This unusually large walnut bench displays a
wealth of Renaissance decorative elements in a pleasingly architectural
design. The overall construction is
based on a rectangular seat atop H-shaped stretchers with perpendicular
balusters supported by bun feet. The
turnings of the legs include a boule aplatie, a sort of flattened bun shape
featuring the same vertical gadrooning as on the frieze on the upper part of
the back. The back itself consists of
ten arches above circular floral medallions, most likely sunflowers, whose
petals are intricately carved. The
flowers' petals are repeated as decoration in the five supporting arches
forming the base of the back of the bench and atop the armrests where they join
the back. Indeed, it is in the choice
of stylistic elements adorning this bench
that we sense the enthusiasm of the 19th century French craftsman for
the Renaissance and its decorative vocabulary of nature - feathers, palm
leaves, sunflowers. We can imagine this
bench on a stone terrace overlooking fields of fragrant lavender in Provence,
where the arcature comprising the back is reminiscent of the Pont du Gard.
The vertical posts framing the two sides ofthe back are carved in elongated feather motifs, a shorter variation of which
is found in the alternating palmettes on the frieze just below the seat. The origins of the feather motif combined
with arches can be found in a sixteenth century walnut armchair shown on page
291 of Jacqueline Boccador's book on Medieval and Renaissance furniture (cited in
A delicately carvedpalm leaf forms the decoration for each of the six broad balusters supporting
the seat and for the two supports for the armrests, as well as for the narrower
balusters framing the ten arches of the back.
We believe the toupies inserted in a hole atop the armrest at each end
of the bench may be later additions.
The vertical post forming the
left side of the back has had some insect damage on the part which would not be
visible if the bench were up against a wall (see photo, below).
Fortunately, the infestation occurred long ago and does not affect the
structural integrity of the bench.
Owing to its age, several splits have occurred in the seat, as shown in photos below, but they do not impact the
bench's structural integrity or
the ability to sit comfortably on
Finally, the overall color of the bench is blond or light walnut, having
a rich patina that brings out the contrast and beauty of the intricate carving. Despite its heft and solid construction, the
open back and rhythmic arches combined with the delicate carving of feathers
and palm leaves result in a graceful, seemingly weightless yet comfortable seat
for the ages.
Jacqueline, Le Mobilier Français du Moyen Age à la Renaissance, Editions d'Art
Monelle Hayot (Saint-Just-en-Chaussée, 1988); Antiquités et Objets D'Art 10, Le
Mobilier Italien (Editions Fabri, Paris, 1990)