- Place of origin:
Scotland (possibly, made)
England (possibly, made)
- Materials and Techniques:
- Museum number:
- Gallery location:
British Galleries, Room 58, case 2
This chair is of a very unusual form, contributing to the hypothesis that a Tudor chair back had been married, perhaps in the 19th century, to 16th-century side and front elements from another source. More recent examination suggests that other than modest repairs (including the replacement of the seat board) and small losses the chair is in basically oringal form. The imposing proportions and rich combination of gothic and renaissance ornament indicate that the chair was a throne-like seat of authority.
The outer edges of the chair-back are decorated with a Gothic crest, while the central panel with the profile portrait of female figure in a medallion is in the manner of the mid-16th-century 'Romayne' (Roman) decorations at Falkland Palace in Fife and Stirling Castle (both in Scotland), and the Salkeld Screen in Carlisle Cathedral, Cumbria.
This chair is thought to have formed part of an antiquarian collection and may have belonged to Sir William Fraser (1816-1898). This leading Scottish genealogist owned similar furniture, which was recorded in a photograph of a room of his house at 32 Castle St., Edinburgh, taken soon after his death. The chair is thought to have have been used as a dining room or library chair.
Panel back armchair of carved oak with a splayed seat and rectangular ‘panel’ back, the top carved with a Gothic ogee crocketed arch, the upper part of which is broken away, the centre of the panel carved with a woman's profile head and bust in Renaissance costume within a roundel from which springs Gothic foliage. The uprights framing the back are carved with Gothic lancets and surmounted by octagonal finials which may have formed the bases for figures or heraldic beasts. The arms are carved on the outside with eagle's wings and the eagle motif is continued on the legs which terminate in claws (with considerable losses). The arms are enclosed, the upper edge is carved with moulding, the lower edge with a Gothic ogee arch with trefoil cusping. The upper part of the front legs is recessed and carved with lancets ending in an octagonal finial en-suite with upper terminals of the back legs. The seat is plain with whitish paint on the underside. The rectangular front ‘panel’ rail is carved with a moustachioed winged head with a ¼ flower in each lower corner. The back is plain but the uprights are defined with a bevel. Note that the the splayed side pieces are cut rectangular, not angled at the front to sit flush with the front rail. The seat height and damage to the feet suggests that the chair may originally have stood several inches (3-8cm) higher.
There is a dark stain overall, but no evidence of paint on the show surfaces. Note that the chair is noticeably heavy, as a result of the large scantlings used.
Joined construction with pegged mortice and tenon joints. The chair back consists of full-height uprights containing a ‘panel’ but is actually a single element made of two wide boards glued down the centre, and carved to shape. Each side piece is a single element comprising a front leg, side ‘panel’ and back inner leg, thicker (up to 5.5cm) at the back, and tapering towards the front, and is formed from two glued (possibly dowelled), vertically-grained boards that have been carved to shape. Each side appears to be jointed to the back piece using four loose tenons, the tenons pegged 12cm and 60cm from the floor (with a third peg on the proper right back leg 36cm above the floor). Loose tenons were presumably used because both side and back elements are vertically grained. The front rail is a single board (3.5cm thick at the bottom, but thicker at the top) which has been cut with a deep rebate to receive the seat boards, and which is tenoned (pegged) into the front legs. The solid seat consists of two boards, laterally grained, with a replaced narrow strip along the back, which rests in a groove cut in the sides and back. The painted underside of the seat and evidence of regluing to the joint between the front rail and the right side suggests that it is a replacement. Five nails run along the front of the seat into the front rail.
Back feet tipped (sometime before 1950), the original feet tenoned into new ‘shoes’.
Losses to the cresting ogee and bud ornament.
Three nails have been driven into the back uprights (two at PL, one at PR) into the side pieces, presumably as reinforcement to the joints.
Seat board replaced. Two surviving nails in the bottom of the back were probably used to support a support batten (now missing) to the original seat.
Three added modern battens reinforcing the seat.
The front rail panel appears to be integral with the chair but is of such an atypical design that it may be regarded with caution pending further research.
Glued repairs to the joint between the front rail and right side piece.
Front left leg with replaced facing, copying the right leg.
Dark stain overall.
Place of Origin
Scotland (possibly, made)
England (possibly, made)
Materials and Techniques
Height: 108 cm, Width: 65.5 cm, Depth: 45 cm, Height: 45 cm seat
Object history note
The chair was part of the 'remarkable collection of antique Scotch furniture and relics which belonged to the late Sir William Fraser' sold at Dowell's saleroom in Edinburgh on 3 December 1898. It fetched 50 guineas. Sir William Fraser (1816-1898) was Assistant Keeper of the Records of Scotland and left a bequest for the first ever Chair of Scottish History at the University of Edinburgh.
Scottish armchair, purchased from Muirhead Moffat & Co, Glasgow, 15 Nov. 1950, R.P. 50/2897; Listed on Purchase Form: "Oak box-chair - - first half of 16th century Scottish - - £150"
Formerly on loan to Turton Tower (c1997)
In 2001 the chair was regarded as probably a 19th century creation using 16th century and later parts. Recent examination suggests that it is of good integrity (with some plausible repairs). The front rail panel appears to be integral but the unusual character of the design suggests caution pending further research as a moustachioed angel head is apparently without 16th century precedent. Aged and bearded winged heads c1540 are known in carved woodwork. A moustachioed male head sometimes represent a celt in 16th century decorative art.
4/10/50 Letter, Muirhead Moffat & Co. to V & A
enclosing photographs of an "extremely rare oak chair " and requesting information on its history. Their own opinion is that the chair is "in its original condition with the exception of the worn feet and a repair to part of the front leg. The colour is good and the chair is heavy". They suggest that the chair is "of the transitional period from the Gothic to Renaissance, the Gothic style being determined by the gables and finials, and the Italian influence shown by the back and back-rail". They date the chair 1525-30 but have been unsuccessful in tracing its history. The photos show that the front right (PL) leg was damaged below the seat rail
Ralph Edwards responded that the armchair belongs to a type known as a "box chair" made on the continent and in England in the early years of the 16th century. He questions whether this chair might not be a composite but expresses interest in purchasing it if it is original.
Muirhead repeats their conviction that the chair is in its original form although the back leg has been restored and one or two other minor repairs carried out. They point out interesting carvings of a hen's leg on the front leg and a hen's wing on the side of the chair. They suggest a purchase price of £150 and offer to send the chair to the Museum for inspection.
After sending the chair to the V & A, Muirhead reports that they have been in contact with the previous owner but "all she can say is that it had come out of a store into which it was put from an old house".
In requesting approval for purchase from the Director, Edwards states "This is a box-chair of great quality and interest. It is carved with a mixture of Gothic and Renaissance…probably dates from about 1540-50 even allowing something for a 'time-lag' in Scotland. I know of no close parallel among the few genuine chairs of this type and age…..The chair is certainly genuine…repairs are relatively slight".
Armchair of carved oak possibly made in Scotland about 1540
Labels and date
The female head shown in profile is typical of Renaissance ornament which had a strong impact in Scotland, partly because of the close cultural ties with France. The style is close to woodwork made for the Scottish royal palaces of Falkland and Stirling about 1540. The posts of the chair are in an older style, with Gothic tracery. [27/03/2003]
Made ca. 1540, with 19th-century additions
British Galleries; Furniture; Scotland
Furniture and Woodwork Collection