These four chairs are made of solid walnut,
hand-carved, and date from 19th century France. Particularly interesting is the heraldic
motif on the front of each chair back, featuring a fish and a crown. The fish is a stylized dolphin, an
allusion to the French word “dauphin” which means both heir to the throne and
dolphin. The reference dates back to
Guy VIII, Count of Vienne (the principal city in the Dauphiné region of
France), whose coat of arms included a dolphin and who had been nicknamed the
“dauphin” from Dauphiné. Guy’s
descendent sold his holdings to King Philippe VI in the 14th
century subject to the requirement that the heir to the throne assume the
Subsequent heirs to the throne incorporated the fish in their coats of arms with one of the best
known being that of the future King Charles VIII of France (reigned
1483-1498, known as “the Affable”).
Perhaps if he had chosen a more fierce symbol such as the lion (Item 3097) or
salamander (Item 5154) he might have survived the fatal and reign-ending
accident in which he hit his head while passing through a doorway.
In the case of these chairs, the dolphin itself is not highly detailed and, curiously, points to the right whereas
typically in French heraldry the dolphin’s head points to the left. The crown above the dolphin is a stylized
depiction of that worn by heirs to the French throne up to the mid 16th
The incorporation of “fenestrage” or patterns associated
with stained glass windows as a background motif places these chairs firmly
in the Gothic tradition of the region around Paris.
The construction in solid walnut, with a seat in trapezoidal form and rails connecting the bases of the legs, points in the direction of
later influences such as the armchair or caquetoire popularized during the
reign of Henri II (reigned 1547-1559).
In keeping with high-backed chairs of the Renaissance, the back of the chairs is not carved because they were expected to be placed against a
wall. Beautifully carved
three-dimensional fleurs-de-lys top the vertical members framing the backs of
the chairs. The richness of the
walnut is particularly pleasing in both color and dimensionality. Unlike many pieces designed to evoke medieval times, these chairs of bois naturel or lightly stained walnut designed for the beauty of the wood and its fine grain to shine through.
Overall, these chairs embody a wonderful tribute to France of centuries ago and its rich heritage of heraldry. For
other pieces where the fleur-de-lys is prominent, see armchair 1023, chest 1034
, table 9210, and cabinet 1035.