Sgabello Chair thumbnail 1
Sgabello Chair thumbnail 2
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Image of Gallery in South Kensington
On display at V&A South Kensington
Furniture, Room 133, The Dr Susan Weber Gallery

Sgabello Chair

Sgabello Chair
ca. 1560 - 1600, ca. 1820-40 (restored)
Artist/Maker
Place Of Origin

Extravagantly carved chairs like these were particularly associated with Venice but became popular all over Europe. They have long been known as sgabelli, ultimately derived from the word scabellum (Latin for 'stool'). In Venice they often stood in sets along the walls of the portego . This was a long room, bright with reflected natural light or candlelight that was used for family celebrations, display and hospitality. Here the chairs could be moved around, and seat-cushions added as occasion demanded.

This example forms part of a set that belonged to the Steno family of Venice, whose emblem, a star, is emblazoned on the crest. According to John Hungerford Pollen, writing in 1874, the Steno "house remained furnished in the old way down to modern times". The chairs were purchaed, probably during the 1830s by Jules Soulages (1803-1856), a lawyer from Toulouse. His collection was exhibited at Marlborough House in London between December 1856 and January 1857, and subsequently purchased for this museum.

Close examination of this chair suggests that it is a mix of old and new woodwork.It was probably created c.1820-40, by reusing a repaired 16th-century carved chair back and side rails, combined with a new seat and legs. The wide front leg has been carefully carved to emulate the back, and the new parts distressed to appear several hundred years old.


object details
Category
Object Type
Materials and Techniques
carved and stained walnut
Brief Description
Italian, Venetian, 1550-1570
Physical Description
Carved chair of sgabello type, the pierced back and front support carved with a leafy grotesque mask enclosed within a shield and two C scrolls.



The carved back piece has a main triangular section with a central grotesque leafy mask below a shield, flanked by C scrolls, with a crest consisting of two S scrolls containing an anthemion. The carved front support has a main section similar to the back piece on two lion paw feet, with a central grotesque leafy mask below a shield, flanked by C scrolls. This main section is surmounted by a frieze moulding of three linked rosettes. The back support is plain on both front and back surfaces, and in outline mimics the carved front.



The seat is formed from a single board pierced at the back to receive the seat back, and is octagonal, dished and shaped at the back, with a circular recess, framed by mouldings low relief compartments. The moulded edge is carved with leaf and tongue. Two matching side rails have an ogee apron and are carved with stylised leaf within C scrolls and a half-guilloche border.



Structure

The chair consists of four boards (back, seat, back support and front support) and two short reinforcing rails, which are nailed together. The front and back supports are nailed onto the side rails, and the seat is nailed onto the rails (apparently a single nail in each rail). The bottom of the back piece forms a wide, wide-shaped tenon which passes through a rectangular hole in the back of the seat, to rest against the back support, secured by two wedges. All six elements appear to be formed from single planks.



The six elements were apparently sawn and chiselled to shape. The carving has been carried out with a variety of chisels and gouges.



Finish

Dark stain covers all the exposed areas. It is possible that the dark stain on the front support and repairs to the back, seat and back support is of a diifferent recipe and date to that used on the back and rails.



Replacements parts and interventions

The carved back piece while presumed to be basically 16th century has a large infill repair below the chin of the mask, including the tenon, which extends on the back surface (but not the carved front), to the full extent of the face and up the left edge to the shoulder of the C scroll.



The whole of the seat is presumed to be 19th century.



The left rail has an infill strip 2.5cm high along its top edge.



Both front and back supports have infill sections under both feet.



