Chairs Settees and Benches

What primitive chairs and benches looked like, as with most pieces of simple household furniture, is only known by pictorial representations1). Carved benches of a later period which are even rarely to be found in art collections, probably came from sacristies and religious houses, but their construction is not in contradiction with their having been used for profane public or private purposes. They differentiate from the chest insomuch as they served only for sitting purposes. The seats are borne by either quadrangular or round supports, most varied in their articulation. Often the backs are formed of balusters which when they are rather long, are separated by a central upright (fig. 190). They are but rarely supported by consoles in place of legs (fig. 179). Otherwise the variety of articulation and ornamentation plays little part in the general impression conveyed by such pieces of furniture, because the ground construction and the horizontal divisions always remain the same, the settees and benches vary only as to length. On small ones two persons could sit comfortably together, on very long ones there was place enough for more than twenty (figs. 21, 22, 191).

With stools and chairs it was far otherwise for many types existed from the middle ages, varying in form according to the special purpose for which they were to be used. The armchair (poltrona) stood in imposing stateliness against the wall between the chests.

The chair (sedia) is similar to the armchair in its imposing effect, but could be more easily moved. In the home of the burgher, however, the stool (sgabello) in its most primitive form, was in common use for centuries, generally it had three or four straddling legs with a round or square seat. Such are frequently to

A perfectly simple bench standing on four slender legs is depicted in Ghirlandajo's fresco: The Death of St. Fina in San Gimignano; another supported by plain boards once existed in the Palazzo Davanzati (Illustrated in Hunter, Plate 27).

be seen on XVth centuiy paintings1), but ou.; original specimen of this kind has been handed down to us, ndmely the Strozzi sgabello in the Figdor collection, Vienna, which in contradistinction to the original type which, besides being provided with a bade crowned with a round relief, is embellished with delicate inlaid friezes (figs. 380 and 382). This type is of frequent occurrence in Upper Italy where it appears in a more heavy, almost rustic variety, distinguished by a somewhat broader back with a peculiarly shaped profile and rich chip carving ornamentation (figs. 381, 373/4). But in Venice even this variety underwent a transformation from which resulted a charming, elegant object with turned legs and with backs ornamented with dainty bone inlays (fig. 375).

The so-called Andrea del Sarto chair (formerly in the Palazzo Davanzati) is a later modification of this type. The seat is semicircular, the back being formed of a like balustrade (fig. 406).

In stools, too, the predilection for unbroken surface effects became prevalent as early as the XVIth century: four boards tapering off towards the [upper end, now sometimes supported the seats (fig. 26). More frequently there were.only two supporting boards, one in the front, and one behind, profiled and ornamented with reliefs like those on the higher and broader ones of the tables2). Again, stools of this kind without backs, but with straw-plaited seats, or, in later times, upholstered ones, were relatively rare, while a large number of chairs

23. Model for a Table after 1500

Kunatgewerbe-Museum, Frankfort on the Maine

23. Model for a Table after 1500

Kunatgewerbe-Museum, Frankfort on the Maine have been preserved to us. The backs frequently show rich carving, and the same outline and decoration as the supports (figs. 385, 387). However, types of this

1) Thus for instance it often recurs on Fra Angelico's famous frescoes in the Monastery of San Marco, Florence. In Michelangelo's "Deluge" in the Sistine Chapel, a woman is depicted carrying such a stool turned upside down on her head, in which all sorts of household utensils are placed.

  1. Central Italy after 1550. Small Settee
  2. Simon's Collection, Berlin
  3. Central Italy after 1550. Small Settee
  4. Simon's Collection, Berlin kind which are simpler, in decoration, but more impressive in outline, are of a far higher artistic value. Their backs slant towards the lower end and are slightly curved in order to make sitting comfortable (figs. 376, and sequ, 383).

