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Armchair

Armchair

  • Place of origin:

    England (probably, made)

  • Date:

    ca. 1540 (made)

  • Artist/Maker:

    Unknown

  • Materials and Techniques:

    Carved and joined oak, with later replacement parts

  • Museum number:

    W.39-1920

  • Gallery location:

    British Galleries, Room 58, case WW, shelf FS

Object Type
Box chairs or 'joyned cheyres', as they were called, furnished the houses of rich merchants as well as nobles. Their seats were supported by panelling rather than legs.

Time
The carving of this chair includes a classically influenced scroll in the back rest. This makes it an interesting example of the early use of Classical ornament applied to English furniture. Terms like 'Romayne' or 'Anticke' appear in inventories and building accounts during the 1520s.

Linenfold carving had appeared in The Netherlands by about 1450 and in England by about 1500.

Materials & Making
The seat and the panels immediately below the arms are probably later additions. The joinery is probably early, in that the joints are vertical or horizontal, as opposed to mitred (cut on the diagonal). The pegs that hold the pieces together are thought to be original.

Place
The scroll carving is similar to woodwork on the screen in the chapel at King's College, Cambridge, of about 1530 to 1535. The chair itself came from a private house, just outside Cambridge.

Physical description

Arm-chair. The square back, surmounted at either end by the figure of a crouching lion, has an oblong panel carved with classical terminal figures ending in scrolls, with two linenfold panels below. The flat arms are enclosed. The front of the box seat has two linenfold panels of simpler form than those on the back; the panelled sides and back of the chair are plain. (Taken from Tracy)

Place of Origin

England (probably, made)

Date

ca. 1540 (made)

Artist/maker

Unknown

Materials and Techniques

Carved and joined oak, with later replacement parts

Dimensions

Height: 114 cm, Width: 63 cm maximum, Depth: 38 cm

Object history note

Bought for £200 from G.C.Beresford (an Edwardian photographer), of 20 Yeoman's Row, London SW3. 'Chipped, cracked and portions missing'. Purchased by the former owner at the sale of contents of a private residence near Cambridge in 1904 (for £32). H.Clifford Smith (nominal file minute sheet, 23,25/6/1920) had known 'this important chair for a number of years..The chair is of great interest as an example of a domestic chair of the time of Henry VIII.' He notes the difficulty in distinguishing between Flemish and English work of that date but feels there is no reason to doubt it is English. 'It is an object of such high importance, that an endeavour should be made to acquire for the collections - which possess no example of a chair of the period.'

Percy Macquoid reported on the chair 30/6/1920 and concluded that it was English c1535-40. 'It is genuine throughout but the plank of the seat has been renovated. It was probably a bedroom chair, placed at the head of the bed.' He felt it was English because of 'its narrow and rather heavier build than Flemish chairs of this type, and the characteristics of the linenfold. The small panel that heads the back is an adaptation of Flemish renaissance design found in Eastern countrywork, and not possessing the Flemish touch. It is a rare and desirable specimen. The lion couchant finials are of one piece with the uprights of the back which no doubt accounts for their perfect state.'

Conservation treatment 1987

Notes from R.P. 20/4627

Purchase Form Description
"1. Chair. Oak £200"

23 & 25/6/20 Minute sheet, H Clifford Smith
explains that G C Beresford, a photographer of 20 Yeomans Row, has offered the chair to the museum for £200. Smith has known "this important chair for a number of years". Beresford bought the chair at auction at a private house near Cambridge in 1904, from the same sale at which the V & A got a mahogany chest (1392-04).
"….The chair is of great interest as an example of a domestic chair of the time of Henry VIII". He notes the difficulty in distinguishing between Flemish & English work of that date but feels there is no reason to doubt it is English…"it is an object of such high importance, that an endeavour should be made to acquire for the collections - which possess no example of a chair of the period".

26/6/20, Oliver Brackett to the Director
recommends that Percy Macquoid give an opinion.

