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62/1993

Collection

FUR

Brief description

Oak armchair with parquetry banding, inlaid decoration and carved details, made in the west of England c.1600-1640.

Object name

chair
armchair

Object number

62/1993

Location

Room 10 (1960s Room)

Production date

c.1600-1640 (manufactured)

Production place

England (manufactured)

Period

Tudor (1485-1603)
Stuart (1603-1714)

Material

oak
ebony
fruitwood
bog oak
holly

Technique

joined
carved
inlaid
turned

Physical description

Joined oak armchair dating from c.1620. The back has an arched, double- scrolled cresting and two colour inlaid parquetry (geometric marquetry) top rail over a carved arched panel inlaid with an ‘endless knot’ in two colours. Unusually it has fluted stiles and down curved arms terminating in turned and blocked supports. The boarded seat has an applied ovolo-moulded (convex moulded) edge, on shaped and moulded rails and ‘gunbarrel’ legs. The forelegs are joined by a peripheral stretcher on compressed ball feet. The chair has shaped cresting and reeded uprights, and its front legs are in the form of Doric columns.

The colour is dark brown, with relatively even patination while the back and the underside of the seat are coloured with a dark stain and there is worm damage to the top of the right stile. The arms have been re-fixed with plugged screws passing from the back of the stiles into the tenons. The inlaid work on the top rail has been repaired and losses replaced on more than one occasion, there are also some losses to the inlay on the back panel. The top rail has a empty dowel socket which might originally have accommodated a finial. The seat has been refixed with nails securing it to the rails, as have the edge mouldings while the underside of the seat has been braced with oak struts placed diagonally across the front corners and screwed into the rails. There is some wear to the front stretcher and the legs have been reduced in height and the turned feet are replacements.

Dimensions

Height: 116cm
Width: 68cm
Depth: 40cm

Website keywords

seating

Object history note

This chair is illustrated by Victor Chinnery in his book ‘Oak Furniture: The British Tradition’, p. 254. He suggests that its unusual construction, namely the way in which the arm-supports are carried up to finish in a turned knob or finial and the arm itself is tenoned into the block from behind, as well as the parquetry banding, indicate that it originates from an urban centre in the West Country, such as Bristol.

Comments

Charles Newton, former Curator of Design at the Victoria & Albert Museum, London, examined this object on 25 March 2010 as part of the Stories of the World project.

He noted that this chair includes an eclectic mix of designs: the geometric pattern in the middle and banding across the top, the Romanesque or classical leaf design in the corners, classical volutes at the top, Solomonic[in reference to columns featured on the Temple of Solomon] columns with a spiral twist on the Romanesque arch. He questioned the chair’s authenticity due to this eclecticism.

The geometric design in the centre of the arch has similarities with North African (particularly Moroccan) and Egyptian or Turkish designs, and was perhaps inspired by the binding of a Koran. The geometric pattern itself is likely to have been derived from a book of engraved ornament designs. Printmakers and publishers from the sixteenth century onwards issued collections of engraved designs for use by manufacturers. This was the major way in which ideas for ornament, including many Islamic designs, were disseminated in Europe. For examples of the types of engraved design that might have been used as a source for this type of decoration, see the four engravings probably designed by Thomas Geminus in the V&A Museum from the 1548 series entitled ‘Morysse and Damashin renewed and increased, very profitable for Goldsmythes and Embroderars’ (object numbers 19009, 19011, 19012, 19013).

A full transcript of the notes from this examination is available on the object's history file and as a digital asset.


Adam Bowett, independent furniture historian examined this object on 17 November 2008.

He described the object as a joined oak armchair dating from c.1620. The back has an arched, double- scrolled cresting and a two colour inlaid top rail over a carved arched panel inlaid with an ‘endless knot’ in two colours. Unusually it has fluted stiles and down- curved arms terminating in turned and blocked supports. The boarded seat has an applied ovolo-moulded (convex moulded) edge, on shaped and moulded rails and column shaped legs. The forelegs are joined by a peripheral stretcher on compressed ball feet.

He commented that the geometric and ‘endless knot’ inlay is a feature associated with late 16th and early 17th century English woodwork which is consistent with the plain column shaped legs which are also associated with an early to mid-17th century date. However the turned feet are probably inappropriate for this date as most furniture of this period had block feet formed by extensions of the legs.

He also analysed the construction of the chair in detail. The crest and top rail are in one piece, mortised and bridle-joined onto the back stiles while the back panel floats in a groove ploughed in the top rail, stiles and lower back rail. The stiles are faced with a glued facia into which the flutes have been ploughed. The arms are tenoned into the fronts of the stiles and double-pegged from the side while the arm terminals are mortised onto the tops of the arms supports and double-pegged and the lower back rail is tenoned into the stiles and double-pegged. The seat is a single tangentially-sawn board pegged into the seat rails while the seat edge moulding and facia below is ploughed or scratch-moulded in one piece of complex section. Each length of moulding is pegged through horizontally into the rails and mitred at the corners. The seat rails are tenoned into the fore-legs and stiles and double-pegged all round. The stretchers are tenoned into the base of the legs and single-pegged; the forelegs extend above the seat and form the arm supports; the feet appear to be dowelled into the base of the legs.

