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

Folio Stand

1873 (made), ca. 1920 -- ca. 1960 (altered)
Place of origin

Luigi Frullini was the most accomplished of the many carvers who worked in Florence between about 1850 and 1900. He worked in the Renaissance Revival style, producing work that was inspired by Italian carving of about 1500. His pieces were shown at several of the international exhibitions, including the Paris International Exhibition of 1878.

This folio stand was produced for a library or study. In 1870, a London lawyer, Sir William Drake, commissioned furniture from Frullini for his house at 46 Parliament Street. An etching of the room shows a table with very similar supports to those on this piece. It has been suggested that the V&A's stand may have been made for Sir William Drake, although Frullini is known to have made many pieces in this style.

Object details

Object type
This object consists of 3 parts.

  • Central Panel of Folio Stand
  • Trestle Support for Folio Stand
  • Trestle Support for Folio Stand
Materials and techniques
Carved walnut, in the solid and in facings on softwood, with walnut and plywood veneer in later alterations
Brief description
Of carved walnut, the panel with a central panel of putti, the stand inscribed 'LUIGI FRULLINI FIRENZE 1873'
Physical description
A portfolio stand of carved walnut, comprising two very large, landscape-format leaves, carved in relief, hinged along the bottom from a stop-fluted, ovolo-moulded plinth, which is raised on two trestle supports, carved in the round as lion-faced monsters. Each monster is formed as a term on a square block, facing outwards and with its wing-tips folded back, touching those of the other monster at the centre of the stand. Each term block is supported on a rectangular base plinth aligned front to back, parallel to the opposite plinth, and is flanked on the plinth by two consoles, at front and back. Originally there was an ornamental superstructure on top of the back leaf.

The two leaves each take the form of a single framed panel, with edges built up on the inside face to a depth of about 7 cm, so as to form a tray. The front leaf, which is richly carved on both panel and frame, is hinged at the bottom to fold down, its bottom edge swivelling within a trough cut out of the moulded plinth. The back leaf, carved only on the frame, and now with plywood veneer on the enclosed panel, is also fixed to the plinth with hinges; but there is no trough cut for it in the plinth, so it can only fold down by about 20 degrees. The two leaves were originally lined inside with green baize, probably in a single sheet spanning the plinth and concealing the hinges.The restricted movement of the back leaf, combined with the evidence for a former superstructure (see below), suggests that the back panel was always plain, not carved, and that the folio stand was intended to be placed against a wall.

The portfolio stand has been adapted to form a secretaire, with a drop front formed from the main carved panel of the front leaf. This panel has been released from its frame, fitted with a green stamped leather writing surface, and veneered on the borders around the leather panel and on the newly-cut edges. It now folds down on quadrant hinges and hinged stays at the sides. The drop front opens to reveal, fixed to the opposite leaf, a shallow bank of six small walnut cupboards in two rows of three – in each row a two-door cupboard flanked by two single-door cupboards – above a row of three pigeon-holes (one wide and two narrower). It is still possible to open the whole of the front leaf (frame and panel together) as originally intended, but the plinth moulding below prevents the frame from opening by quite 90 degrees to rest flat (whereas the drop front on its own, which rests above the frame, can do so).

The front leaf consists of a richly carved panel with a central figurative medallion surrounded by leafy arabesque scrolls, within an elaborately moulded frame. In the medallion is a Bacchanalian scene of putti playing panpipes, a trumpet and a tambourine, in a setting of rocks and plants. This medallion is framed by a high-relief coin moulding. The arabesques surrounding the medallion emerge from a pair of dolphins at the bottom of the panel, both facing a central scallop shell; in the centre at the top is a bird with outspread wings (whose head forms the handle by which to pull down the front leaf, now the drop front). This panel is framed by a series of mouldings, mitred at the corners, culminating in a large, flower-filled guilloche at the outside. The back leaf has a completely plain panel of plywood veneer (revealed by its rotary-sawn grain and utterly flat surface), framed with mouldings identical to those on the front leaf, with one exception: on the front leaf there is a coin moulding at the inside edge, not found on the back leaf; this is attached to the drop front, not to the frame, and is very close to – in places touching – the carving of the panel. Possibly this carving was introduced at the time of the adaptation, to conceal damage done in cutting out the panel. But it is more likely to be original, since there is a pale strip along the top edge of the panel, just beneath the moulding, exposed because the panel has shrunk; so this strip must always have been covered – presumably by the moulding. There may have been a similar moulding on the back leaf before the panel there was replaced with plywood.