30/6/20, Macquoid report
on "an old panelled back arm chair circa 1535-40". He concludes that its origin is English. ""It is genuine throughout but the plank of the seat has been renovated. It was probably a bedroom chair, placed at the head of the bed". His determination of its English origin is based on "its narrow and rather heavier build than Flemish chairs of this type, and the characteristics of the linenfold. The small panel that heads the back is an adaptation of Flemish renaissance design found in Eastern countrywork, and not possessing the Flemish touch. It is a rare and desirable specimen. The lion couchant finials are of one piece with the uprights of the back which no doubt accounts for their perfect state".

6/7/20 Cecil Smith
approves the acquisition.

Historical context note

Sitting lion finials are shown on a bench seat in Robert Campin's Annunciation (1438-40), Musee Royal des Beaux-arts, Brussels (illustrated in Monique Blanc, p.44).

Comparable chairs;
Haddon Hall, Derbyshire

AMSTERDAM, Rijksmuseum: Catalogus van Meubelen en Betimmeringen. (The Hague, 1952). no. 182, with seated lion finials facing each other, and a hinged plank in the seat with keyhole.

BOND, Francis: Stalls and Tabernacle Work. (London, 1910), p.123 illustrates a box arm-chair of similar form from the Mainwearing chapel, inscribed DOROTHY MAYNWARING (m. Sir Richard Mainwaring of Lightfield, Shropshire 1545)

Wall painting of a master seated in a chair and teaching boys c1520, Eton, Head Master's Chambers, showing a box armchair with arched back and integral(?) plinth

Descriptive line

Box chair

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

Margaret Jourdain, English Decoration and Furniture of the Early Renaissance. (1500 - 1650). Vol. I. (1924?) notes that the finial lions 'probably a later addition. The flat horizontal arm of this type of chair is a noticeable feature.' p.242
Charles Tracy, English Medieval Furniture and Woodwork (London, 1988), cat. no. 321, p 194.

'ARM-CHAIR. The square back, surmounted at either end by a figure of a crouching lion, has an oblong panel carved with Classical terminal figures ending in scrolls, with two linenfold panels below. The flat arms are enclosed. The front of the box seat has two linenfold panels of simpler form than those on the back; the panelled sides and back of the chair are plain (PL.121).
Oak. About 1540
99.2 X 69.8 X 47 cm
Mus. No. W. 39-1920
Purchased by the former owner from an old house near Cambridge. Figured in H. Cescinsky and E.R. Gribble, Early English Furniture and Woodwork, 2 vols, London, 1922,Vol.II,p.166 and Macquoid and Edwards (Percy Macquoid and Ralph Edwards, The Dictionary of English Furniture from the Middle Ages to the late Georgian Period, 3 vols, London, I 8 II, 1924; III, 1927),Vol. I, p.199'

CESCINSKY, Herbert & Ernest Gribble: Early English Furniture & Woodwork, Vol. II, (London, 1922), p.166
Dictionary of English Furniture (Country Life 1924-7, 2nd rev. ed. 1954), Percy Macquoid and Ralph Edwards (1924-7), I, p.199, fig. 2
Angela Comolli Sordelli, Il Mobile Antico dal XIV al XVII secolo (Milan 1967), p.134 fig. 3
S. Muller-Christensen, Alte Mobel von Mittelalter (1957), p.70
WINDISCH-GRAETZ, Franz: Möbel Europa. 1. Romantic-Gotik. (Munich, 1982), fig. 158-9
Clive Edwards, 'The Beginning of the Present. Stability and Professionalism', in 'The Intelligent Layman's Book of British Furniture 1600-2000'. London, The Intelligent Layman Publisher Ltd, 2005, pp. 1-7, ill. pp.3 and 7
G. Bernard Hughes, The Chairs of the Tudors, in Country Life, March 23, 1972 pp.720-23

Labels and date

British Galleries:
Armchairs were usually reserved for the most important member of the household, or a guest, while the rest of the company used forms or stools. 'Linenfold' carving, resembling folded linen cloth, was a traditional decoration. The Renaissance motifs on the back of this chair demonstrate that the maker was also aspiring to be fashionable. [27/03/2003]

Materials

Oak

Techniques

Carving

Subjects depicted

Lion (animal)

Categories

Furniture

Collection

Furniture and Woodwork Collection

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