The carving on the back and front supports is evidently by different hands - compare, for example, the treatment of the mask, the shield within a cartouche and the proportions of the scrolls. The clumsy relation between the front support and the side rails which meet it at pierced areas, and the rather cursory design of the upper section of the front support (what looks like a front 'rail'), combined with the character of the carving on the front support, suggest that this chair was created, probably c.1820-40, by reusing a 16th century sgabello back and side rails, and that the front (carved to emulate the back) and back supports were distressed with repairs to the feet.
Dimensions
  • Maximum overall height: 105.7cm
  • Maximum height width: 34.3cm
  • Maximum overall height depth: 50.5cm
  • Back rest height: 50.1cm
  • Back rest width: 33.6cm
  • Back rest thickness: 4cm
  • Seat depth: 42cm
  • Seat width: 31.5cm
  • Seat thickness: 3.5cm
  • Front board height: 53.8cm
  • Front board width: 34cm
  • Front seat thickness: 3.3cm
  • Back board height: 53cm
  • Back board width: 33.8cm
  • Back rest thickness: 2.9cm
  • Seat height: 57cm
LC 25/10/10. Thicknesses of planks: back c.37mm, seat 34mm, front support 33-8mm, back support 29-30mm, rails 40-44mm
Style
Production typeUnique
Marks and Inscriptions
7204-'60 on the right edge of the top of the rear 'legs'. Single scribe mark below outer edge of right apron, where it joins the back board.. Single scribe mark below outer edge of left apron, where it joins front board.
Gallery Label
Chair (sgabello) Back about 1560–90 Most other parts 1820–40 Italy (Venice) Walnut, carved and stained Museum no. 7204-1860 At least two carvers have contributed to this chair, but a dark varnish now obscures the differences. The back board is mostly 16th-century. The carving on the single-piece front leg matches it superficially, but differences in the treatment of the mask and the cartouche above it suggest another hand. This was probably a restorer working in the 19th century. (01/12/2012)
Object history
Bought (Soulages collection) £20

This object is said to have belonged to the Steno family of Venice and their house 'remained furnished in the old way down to modern times' (J.Hungerfold Pollen, 'Specimens in Ancient and Modern Furniture, p. 104). This formed part of the collections of Jules Soulages, the Toulouse collector and lawyer. They were shipped over from Toulouse and exhibited at the Museum of ornamental Art from December 1856 to January 1857, paid for by subscribers and bought piecemeal by the Government between 1859 and 1861.



Historical significance: The most conspicuous parts of this scgabello are authentic, something of a rarety, as so many of these chairs were copied and faked in the 19th century.
Summary
Extravagantly carved chairs like these were particularly associated with Venice but became popular all over Europe. They have long been known as sgabelli, ultimately derived from the word scabellum (Latin for 'stool'). In Venice they often stood in sets along the walls of the portego . This was a long room, bright with reflected natural light or candlelight that was used for family celebrations, display and hospitality. Here the chairs could be moved around, and seat-cushions added as occasion demanded.



This example forms part of a set that belonged to the Steno family of Venice, whose emblem, a star, is emblazoned on the crest. According to John Hungerford Pollen, writing in 1874, the Steno "house remained furnished in the old way down to modern times". The chairs were purchaed, probably during the 1830s by Jules Soulages (1803-1856), a lawyer from Toulouse. His collection was exhibited at Marlborough House in London between December 1856 and January 1857, and subsequently purchased for this museum.



Close examination of this chair suggests that it is a mix of old and new woodwork.It was probably created c.1820-40, by reusing a repaired 16th-century carved chair back and side rails, combined with a new seat and legs. The wide front leg has been carefully carved to emulate the back, and the new parts distressed to appear several hundred years old.
Bibliographic Reference
John Hungerford Pollen, Ancient & Modern Furniture & Woodwork (London: George E. Eyre and William Spottiswoode, 1874), 103. “7204. ’60. CHAIR. Carved chestnut (?) wood. The support in front and the back are of pierced foliage ; in the centre of each is a distorted mask. Italian (Venetian). About 1560. H. 3 ft. 5 in., W. 1 ft. 1¼ in. Bought (Soulages Coll.), 20l.”
Collection
Accession Number
7204-1860

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record createdApril 4, 2003
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