The carving and undercutting of the front panel is exceptionally fine, the motifs so sharply defined against the ground that at first sight they appear to have been carved separately and applied to a prepared surface. The panel is in fact carved in the solid, a technique that makes it much more difficult to achieve a flat ground, as the surface cannot be planed down. Two different approaches to this problem have been adopted here. In the central medallion the ground has been worked as smooth as possible, but the chisel marks are still evident on the surface on close inspection. The ground to the surrounding arabesques, however, is finely punched throughout, to obviate the unevenness of the chiselled surface.

The moulded plinth supporting the leaves is carved with fluting stopped with gadroons, and leaf-clasps at the corners, above a torus moulding. The moulding is very sharply cut, such that it appears to be formed from a separate piece of wood. Just above the plinth two carved scallop shells are fixed to the sides of the back leaf (one at each side), concealing the hinging mechanism (where the leaves are rounded to allow them to turn on their hinges without hitting each other).

The monsters below are carved in the round, looking outwards, each with open mouth, a leafy motif suspended from its neck, and a tasselled medallion carved with a female head in relief, hung on a beaded necklace. The monster’s front paws are crossed over each other on the block below. The folded-back wings are pierced and carved vivaciously with feathers merging into foliage. Although the monsters face outwards, when viewed from this angle (end-on to the stand) their wings crowd the heads in a rather improbable way. Their side view – to the front (or back) of the stand – is much more convincing. The consoles below are carved conventionally, with acanthus, rope moulding, stiff-leaf ornament and formal flower-heads, and the base plinths are carved at the top with a waterleaf moulding, on facings applied to a concealed block. The low-relief ornament on the base plinths and consoles, and on the moulded plinth above, is carved very skilfully, but the mouldings on the two hinged leaves are distinctly more refined, as befits the framing of the virtuosic front panel and medallion.

The original parts of the folio stand are made entirely in walnut, apart from a softwood core to the base plinths. It is constructed from five principal elements: two trestle supports (including the winged monsters), the long moulded plinth above them, and the two hinged leaves. Each trestle is made with a rectangular plinth (grained front to back), two consoles above (also grained front to back), and the carved monster (grained laterally). The square block flanked by the two consoles is integral with the monster. The bottom plinth has a softwood core, built out with four mitred facings of walnut, moulded at the top; the facings extend below the bottom of the softwood block, so raising this off the ground. This softwood top face of the plinth is completely concealed by the other three parts of the trestle. It is fixed to these parts with six countersunk screws from underneath: two large screws into the square block of the monster and two smaller screws into each console. It is also fitted with two countersunk brass casters, with white ceramic rollers, which take the weight off the mitred facings. Each of the carved monsters, apparently made from a single block of walnut, is fitted to the long moulded plinth above with two loose dowels and two or three screws: a large dowel at the end (above the lion), a thinner, newer dowel about half-way along the monster’s length, and the later screws (five in all) towards the middle of the long moulded plinth. It appears, surprisingly, that the only original fixing (other than glue) was the large dowel near the end of each carving.

To avoid confusion as to orientation, the following description of the two folding leaves refers to the front leaf (except where otherwise stated), seen in its upright position (the hinged side therefore described as the ‘bottom’, not the ‘back’ as it would be if open). Each leaf, supported on the moulded plinth, seems to have been made originally with a mitred frame housing the large walnut panel; the mitred joints are probably tenoned together, but at the top corners they are also reinforced with steel L-brackets, screwed to the back (inside) face of the frame. (On the front leaf the L-brackets can be seen, where the green baize has been removed, and on the back leaf they can be felt and discerned with a magnet.) The three projecting tray edges, at the top and sides of each leaf, are integral with the front face of the frame; that is, the three-dimensional sides were each formed from a single square-section length of walnut, by cutting out a large rebate along the inside back corner. At the top corners the projecting edges of the top and sides are fixed to each other with plugged screws. The bottom rail on the hinged edge of the frame is flat (without a projecting tray edge).

In the long moulded plinth that supports the two leaves a trough has been cut out along the front half, to allow the front leaf to be lowered, rotating on its hinges. Although there is no equivalent trough along the back, the back leaf can also fold out to a small extent. On top of the plinth is fixed a large sheet of steel, screwed in several places to the back half of the plinth and covering the trough in the front half. This steel sheet forms the fixed, reciprocal part of all the steel hinges in the two folding leaves: each leaf is fitted with two long strap hinges at the ends (fixed to the side rails, just inside the tray-sides) and one short hinge in the centre (fixed to the back rail) – all six hinges being recessed into the back (inside) face of the folding leaves.

Two carved scallop shells, with extending tips at the bottom, are fixed to the bottom of the back leaf, one on each side, to conceal the hinging mechanism. The back extending tip obstructs the folding movement of the leaf, as it butts up against the plinth below when the leaf is folded out. Consequently the back tip of the left shell is broken and that on the right tip is chipped.

