impressive armchair combines the grandeur of a Renaissance throne with the
comfort of a leather seat and the warmth of intricately carved oak. Taking his cue from the basic Tuscan
armchair design (see item 3301), the French creator of this chair broadened the
size, used more massive pieces of solid oak for the frame, and made the
decoration far more elaborate.
chairs made in the Renaissance, whose back was left plain with the expectation
they would be pushed up against a wall, this armchair has an elaborately carved
back and sides so that it is designed to be enjoyed and displayed from all
incorporates several standard decorative elements of Renaissance design. For the stretcher across the front there are
twin designs of angel heads or angelots.
The front of the arms ends in a stylized scroll or volute. The center of the back, on the reverse side
of the chair, is an elaborate grotesque.
This fantastic ornamental design
can be traced directly to frescoes by the imperial painter Fabullus in Nero's
Domus Aurea in Rome. Adapted
enthusiastically by Italian painters who rediscovered the ruins of the
emperor's house in "grottoes" (hence, "grotto-esque")
beneath 15th century Rome made its themes their own. The grotesque as design element crossed the Alps to France in the
pattern books of the artisans brought to France by Catherine de' Medici when
she married the future King Henri II.
As interpreted in this chair, it is typical of the stylized human head
with a wild-eyed look and surrounded by swirling patterns of foliage.
Other grotesque figures, in this case matching ones, are at opposite
sides of the top of the back of this chair.
Taking the place of the simpler finial seen on Tuscan armchairs,
these grotesques lack the typical
foliage of Italian design but the mouth is wide open as with those adapted from
the original, ancient Roman designs.
each arm is an intricately carved, coiled dolphin, another classic Renaissance
design theme (see item 4157) representing the heir to the throne (the dauphin)
and suggests a special symbolism in this case.
Just as the heir supports the king, as symbolized by the throne, the
dolphin or dauphin supports the structure of this throne. Perhaps owing to this monumental task, the
interior side of the right arm of the chair has a crack running between the
hole (the center of the coiled dolphin) and the back vertical support but is
aesthetic rather than affecting the chair's structural integrity. The upholstery is brown and does not appear
to be leather. We have left it in place
pending the buyer's selection of an alternative, such as a caramel-colored
leather to complement the patina of the oak.
Jacqueline, Le Mobilier Français du Moyen Age à la Renaissance, Editions d'Art
Monelle Hayot (Saint-Just-en-Chaussée, 1988); Burckhardt, Monica, Mobilier
Moyen-Age, Renaissance (Editions Ch. Massin, Paris, Undated); Thirion, Jacques,
Le Mobilier du Moyen Age et de la Renaissance en France (Editions Faton, Dijon,