pieces of other colorful wood are assembled like a jigsaw puzzle. The rest of the table's exterior is covered in a geometric trellis pattern. Ornamental gilt bronze mounts frame and protect vulnerable wood edges. Today, the table is still functional and its innovative mechanics and artistry continue to amaze.