Armchair thumbnail 1
Armchair thumbnail 2
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Image of Gallery in South Kensington
On display at V&A South Kensington
British Galleries, Room 56, The Djanogly Gallery

Armchair

ca. 1625 (made)
Artist/Maker
Place Of Origin

Object Type
The chair has a scallop-shell back based on the sgabello, an ornate form of hall chair widely used in Venice from about 1570.

Materials
The arms, balusters and front slat are made of beech, the back and seat of oak.

Places
Similar chairs are depicted in The South Front of Ham House, a painting of around 1675 by Henry Dankert, and in Daniel Mytens' portrait of around 1618 showing Alatheia, Countess of Arundel seated in the Picture Gallery at Arundel House, London. They are also recorded in the Gilt Chamber of Holland House, London.

People
The 18th-century diarist Horace Walpole believed that the chairs at Holland House were designed by Francis Cleyn, chief designer at the Mortlake tapestry works from 1626. Chairs like this would have been popular with the select group of courtiers known as the 'Whitehall Set'. They were close to Charles I and shared his taste for the latest fashions from Italy and France.


object details
Categories
Object Type
Materials and Techniques
Carved oak, elm(?) and beech, painted and gilded
Brief Description
Armchair, carved woods, with a shell-shaped back and two cartouche-shaped supports, the one at the front carved with a mask and festoons. English, about 1625.
Physical Description
An armchair of hybrid sgabello/caquetoire form of carved wood, identified by eye as probably oak or elm and beech, with the remains of an original painted and gilded scheme. The carved ornament all carved in the solid. The arms, baluster-shaped arm supports and back slat/leg are of beech; the front slat/leg and seat may be elm; the back is of oak.

The back is a single curved elements in the form of a scallop shell with stopped fluting and some gouge detailing, which contains at the centre bottom a small, low relief scallop and lion mask; this sits above a deep band of guilloche type fluting; the back is plain on the reverse. Joined to the back are flat scroll-shaped arms of the 'caquetoire' type, carved on the outside with leaf and dart ornament above a concave moulding (the moulding continues inside), and supported on turned balusters which are tenoned into the board seat. The board seat is rounded trapezoid in form, with an oval, moulded depression in the centre, and a patera at each front corner. All edges of the seat are carved with leaf and dart. Front and back slat/legs are symmetrical in outline and match: the front carved on its front face with S shaped scrolls which contain strapwork, with a male mask in head-dress supported by swags of leaves and fruit tied off by ribbons; along the top are poorly carved lobe motifs. The back slat/leg which rakes noticeably and is nailed to the side rail, is plain on both sides. The front slat ‘feet’ are both cut with a shoulder running at the front and sides, perhaps for a missing metal shoe. The back slat ‘feet’ bear the remains of nails and a shadow line suggesting applied mouldings.



The two slats are joined by side rails of scroll outline (the PR replaced and plain, the PL carved on the outside with symmetrical scrolls and facetted ‘jewels’) and a turned stretcher which is crudely nailed and appears to have been added. The back slat has been reinforced with two plain buttress brackets behind, nailed in place (possibly 19c). Where the arms meet the back, a metal plate has been nailed on both sides from the back using irregular, round-headed short nails (perhaps 18c or 19c), with an infill patch on the PL side, and under each arm a metal angle joint has been screwed in place (probably 20c). The seat back leans to the PL side, apparently the result of warping of the seat board.



The seat appears to consist of two butted boards, one wide and one narrow; the curved back appears to consist of five narrow butted boards; the front slat/leg appears to consist of a wide board and a narrow edging on the PL, possibly a replacement as the carving does not match the PR side. The front and back slat/legs are jointed to the seat with a full-thickness tenon; where the back and side rails are jointed to the seat they are cut in a half-thickness tenon.



