Pair of French Gothic Armchairs or Caquetoires

Item 5195 by M. Markley Antiques


antique caquetoire armchairs

(scroll down for additional-photos  -- difficulties of photographing with flash have accounted for the variation in hues, but the photo above most accurately reflects the color) 

Item 5195 Pair of French Gothic Armchairs or Caquetoires
Dimensions Width 24, Height 53½, Depth 18 (in inches)
Wood Walnut
Country France
Date Circa 1890

These two armchairs in the caquetoire design are some of the most unusual we have ever encountered.  The principal reason is the faces depicted at the top of each back, as if peering through a hole.  Due to the flowing mustache, one is clearly a man, but the other may be a woman.  Perhaps the likenesses of a married couple for whom these chairs were made?  If so, it’s an interesting twist on the traditional association of the caquetoire design with women (see below).

The 19th century saw a revival in France of interest in designs of the Middle Ages.  These armchairs are classic caquetoires comprised of a tall, slim back and trapezoidal-shaped seat echoed below in the stretcher.  The shape of the seat, also referred to ‘as in the manner of Tallemouze,’ is another charming example of design evoking food:  the talmouse was a triangular puff pastry dating from medieval times but now recognized as the ancestor of the cheesecake.

The origin of the term caquetoire, however, is a bit sexist to the modern observer.  According to the Rijksmuseum in Amsterdam, the caquetoire was developed as a conversation chair for women (the French verb “caqueter” means “to chat”).  The broad, trapezoidal seat accommodated wide dresses worn by ladies of the 16th century who otherwise had been relegated to stools or windowseats (except in the case of aristocracy and royalty) while their male counterparts sat on chairs.

Other features of the armchairs harking back to earlier times include the narrow back out of which curving arms attach to posts in the shape of columns extending vertically from the seat.  These chairs have the added feature of the carved head of a dog, eyes looking obediently upward, at the end of each armrest – possibly a rendering of the couple’s faithful canine?

A characteristic Gothic flavor is found in the hand-carved tracery or fenestrage design of the backs.  Sculpted in low relief, it is simple – an arch with an intersecting ellipse containing what appears to be a coat of arms and another reference to the chairs’ owners.

The tops are particularly interesting in addition to acting as the framework for the faces staring out from them.  Below each head are tiny fingers carved into the top of the arch as if supporting an entire figure lurking behind the chair and struggling to emerge.  That both faces have open mouths leads us to speculate that they are either calling for help or merely “chatting” as the caquetoire intended.  Depending on whether the chair with the man’s face is on the right or the left of the other chair, the man and woman are either gazing at one another longingly or intentionally avoiding each other!

Decorating the central arch of each chair’s back is intricately carved crocketing (stylized acanthus leaves).  Atop it all is a huge and beautifully sculpted toupie in the form of a three-dimensional clump of acanthus leaves.  One of the toupies was broken off when we received the chairs but has been repaired by our master woodcarver.
There is a split in the back of one of the chairs but it has not been repaired.
  As with all the chairs we offer, these are sturdy and ready for at least another century of sitting and chatting.



Ader-Tajan, Collection Bruno Perrier Haute Epoque (Catalog for Sale at Auction on April 6, 1992 at the Hôtel Drouot, Paris); Boccador, Jacqueline, Le Mobilier Français du Moyen Age à la Renaissance, Editions d'Art Monelle Hayot (Saint-Just-en-Chaussée, 1988); 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).



These chairs are ideal for a dining area around a small table or as occasional chairs in any room.  However, it is almost a shame to sit in them and obscure the faces that make them so unique.


5195-upper part of back


5195-top of chair


5195-detail carving top of chair


5195-carved face on antique chair




5195-chair top


5195-carved face and hands emerging from chair


5195-tracery with ermine tails


5195-detail of tracery with ermine tails

5195-caquetoire back


5195-caquetoire armrest


5195-detail of armrest


5195-base of caquetoire








5195-finial detail


5195-back of chair


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