He also commented on the condition of this chair. The colour is dark brown, with relatively even patination while the back and the underside of the seat are coloured with a dark stain and there is worm damage to the top of the right stile. The arms have been re-fixed with plugged screws passing from the back of the stiles into the tenons. The inlaid work on the top rail has been repaired and losses replaced on more than one occasion, there are also some losses to the inlay on the back panel. The top rail has a empty dowel socket which might originally have accommodated a finial. The seat has been refixed with nails securing it to the rails, as have the edge mouldings while the underside of the seat has been braced with oak struts placed diagonally across the front corners and screwed into the rails. There is some wear to the front stretcher and the legs have been reduced in height and the turned feet are replacements.

A full transcript of the notes from this examination is available on the object's history file and as a digital asset.

Label

Label text, Geffrye Museum, date unknown:
Armchair, English oak inlaid with ebony and fruitwood parquetry, c1620.

Label text for 1630 Period Room (Room 1), Geffrye Museum, 2010:
Armchair
Sometimes known as the ‘great chair’, this type of chair would have been used by the head of the household or the most important guest. It may have been pulled up to the table if needed, but was probably mostly used by the fireside. The back of the chair is decorated with carving and inlaid woods.
Oak, with inlaid decoration of bog oak and fruitwood, c1620

Label text for the exhibition At Home with the World, Geffrye Museum (20 March 2012- 9 September 2012):
Armchair
Oak
Made in the West of England, 1600–40
This chair shows an assortment of different influences. Some parts are inspired by architecture; the legs are carved to look like simple columns, and scrolls decorate the top of the chair back. They refer back to the architecture of Ancient Greece and Rome, and furniture made at this time was influenced by the renewed interest in classical civilizations which happened during the Renaissance.

Label text for a touchscreen computer programme displayed in the exhibition At Home with the World, Geffrye Museum (20 March 2012- 9 September 2012):
Introduction
Chairs like this were sometimes known as ‘great chairs’ and were the seat of authority in a middling home. This chair has elements of classical architecture that were influenced by the Renaissance. The geometric design in the centre hints at influences from the Middle East and medieval bookbindings. [This information was displayed alongside a photograph of this chair, (object number 62/1993), caption 'Armchair, oak, made in west of England, c.1600-1640.']

Global Connections: Middle East: Turkey
The geometric ‘strapwork’ design on the back of this chair shows Middle Eastern influences. In the fifteenth century such design elements were imported to Europe and fed into the development of ‘arabesque’ decoration in Renaissance ornament. [This information was displayed alongside a detailed photograph of the strapwork decoration on the back of this chair, (object number 62/1993), caption 'Detail of geometric strapwork on back of armchair.']

Global Connections: Europe: Greece
The carved legs and arm supports of this chair resemble the simplest form of classical column from ancient Greece, known as the Doric style. Other classical elements include the swirling designs at the top of the chair, known as volutes, and the palm leaves around the central arch. [This information was displayed alongside a detailed photograph of the arm support of this armchair, caption 'Detail of Doric column turning on arm support of armchair.']

Global Connections: Europe: Italy
The archway in the centre back resembles the triumphal arches of the Roman Empire. The carved legs and arm supports of this chair resemble columns that were adopted by the ancient Romans from Greek sources. [This information was displayed alongside a detailed photograph of the decoration on the back of this chair, (object number 62/1993), caption 'Detail of arch on back of chair.']

Romanesque:
The arch on the back of this chair takes its form from Romanesque architecture. It is a style based on the revival of ancient Roman forms that were observed on the ruins of structures like triumphal arches or aqueducts. Such arches were a common feature of medieval cathedrals. [This information was displayed alongside a photograph of Romanesque arches in Durham Cathedral, caption 'Romanesque arches, Durham Cathedral.']

Print Culture:
The geometric pattern in the centre of this chair resembles patterns found on medieval book bindings and shows Middle Eastern influences. It could have been inspired by the patterns on Islamic book covers, or derived from a collection of engraved ornament designs which were available in Europe from the sixteenth century onwards. [This information was displayed alongside a photograph of a Qur'an manuscript with a tooled goatskin binding made in Marakesh in c.1256 in the British Library collection, shelfmark Or13292, caption 'Goastskin binding made in Marakesh, c.1256, Or 13192.']

A full transcript of this information and associated images is available on the object history file.
 
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