Surface

Most of the chair (apart from the underside of the seat which retains a thick reddish brown paint) retains extensive but irregular traces of what is presumed to be an original scheme of white primer, yellowish sealing varnish, on top of which is an off-white with detailing in red/pink, green and black and extensive gilding.



Dimensions of separate elements:

Back HWT: 614 x 445 x 29mm

Seat WDT: 603 x 455 x 33mm

Front slat HWT: 480 x 489 x 34mm

Back slat: HWT: 500 x 410 x 22mm

Baluster max. diam. 41mm; stretcher max. diam. 30mm

Arm thickness: 43mm

PL side rail LHT: 245/300 x 135 x 27mm
Dimensions
  • Height: 110.5cm
  • Width: 69.2cm
  • Depth: 66cm
  • Height: 51.2cm (Note: Height of seat above floor)
Dimensions checked: measured; 09/04/1999 by DW
Gallery Label
  • Armchair Carved oak, formerly gilt English: second quarter of the 17th century Similar chairs were stated by Horace Walpole in his Anecdotes of Painting to have been designed by Franz Cleyn (b. Rostock 1582, d. London 1658) for the Gilt Room at Holland House, Kensington. Although the shape of the arms recalls French 'caqueteuse' armchairs, the decoration of the chair follows the Italo-Flemish style and is completely alien to the native English tradition.(1968)
  • RECENT CONSERVATION CHAIR, DESIGN ATTRIBUTED TO FRANCIS CLEIN (1582-1658) English, about 1625 Painted oak The form of this chair is based on the Italian sgabello, a trestle-stool with cartouche-shaped boards fixed with mortise and tenon joints to a seat with a circular depression. The shell-shaped back and the swags and pendant masks were appropriate ornament for the Classical interiors designed for English Court circles by the architect Inigo Jones (1573-1652). Like Jones, Francis Clein spent several years in Italy, before working for Christian IV of Denmark on the decoration of the Royal Palace at Rosenborg. He came to England in the mid-1620s and was appointed designer to the Mortlake tapestry manufactory. He also designed interiors at Ham House, Richmond and Holland House, Kensington. This chair has no history of ownership but is similar to a chair from the Gilt Chamber at Holland House, which was decorated to Clein's direction in the 1620s. The shell-shaped chair back echoed the shell-decorated niche above the central door in the Gilt Chamber. Recent cleaning of this chair by staff of the Conservation Section has revealed traces of original gilding. By 1670 such chairs were no longer fashionable and those designed by Clein for the Long Gallery at Ham House appear as garden furniture in Henry Danckerts' oil painting of King Charles II being presented with a pineapple in the grounds at Ham. As relatively little furniture of royal quality remains from the early 17th century, this chair is a rare survival. [Tessa Murdoch](07/1995 - 08/1995)
  • ARMCHAIR English: About 1640 The design attributed to Francis Cleyn (1582-1658) Carved oak, formerly painted and gilt. This hall or gallery seat, ornamented in the Classical style, is designed in the manner of an Italian sgabello seat. The curved back is carved with a scllop shell, an attribute of Venus, the nature goddess, which rests on the curved arm-rests. The compass back seat is dished in the centre, and is supported on solid panel trestles at front and back. The front panel with scroll strapwork borders is ornamented with a garlanded classical mask. A set of seat furniture, formerly at Holland House, London were noted by Horace Walpole, Anecdotes of Painting, 1762-71, as being 'carved and gilt, with large shells for backs ... from his [Cleyn's] designs'. They were also illustrated in C.J. Richardson, Old English Mansions, 1842, 11, p.12. Other chairs of this pattern appear in Henry Danckerts' oil painting of the gardens at Ham House executed in the 1670s.(1968 - 1989)
  • ARMCHAIR Carved and painted oak. ENGLISH; 1630s Similar chairs formerly in the gilt room at Holland House, Kensington were apparently designed by Francis Clein (1582 -1658). Clein was Danish by birth but had spent four years in Italy before coming back to work for the English Court, most notably as designer to the Mortlake tapestry factory. The design and construction of this chair recall that of Italian sgabelli and have no English precedents. Conservation work on another chair from the set has revealed that the original paint finish resembled a yellowish marble.(06/1989)
Object history
Purchased for £5 17s 7d, part of a purchase of five chairs for £28. Two were bought for themselves by Sir Leigh Ashton (later presented to the museum by his cousin Mrs B.J. Mornement, W.44&a-1984) and two (acquired in 1955 by Brimingham Museum and Art Gallery, now Aston Hall) by Ralph Edwards.