The two folding leaves could originally be secured to each other by a lock, fitted to the top edge of the front leaf and engaging in a plate in the top edge of the back leaf. The lock has been removed, but the subsidiary plate in the back leaf remains in place. At the bottom end of the front leaf a small steel plate (8 x 2.5 cm) has been screwed to the inside face of each tray-side. The purpose of these plates is unclear, but it seems unlikely that they are part of the original manufacture of the folio stand.

Remnants of green baize inside the frame of the front leaf indicate that both leaves were originally lined with baize, concealing the steel corner brackets. This was probably in a single sheet that also covered (but perhaps was not glued to) the steel hinges and cover to the moulded plinth. The modern baize now glued to the back leaf, very poorly fitted at the edges, is probably contemporary with the later fitted compartment.

Originally the folio stand clearly had an ornamental superstructure, probably much like that on a very similar folio stand that was formerly in the Metropolitan Museum, New York (walnut, 65 x 30½ inches; bequeathed to the Metropolitan Museum by Ada Augusta Draper in 1888; sold in 1929 and acquired by R. F. North; sold by the R. F. North Trust, Christie’s, New York, 20–21 April 2006, lot 12). On the V&A stand this superstructure is attested by plugged fixing points on the top edge of the back leaf: two circular plugs 1.5 cm in diameter and 42 cm apart (about 30 cm from the ends), and two smaller plugs near the ends, corresponding to countersunk screw-holes on the underside. The evidence for this superstructure confirms that the back leaf was always intended to stay more or less upright, and not to fold down like the front leaf. This in turn suggests that the stand was probably intended to be placed against a wall, and therefore that the back panel was always plain, as now. This is also consistent with the similar stand from the Metropolitan Museum, which is recorded as having ‘a plain [back] panel within a carved entrelac and beaded frame’.

When the folio stand was converted to a secretaire, the fall front must have been formed by releasing – probably sawing out – the central panel from its frame. The frame was then secured to the frame of the back leaf by two loose dowels – one on each side – fitted to round mortises in their facing edges. Initially they were presumably glued in place, to prevent the front frame from being lowered, but the dowels have subsequently loosened on one or both sides. On the front central panel (the new fall-front) the green baize has been replaced by a stamped leather writing surface, bordered with small sections of figured walnut veneer applied to plywood (the thickness of which is visible at the edges). On the frame – no longer intended to be lowered – the remnants of baize were left uncovered. The frame has been fitted on its inside edges with new wood fillets, which may serve in part to make up the loss of wood caused in sawing out the panel. They project slightly on the back (inside) face of the leaf, so as to be flush with the plywood-thickened surface of the fall front. The newly formed fall front is fitted with quadrant hinges near its bottom edge, and with hinged stays at about mid-height. The hinges are screwed to the outside of the fall front and to the new fillets on the inside edges of the front frame. The stays are screwed to the back (inside) face of the fall front, at its outer edges, and to spacer blocks that are fixed inside the tray-sides of the back leaf. Equivalent spacer blocks are glued to the front frame (inside the tray-sides); thin pieces of wood are glued to the inside of these spacers and to the back (inside) edge of the new fillets, and act as guides for the hinged stays. A brass ball-spring latch at the top of the fall front holds it in place, not very securely, inside a reciprocally notched plate in the front frame. The placing of the hinges means that, when the fall-front is lowered (and the frame remains upright), the bottom (now back) end of the fall-front rests above the bottom rail of the cut-out frame.

The new fitted compartment is made of walnut throughout, the case comprising top and bottom boards tenoned to upright sides, with partitions and shelves mitred to the case and to each other. The doors, very thinly veneered in matched and mirrored burr walnut, are fitted with brass butt hinges and with small leather loop handles; behind the doors are thin, low battens, supported by small blocks, to prevent papers from falling out. This compartment has no backboard, and is apparently held in place only by the pressure on its case of a few wood blocks screwed to the frame of the back leaf. These blocks, together with the spacers for the hinged stays, are concealed by the frame of the original front leaf when this is kept upright – as it was clearly intended to be when the folio stand was converted to a secretaire.

There are signs of alteration to the new drawer compartment, which might be evidence of a previous life (but if so it is remarkable that it fits its present space so neatly) or perhaps of changes made in the course of fitting it in its present position. On the right side of the case, near the fitting of the hinged stay, is a chiselled-out groove (cutting through the pencil inscription, ‘Outside’); and on both sides, further down, are two plugged screw(?)-holes. Each of these could perhaps reflect an original intention to fix the fall-front with different hinges and stays. The plugged holes may relate to two veneer patches on the fall-front itself, placed similarly to the fixing plates of the hinged stays but lower down.

