This pair of chairs epitomizes the Dagobert style originating in the Middle Ages but re-popularized in the 19th century. The original fauteuil Dagobert or chaise curule was the throne used by generations of French monarchs to legitimize their connection to the Merovingian dynasty that included King Dagobert I (603-639).
First mention of the throne dates back to the 12th century when Abbot Suger made an inventory of treasures at the Basilica of Saint-Dénis outside Paris. This earliest building in the Gothic style was the burial place of French monarchs, now absorbed within a neighborhood of immigrants just outside the city limits and a mere 6 miles from the center of Paris. The original throne was transferred to the >Bibliothèque Nationale of France sometime after Napoleon was alleged to have cracked the throne while easing himself into it during the ceremony honoring the first recipients of the Légion d’Honeur. A copy remains on display in the Basilica.
Later in the 19th century, with the popularization of the Troubadour Style of decorative arts as part of France’s embrace of romanticism based on medieval styles, while rejecting Napoleon’s neo-classicism, the fauteuil Dagobert enjoyed a renaissance.
While sometimes described as related to the sedia Savonarola chair (see Item 4116) found in Florence, both are characterized by an X-shaped base but the Dagobert does not fold. Typically, the seat is low and rounded, which may account for the challenges Napoleon experienced with the original.
The upper portion of the "X" is better viewed as a "U" encompassing the seat. Sweeping upward, the arms of the "U" join the armrests in the front and a decorative cross-piece in the back.
It is unusual to find a pair of fauteuils Dagobert, especially as intricately carved as these examples. A closer look shows that while in overall design they are identical, in details and coloration they vary slightly, reinforcing the originality of the design and the apparent delight the artisan took in creating them.
Taking the lion as their theme, these chairs offer the king of beasts in three distinct locations and functions on each chair. The topmost features the open-mouthed and ferocious version of the lion roaring, as part of the vertical members acting as the chair’s frame, just below the finials. In the middle of each cross-piece comprising the chair’s back is a lion’s face, with stylized mane, which is far less menacing, considering the decorative stems spewing from the mouth. The third lion, again a muffle, is found on the front of the seat and unites two pieces of curved wood while obscuring the joint.
The basic design for a fauteuil Dagobert dates back to the sella curulis of Roman times when the X-shaped base supported a rectangular seat. Often made of metal, there was no backrest but a cushion would have been placed on the seat. During the same period, decorative motifs on items destined to last a long time, funeral monuments such as stele and sarcophagi, involved swirling branches and leaves in otherwise unadorned spaces. These are echoed on the cross-pieces comprising the backs of these chairs. It was common to crown a stele with a crest of leaves, such as the design seen atop the middle part of the cross-pieces.
The basic leaf shape found on the cross-pieces is reinterpreted on the armrests and on the horizontal pieces uniting the front and back of the base. Finials crowning the top of the back are in the form of curled leaves, possibly containing an immature pinecone (as some observers believe).
As often happens with chairs of the Dagobert design, and perhaps the reason we see them so seldom, there is a crack at the front and back where the curved sections of the seat come together. These chairs have been repaired by our professional restorer and the joints reinforced so that they are sturdy and ready to be sat upon.
Boccador, Jacqueline, Temple du Temps, qu'un seul soupir résume..., (JMG, Paris, 2002); Picón, Carlos A. et al, Art of the Classical World in The Metropolitan Museum of Art (Metropolitan Museum, New York, 2007); Viollet-le-Duc, Eugène, Le Mobilier Médiéval (Georges Bernage, editor) (Editions Heimdal, 2003)
These chairs are wonderful decorative items for use in an entryway framing a small table or stand. Because the seat is low (only 14½ inches from the floor), we suggest adding a cushion to raise the height of the seating area. Such cushions were common in the historical use of these chairs and were made of damask or velvet with a tassel at each corner.