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French Antique Gothic Bench 4173


french antique bench
Item 4173 Width 34, Height 50, Depth 20 (in inches)
Wood - Walnut
Date - Circa 1890
Country of Origin - France
Additional photos below text

This bench is a tribute to High Gothic styling as interpreted by 19th century French craftsmen whose originality and whimsy make this among the most captivating benches we have seen. In its overall structure, it is faithful to its roots in the so-called Flamboyant Gothic, making generous use of fenestrage or tracery decoration whose inspiration lies in the elaborate designs of stained glass windows in Gothic cathedrals.

As a type of furniture, the bench or banc is one of the oldest forms and like so many others, traces its parentage to the chest or coffre. By adding a back and arms, the chest became a bench while retaining its storage feature with the lid becoming the seat. In chateaus, the vestibules or entry areas were typically ringed with benches which were heavily carved and often covered in pillows made of luxurious fabrics or draped with tapestries or carpets.

Benches were also used in the bed chamber, frequently near the fire, in order to block drafts and increase warmth. A bench remarkably similar to this one is depicted in just such a vignette in the illustration of a 13th century bedroom on Plate XIII of Volume I of Viollet-le-Duc's Dictionnaire Raisonné du Mobilier.

In the main hall of chateaus, a high-backed bench on a dais or low platform served as the seat of authority for the châtelain or owner in dealings with his tenants and vassals (see Figure 2 on page 39 of the Dictionnaire). Benches were also used at tables for meals in the main hall (see Figure 6 on page 97 of the Dictionnaire).

Other benches of a similar design displayed the contrast of happy and sad. On the front of the left armrest might a frowning or melancholy face whereas on the right armrest would be a merry face. Here, the expressions on the faces are more ambiguous, although beautifully and intricately carved.

The skillfully carved fenestrage on this bench is made up of three panels on the back and three below the seat. In each case, the two outermost panels match. The panels on the back of the bench use the typical design of pointed arches at the bottom with elaborate curving shapes above. In the case of the central panel, the area above the pointed arches includes two hearts, one of which is inverted above the other as when a paper valentine is cut from paper folded at the top of the heart and then opened. The finials on either side atop the vertical members are three-dimensional flames, the Old French term for which put the flambe in Flamboyant Gothic.

Just as its forbears retained the storage aspects of benches descended from chests, this bench also has a seat which doubles as the lid for the enclosed area below. In keeping with 19th century reverence for Gothic furniture, this piece is made from solid walnut and has attained a lush patina with age.


Boussel, Patrice, Les Styles du Moyen Age à Louis XIV (Baschet et Cie, Paris, 1979); Thirion, Jacques, Le Mobilier du Moyen Age et de la Renaissance en France (Editions Faton, Dijon, 1998); Viollet-le-Duc, Eugène, Le Mobilier Médiéval (Georges Bernage, editor) (Editions Heimdal, 2003)


While ideal in an entryway or foyer, this bench would also work well in a living room, study, library or kitchen where its versatility as a storage space would also be appreciated.

4173-upper part of gothic bench
4173-base of gothic bench
4173-carved face on left
4173-carved face on right
4173-tracery panel - center
4173-tracery panel  right
4173-finial gothic bench
4173-interior gothic bench
4173-back of gothic bench
4173-side view of gothic bench