The major alterations involved in converting the folio stand to a secretaire, the loss of the original superstructure, the replacement of the panel of the back leaf with plywood, and the loss of the original green baize lining (probably a single piece spanning both leaves), have been described above. The plywood back panel is likely to date from the same time as the conversion to a secretaire, since plywood was also used in the latter process (to thicken the veneered borders of the fall-front, around the leather panel). The front panel has shrunk, exposing paler wood along its top edge.

Some of the carving is damaged. On the front panel there are chips missing from the left dolphin’s acanthus ‘hair’ and a broken scroll above the right dolphin’s back. On the back leaf a 7 cm section of beading along the top edge (just right of centre) has torn off.

Several pieces of metalware, which appear unrelated to this object, have been found in the top right drawer of the cupboard (two new keys, a brass striking plate, a brass sprung-latch lock and brass skeleton keyhole escutcheon).
  • Height: 133cm
  • Width: 110.5cm
  • Closed depth depth: 61cm
measured LC 12/8/2010
Marks and inscriptions
  • 'LUIGI FRULLINI FIRENZE 1873', stamped on top edge of front leaf, at the right end
  • 'Outside', inscribed in pencil on added internal case of drawers, three times, on top face and both sides (This is clearly legible on the top face. On the right side, 'tsi' is lost where the surface has been gouged out. On the left side the inscription is partly obscured by the hinged stay, but is clearly the same word.)
Gallery label
  • PORTFOLIO STAND W.10-1971 'American and European Art and Design 1800-1900' This portfolio stand, signed and dated, is similar to one in the Metropolitan Museum of Art, New York. Frullini exported his virtuoso carved furniture all over Europe and America. Most of his works are in the Italian Renaissance style of about 1500.(1987-2006)
  • Portfolio stand 1873 Luigi Frullini (1839–97) Italy (Florence) Walnut, carved, with some softwood Alterations in walnut and plywood veneer about 1920–60 Museum no. W.10-1971 Frullini was a virtuoso craftsman who modelled his work on Italian Renaissance carving. Here, the large panel is a single piece of wood, worked ‘in the solid’. Carving in the solid uses more wood. It also makes it more difficult to achieve a flat ground and crisply undercut relief forms. (01/12/2012)
Object history
Made for a room in the London house of William Richard Drake, at 46 Parliament Street, Westminster, which was fitted with carvings by Frullini.

Purchased from Noble Antiques, 195 Westbourne Grove, London W11, 1 June 1971, £350.
Converted to a secretaire, fitted with small internal cupboards, before 1971, almost certainly in Britain
Subjects depicted
Luigi Frullini was the most accomplished of the many carvers who worked in Florence between about 1850 and 1900. He worked in the Renaissance Revival style, producing work that was inspired by Italian carving of about 1500. His pieces were shown at several of the international exhibitions, including the Paris International Exhibition of 1878.

This folio stand was produced for a library or study. In 1870, a London lawyer, Sir William Drake, commissioned furniture from Frullini for his house at 46 Parliament Street. An etching of the room shows a table with very similar supports to those on this piece. It has been suggested that the V&A's stand may have been made for Sir William Drake, although Frullini is known to have made many pieces in this style.
Bibliographic references
  • This stand illustrated in Simone Chiarugi, 'Botteghe di Mobilieri in Toscana 1780-1900', I (Florence, Studio Per Edizioni Skelte, 1994) p. 314 fig. 429; a closely related stand in a contemporary photograph taken c.1870-3, p.315 fig. 430; see also p. 316, fig. 432, for a photograph of a related folio stand, taken c.1875.
  • Colle, Enrico. Il Mobile dell’ Ottocento in Italia. Arredie e decorazioni d’interni dal 1815 al 1900. Milan, Electra, 2007, 477 pp. illus. Illustrated p. 320. For biography of Frullini see p. 442.
  • Fleming, John, 'Art Dealing in the Risorgimento, III'. Burlington Magazine, vol. CXXI, September 1979, p. 569, note 3.
  • Christopher Rowell, 'Florentine Cassoni at Blickling, Knole and Cliveden', in Furniture History, vol. LI (2015), pp. 21-49, noted on p. 35 and in note 84.
  • ‘The Dispersal of the Handley-Read Collection’ by Simon Swynfen Jervis, in ‘The Charles and Lavinia Handley-Read Collection’, Decorative Arts Society Journal no. 40 2016. p. 55 plate 6
Accession number

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Record createdJune 26, 2001
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