- Place of origin:
England (probably, made)
ca. 1540 (made)
- Materials and Techniques:
Carved and joined oak, with later replacement parts
- Museum number:
- Gallery location:
British Galleries, Room 58, case WW, shelf FS
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.
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.
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.
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)
ca. 1540 (made)
Materials and Techniques
Carved and joined oak, with later replacement parts
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).
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
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
Dictionary of English Furniture (Country Life 1924-7, 2nd rev. ed. 1954, 3 vols. See entry for Desks p.205
Fred Roe, Old Oak Furniture (London, 1908), p.194
Charles Tracy, English Medieval Furniture and Woodwork (London, 1988), no. 314
'DESK or CUPBOARD for books. Carved on the back and sides with two rows of Gothic arcading enriched with tracery Within a slightly moulded framework; the front is plain with the exception of two carved lions’ masks at the upper corners. The framed sloping top opens on hinges, and the interior is fitted with a cupboard with a hinged lid. The lower part of the desk is missing. The lock plate and the book ledge are post-medieval (PL.114a, b & c).
Oak. Last quarter of 14th century
97x 83.8x 54.6cm
Mus. No. 143-1898
This an extremely rare example of a medieval desk-cum-book cupboard. It is without doubt authentic and English, It is a great pity that it has lost the lower part of its panelling and its base. Two decorative features point strongly to England. The trefoil tracery in the super-arches of the back panel is stilted in the characteristically early Perpendicular Way (compare stall-ends at Lincoln Cathedral, See Fig.39). This same trait could also be found on a fragment of panelling from the York Minster choir- stalls in the Roe collection (illustrated in Roe 1910, PL.xvI) [sic] where the tracery pattern is sexfoil. The date of the construction of the York stalls is about 1390 (Francis Bond, Wood Carvings in English Churches: I. Stalls and Tabernacle Work and II. Bishops’ Thrones and Chancel Chairs, London, 1910, p.58). The treatment of the lions’ masks on the front of the desk is another parallel with Lincoln, in particular the same treatment of the hair in whorls and ear shape (Pics. 56a & b). The Lincoln stalls must have been manufactured in about 1370 (See CAT.67). The placing of these masks is reminiscent of the use of this motif on choir-stalls on the standards underneath the capping (compare Chichester Cathedral)'.
Helena Hayward, (Ed.), World Furniture. (London, 1965), p.34, fig. 85
H. Clifford Smith, Catalogue of English Furniture & Woodwork. Vol.II. - Late Tudor and Early Stuart (London 1930), cat. 320. plate 48
Books chests and desks of this kind (armariola), with lids set at an angle on which books might be laid whilst being read, are often represented in illuminated MSS, with St. Jerome or other Doctors of the Church, scribes at work, etc. Compare Laborde, 'Les MSS. à Peintures de la Cité de Dieu de St. Augustin,' 1909, pl. XCVII (1473), etc. A rare example of medieval domestic furniture.
William H. Lewer and J. Charles Wall, The Church Chests of Essex (London, 1913), p.17, illustrated in a line drawing on p.18
'Similar receptacles for books may often be seen in ancient pictures of the studies of medieval scribes and limners...another of the fifteenth century in the Victoria and Albert Museum has a framed lid set at an angle on which books might be laid whilst being read.'
DIETRICH, Gerhard: Schreibmöbel von Mittelalter zur Moderne. (Munich, 1986).
Oliver Brackett (revised by H. Clifford Smith), English furniture illustrated. (Spring Books, London, nd). [Originally published under the title of An encyclopaedia of English furniture, London : E. Benn, 1927]
Labels and date
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]
Furniture and Woodwork Collection