The folding chairs of the renaissance were derived from mediaeval chairs, perhaps, even, in an indirect way, from classic forms. As already in earlier times, so in the age of the renaissance they were frequently made of iron and bronze (figs. 391/2) and the employment of these materials was retained, especially in Venice, even for more complete forms, mounted in rich velvet and ornamented with passementerie, the shining heads of the nails securing it forming an additional decoration (fig. 44). From the simple flap stools!) developed the folding and X stools2). The former consisted of two pairs of curved rods joined together by a profiled rod at the points of crossing beneath the seat, and by stretchers below, the upper part being connected by straight or curved arm-rests. The back and seat were formed of stretched leather or girths (figs. 399—405).

The X chair is built on the same principals, a number of small laths being crossed together so closely as to

') In the middle ages called "faldistorium", hence the French word "fauteuil".

2) In trade these are known as Dante or Savonarola chairs but without justifiable reason.

appear fast joined to one another1). Naturally laths appear more delicate than hardwood. The object of the folding chair, viz. to be easily transported, was abandoned for both types as early as the XVth centuiy, so a back formed of a simple board and a seat consisting of laths placed close together were added to the X chair. At the same time the front profile grew richer in the rhythm of its outline, the curve became more and more varied, and was ornamented with flat carving; the. backs being diverse in shape2) (fig. 396 and seq.). The folding chair underwent a like metamorphosis. The seat and bade were then upholstered and together with the arm - rests ornamented with relief carving. In Upper Italy the front of the chairs were decorated with certosina inlays (fig. 403 ff.). In this way folding chairs became stable and comfortable seats; they had lost the attribute originally determining their peculiar function; but the impressive suitableness and harmony of their forms lent a new and peculiar charm to the not too florid productions of the later renaissance.

Besides straddle-legged X chairs there can be no doubt that others with vertical supports were also in use. Low chairs 'of this kind are to be seen on paintings of the XVth century, especially in bed-chambers. Higher ones are ordinarily provided with a bade, the seats being made of wood or plaited straw ®) (fig. 408). Carved ornaments were applied to the cross-bars between the front legs and to the backs4), or these latter were resolved into a row of small columns (fig. 409 ff.). From the primitive original form of this object of daily use developed the stately massive chair whose place was always close to the wall. For by extending the front

') Or the laths are crossed in the other direction, so as to form the bade (fig. 394).

  1. Sometimes they were ornamented with reliefs, this being an unsuitable decoration because it made leaning uncomfortable. — The so-called Savonarola X chair was also known in the Alpine countries and in South Germany, in the XVI century.
  2. Upholstery in most cases has probably been added later.
  3. Chairs with particularly rich carvings in cartouche forms (fig. 450—455) were probably first made in the north of Lombardy, and imitated in the Alpine countries and in South Germany.

25. Venice (?) XVI* Century, Chair with Sloping Seat

Formerly in L. Bernheimer's Collection, Munich legs above the seat and connecting their upper parts with the bade the arm-rests were formed (figs. 420 ff.). Velvet, stuff or leather mountings soon became of general use; it is most instructive to follow in all details how the simple frame of the chair more and more acquired unity and a certain grandezza, by merely broadening out the bade and emphasizing the seat whbse mounting now reached down to the legs being sometimes edged with fringes of about a hand's breadth wide (figs. 419—438). Here, too, the application of carving was mostly limited to the cross-bar in front; the supports of the arm-rests were sometimes formed like balusters, while the arm-rests themselves together with the backs were carved. The seats and the backs were mounted with pressed leather gilded over and partly tooled, or covered with costly patterned stuffs. It is remarkable how uncommonly high the seats of these chairs were, a circumstance which, in a way, helped to making a straight and ceremonious attitudel) unavoidable. The same may be said of the sgabelli. Folding-stools were mostly of their present height; besides these, some very low chairs with ornamented backs, a row of balusters, or a carved frieze, are still in existence, which are very comfortable to sit upon (figs. 409 and 415).

25. Venice (?) XVI* Century, Chair with Sloping Seat

Formerly in L. Bernheimer's Collection, Munich

26. Italy, XVI* Century: Carved Stool

Schloss-Museum, Berlin

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