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  • Place of origin:

    Venice (made)

  • Date:

    ca. 1580 (made)

  • Artist/Maker:


  • Materials and Techniques:

    Carving, gilding

  • Museum number:

    7180 to :2-1860

  • Gallery location:

    In Storage

By about 1550, heavy chairs made out of boards and carved with grotesque ornament appeared in Italy, especially Venice, where the carving was most extravagant. They were referred to as sgabelli d' appoggio or scanni col pozzo (literally, stools with backs) and used mostly as hall chairs or dining chairs. Their form became highly popular throughout Europe, including England, where they were used as garden chairs at Ham House (Surrey), the suburban residence of the 1st Duke of Lauderdale(1616 - 1682) and as gallery chairs at Arundel House, the London town house of the 14th Earl of Arundel (1585 - 1646).

Physical description

Sgabello chair, carved, part-gilt and stained walnut, with a square dished seat and a vase-shaped backrest, front and back 'feet' or supporting boards, the sides of the front 'feet' made up of two diverging dolphins. The backrest is emblazoned with an unidentified coat of arms in a strapwork cartouche, bordered by two narrow 'S' scrolls and surmounted by a crest in the form of two converging bracket scrolls and a suspended shell. The seat has four indented corners and fluted edges at the front and sides. The top of the front 'feet' board is carved with a chain frieze decorated with rosettes, and a guilloche frieze. The sides of these 'feet' are made up of two diverging dolphins, which border a cartouche bearing the same coat arms as those on the backrest. The back 'feet' are plain but the edges are cut in such a way as to follow the profile of the front 'feet'.

Various details are highlighted with gilding: they include the edges of the 'S' scrolled borders, the friezes, and the crests and 'beards' of the dolphins. Gold paint has been applied to the backgrounds of the shell and the two cartouches framing the coats of arms, and the fluting on the edges of the seat. Water gilding was originally used, and much of the surface has worn away, revealing Armenian bole on the lower 'S' scroll border of the backrest, and on both coats of arms. The only surfaces to be burnished are the chain friezes and rosettes, and the rest seem to be matt.

The construction is in solid walnut, and the vertically grained boards, forming the backrest and 'feet' are each cut from a single plank. The backrest terminates in a wedge that fits into a slot at the back of the seat, which is nailed to the top of the back and front boards. The front and back boards were each made originally from one piece of wood. They are nailed to the seat and the side aprons immediately below it. The back rest is made of one piece of carved wood and terminates in a wedge that fits into a slot at the back. The front left foot has been eaten away by worm, and the right one has been replaced.

Place of Origin

Venice (made)


ca. 1580 (made)



Materials and Techniques

Carving, gilding


Height: 99.3 cm, Width: 31 cm, Depth: 48 cm

Object history note

This chair formerly belonged to Jules Soulages of Toulouse (1812 - 1856) and was exhibited, as part of his collection, at Marlborough House between December 1856 and January 1857. It was purchased by the South Kensington Museum for £15 in 1860.

Historical significance: Although this sgabello is comparatively modest, its provenance remains unknown and the carving not of the highest standard, it is nevertheless almost certainly an authentic Italian sgabello. Although doubt has been cast on some pieces, particularly the furniture, in Jules Soulage's collections in recent years, they nevertheless include important exceptions such as this item.

Historical context note

Heavily carved chairs, known as sgabelli d'appoggio , or 'stools with a back' (John Florio: A Worlde of Wordes (London, 1598), date from about 1550 until 1630. They were usually found in halls, bedchambers and often served as dining chairs. The term derives from the Latin word scabellum and was probably first used in about 1550: the Medici inventory of 1553 referrs to two sghabelli verdi with ducal arms in the Palazzo Vecchia. The Pollani inventory (Venice, 1592) includes twelve scagni de nogara intagiade et doradi col pozo (walnut stools carved and gilt with a back) and it was in Venice that such chairs were most extravagantly decorated. An engraving of 1610 (Giacomo Franco: Habiti Huomini et Donne venitiane (Venice, 1610) shows Sebastiano Venier, leader of the Venetian fleet at the Battle of Lepanto (1571) on an emblazoned stool, as lavishly carved as any surviving sgabelli. Venier sits on a plumped up cushion, which would have been necessary, to alleviate the discomfort of a hard wooden seat. The seats of the chairs were often dished so as to keep cushions in position.

Comparable chairs
Ferenc Batári, and Erzsébet Vadászi ; edited by Elvira Király : Art of furniture-making from the Gothic to the Biedermeier: European Furniture from the 15th to the 19th Century in the Nagytétény
Castle Museum ([Budapest : Museum of Applied Arts], 2002.), no. 11, p.23-24

Descriptive line

Sgabello Chair

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

Peter Thornton:The Italian Renaissance Interior, 1400 - 1600 (London, Weidenfeld & Nicholson, 1991) PP. 168 - 171.
John Kent Lydecker: The Domestic Setting of the Arts in Renaissance Florence, (Ann Arbor, UMI Dissertation Services, 1993), pp. 45 - 48
John Hungerford Pollen, Ancient & Modern Furniture & Woodwork (London: George E. Eyre and William Spottiswoode, 1874), 101.
“7180. ’60. CHAIR. Carved chestnut wood, partly gilt. The support in front flanked by two dolphins, the back of scroll and strap enclosing a shield of arms. Venetian. 16th century. H. 3 ft. 2½ in., W. 12 in. Bought (Soulages Coll.), 15


Gold leaf; Bole; Gold paint; Walnut


Carving; Gilding; Joining; Gilding; Painting

Subjects depicted




Production Type



Furniture and Woodwork Collection

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