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Armchair

  • Place of origin:

    France (made)

  • Date:

    about 1580 (made)

  • Artist/Maker:

    Unknown

  • Materials and Techniques:

    Walnut

  • Museum number:

    803-1895

  • Gallery location:

    Medieval & Renaissance, Room 62, The Foyle Foundation Gallery, case SCREEN2, shelf WW, box EXP

Armchairs such as this, but with a cushion on the seat, were often placed between the bed and the fireplace. Here, they were convenient for chatting with the person in bed, and for storing fine, scented linen inside the box-seat. Important bedchambers were the most richly furnished and comfortable rooms, so were often also used for entertaining visitors.

Physical description

Panelled armchair with a lifting, hinged box-seat. Pegged tenon and mortice construction throughout. All the panels with a raised field with moulded edges, and stopped chamfer on the rails and stiles. The back of two vertical panels, the seat with a large, single panel on each face. The front legs with a turned arm support above the seat, supporting shaped, carved arms of flat form, with a flat, scroll handle, and cut in at the back to meet the rear stile. The lifting seat fitted with two morticed hinges at its rear edge, and moulded front and side edges. The front seat panel orginally fitted with an internal lock (missing) and external escutcheon shaped to follow the surface of the panel and adjacent rail.

Walnut, with an oak panel at the lower back, with replacement plank. Missing its floor panel (fragments still in the lower rail grooves), and the lock mechanism for the lifting seat. The lifting seat held on two original pin hinges, morticed (one with a wooden shim) and nailed. The front legs continuous with the arm supports (55mm square at foot)
Pasted label under seat (printed) 249

The rear stiles with a marked taper.
Note elegant crisp stopped chamfer on the framework
Moulded edge to the seat
Distinctive escutcheon shaped to fit the moulded front surface
Hand-made nail in the centre underside of the front rail
Scribe marks for the arms
Note some pegs are nearly round in profile, but there is no obvious evidence that the chair has been reassembled

Repairs/damage
PL foot joints wormy
Nails in reverse of crest rail
Rear PR leg tipped
Missing low feet and unusually plain beside chairs of this form more usually seen with a higher back and often some carved ornament
Applied dark stain with vsible brush marks.
Shrinkage and warp on seat

Vertical water sawn marks on the bottom (oak) panel
Scrub plane marks on the top PR panel
Tear out marks on the stiles with saw-marks(?)
Uneven surface on the reverse of the crest rail

Place of Origin

France (made)

Date

about 1580 (made)

Artist/maker

Unknown

Materials and Techniques

Walnut

Dimensions

Height: 111 cm, Width: 56.8 cm, Depth: 47.5 cm

Object history note

Purchased from Emile Peyre for £15, and is recorded in the passage marked A on the plan of Peyre's house, immediately leading off the street front door (Nominal file).

Historical context note

Comparable chairs
Thirion 142; Boccador 120 (attrib. Burgundy 1560-70 (depth 40cm, height 160cm), 123; Design by Crispin de passé in Jervis (no.5)

The box armchair (chaire à coffre) combining an armchair with storage under the seat had been long established form in medieval Europe, evolving from Italo-Byzantine thrones (see Schmitz). Surviving 16th century box chairs published in the recent literature (Thirion, Boccador) tend to be high-backed, throne-like chairs, with panelled bases and hinged seats, sometimes fitted with locks accessed from the front panel. Clearly this is the sort of form that Corrozet refers to when he writes of "Chair well shut up & well enclosed, wheret he scented musk is stored with the fine linen, so fragrant, sweet-smelling, so well folded..." All of these chairs would have denoted relative high status, and been reserved for the most important person present, with others standing or using benches, stools or floor cushions. Such chairs would have been used with a cushion, of luxury fabric. During the 16th century French box armchairs were incorporating panels of fashionable carved ornament of the type found on wardrobes or dressers, but a group of armchairs survives with plain fielded panels like 803-1895, usually dated 1560-1600 (Boccador figs. 120, 121). The extreme height of the backs seen on late 15th century chairs is gradually being reduced (as on 803-1895) and elaborately carved arms are being replaced by flat arms with moulded edges or (as on 803-1895) an elegant curving strap-like arm with a scrolled handle, perhaps influenced by open-framed Italian armchairs with leather seat and back panel found c.1550.

Bonnaffée says (p.217) that armchairs (being relatively awkward to move) were usually placed between the bed and the fireplace, with their plain backs to the wall, where they sometimes concealed a cupboard built into the thickness of the wall. As well as storing linen (see Corrozet) they would have held objects useful at night. [By which he may mean a chamber pot, allowing the chair to be used as a close-stool.] Bonnaffée cites various inventory references to 16th century chairs painted and gilded, such as "une vieille chaire de boys paincte aux armes de feu Madame (inv. de Chambéry)", and makes the point that the best available artists could be involved in the decoration of luxury furniture. Bourgeois chairs would have been similar, though less luxuriously finished, such as that of Jehan Leclerc, illuminator and bookbinder of Paris, rue de la Verriere (1544) who possessed "une chaize de bois de chesne à hault dossier, fermant à clef, garnye de sa marche haulte, à un escu de France et rosètes".

References
THIRION, Jacques: Le Mobilier du Moyen Age et de la Renaissance en France. (Dijon, 1998)
Jacqueline Boccador, Le Mobilier Français du Moyen Age à la Renaissance (1988, Saint-Just-en-Chaussée)
Simon Jervis, Printed Furniture Designs before 1650. Furniture History Society (London, 1974).
BONNAFFÉ, Edmond: Le Meuble en France au XVIe siècle. (Paris, 1887).
Gilles Corrozet, Les Blasons Domestiques (1539, translated by Simon Jervis, Furniture History XXV (1989), pp.5-35) - which provides in verse, with woodcut illustrations 'a more or less systematic anatomy of a house and its contents...'eulogizes the chair thus:
"Chair full of good workmanship,/ chair raised up for great persons,/ chair of price, polished chair, chair/ of truly pleasing appearance. Chair/ on which the craftsman with good/ understanding formed many flat/ areas for carving. Foliage, vine/ leaves, scrolls and other pleasing/ forms. Chairs covered with capitals,/ chair decorated with inscriptions,/ worthy of the tongue & mouth./ Chair companion of the bedstead,/ chair brought close to the bed to/ talk to the person resting there,/ chair made for rest, for gossip &/ for chatting. Chair great comfort/ to man when he is overworked and/ tired. Chair well shut up & well/ enclosed, where the scented musk/ is stored with the fine linen, so/ fragrant, sweet-smelling, so well/ folded. Beautiful chair, graceful/ Chair, chair of truly serviceable/ form, you are fit to furnish a house/ properly at all seasons."

Descriptive line

Walnut armchair with the seat arranged as a coffer. French, ca. 1580.

Bibliographic References (Citation, Note/Abstract, NAL no)

W.G. Paulson Townsend, Measured drawings of French furniture in the South Kensington Museum (London 1899), plates 88-90

Materials

Walnut; Oak

Categories

Furniture; Household objects; Renaissance (French)

Collection

Furniture and Woodwork Collection

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