Historical significance:

This form of chair was introduced to England in the second decade of the 17th century, influenced by continental prototypes. Based on the Italian sgabello, a trestle stool with cartouche-shaped supports and a back, this chair has arms the shape of which recalls French caqueteuse armchairs. The design was probably inspired by furniture seen during Clein's Italian visit and the work of Inigo Jones with whom he was closely associated. The shell shaped back and the swags and pendant masks were appropriate ornament for the Classical interiors designed for English Court circles by Inigo Jones. This chair is a rare survival of courtly furniture from the early 17th century.
Historical context
It has been suggested that chairs of this type were originally intended for long galleries and that this would explain why they often belong to large sets. A pair of similar chairs are shown in the Picture Gallery at Arundel House in the Strand in the portrait of the Countess of Arundel painted by Daniel Mytens in 1618. Evidence from contemporary inventories suggests that this type of Italianate furniture was sometimes displayed with Italian marble tables. By 1670 such chairs were no longer fashionable and those designed by Clein for the Long Gallery at Ham House appear as garden furniture in Henry Danckaerts' oil painting of Ham, as seen from the south front.



On the presence of Italian-style sgabelli chairs in England during the 17th century see: Simon Jervis, Furniture for the first Duke of Buckingham, in Furniture History vol.33 (1997), p48-74. Two surviving walnut sgabelli c.1625 with the initials GB, the Villiers arms within the Garter beneath a ducal coronet, and traces of white and green and heraldic paint (and possibly gilding), survive in the collection of the Earl of Jersey, and may be compared to other surviving chairs at Lacock (from Holland House) and Petworth. Jervis suggests that they were made to furnish a gallery or garden building at York House or Chelsea House, where large sets of 'guilt stooles' are recorded in 1635.



For an armchair of the same type (oak and elm, 110 x 60cm; seat height 51cm; Aston Hall Collection) see Tobias Jellinek, Early British Chairs and Seats, 1500-1700 (Woodbridge, 2009), plate 139
Production
Similar chairs were stated by Horace Walpole in his Anecdotes of Painting to have been designed by Francis Clein for the Gilt Room at Holland House, Kensington.
Subjects depicted
Association
Summary
Object Type
The chair has a scallop-shell back based on the sgabello, an ornate form of hall chair widely used in Venice from about 1570.

Materials
The arms, balusters and front slat are made of beech, the back and seat of oak.

Places
Similar chairs are depicted in The South Front of Ham House, a painting of around 1675 by Henry Dankert, and in Daniel Mytens' portrait of around 1618 showing Alatheia, Countess of Arundel seated in the Picture Gallery at Arundel House, London. They are also recorded in the Gilt Chamber of Holland House, London.

People
The 18th-century diarist Horace Walpole believed that the chairs at Holland House were designed by Francis Cleyn, chief designer at the Mortlake tapestry works from 1626. Chairs like this would have been popular with the select group of courtiers known as the 'Whitehall Set'. They were close to Charles I and shared his taste for the latest fashions from Italy and France.
Associated Objects
Bibliographic References
  • Christies, 19th February 1953, lot No. ?
  • Wilk, Christopher, ed. . Western Furniture 1350 to the Present Day. London: Victoria and Albert Museum, 1996. 230p., ill. ISBN 085667463X.
Collection
Accession Number
W.9-1953

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record createdJune 16, 1998
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