Art/ Collection/ Collection/ Art Object

Folding armchair (sedia a Savonarola)

Date:
15th century (textile); 19th century (chair: with earlier parts)
Culture:
Italian
Medium:
Walnut, partly turned; red silk cut velvet; gilt metal; silk
Dimensions:
H. 95 cm, W. 65.4 cm, D. 58.4 cm; Cushion: 36 x 43 cm.
Classifications:
Woodwork-Furniture, Textiles-Velvets
Credit Line:
Robert Lehman Collection, 1975
Accession Number:
1975.1.1980 ab
On view at The Met Fifth Avenue in Gallery 958
The scissorlike mechanism of this type of folding chair revolves around a central pin hinge that holds two opposed and interlocking sets of reverse-curved staves fitted into the armrests and runner bases. The chair can be folded up by disengaging the back that is pegged on one side to the arm and slotted at the other. Straight staves attached with three pins form the seat. The back is carved with a stylized heraldic device. It was constructed using two older (sixteenth-century) armrests. This chair is part of a group of related works in the Robert Lehman Collection. Whereas the type is customarily displayed without a cushion, to preserve the appearance of its stately stave construction many of the Lehman pieces received flat silk velvet decoration. The choice reflects a particular taste and documents the use of contemporary textiles as an important part of the collection concept. The term sedia a Savonarola, or “Savonarola chair,” derives from a work in the Museo Nazionale di San Marco, Florence, that traditionally belonged to Giacomo Savonarola.(1) The model has a lighter design than the Dantesca type (see Nos. 161 – 68) and, in most cases, is still foldable. Its appearance in many depictions of early Italian Renaissance interiors afforded the chair a special status. In the nineteenth and twentieth centuries, the aesthetic effect of its simplicity of form and harmony of proportions contributed to its popularity with collectors. The chair was further appreciated for its role as a symbol of dignity in the antique manner, as attested by pictorial evidence (see Fig. 151.1).(2) The seat was often reserved for the lord of the house or an eminent guest.(3) Moreover, this fashionable Renaissance furnishing item may be seen in several depictions of the Annunciation.(4) The model’s iconic character is additionally supported by its prominent placement on a tin-glazed earthenware birth set of about 1525 – 30, where a woman in labor is represented on such a seat.(5)

Catalogue entry from: Wolfram Koeppe. The Robert Lehman Collection. Decorative Arts, Vol. XV. Wolfram Koeppe, et al. New York: The Metropolitan Museum of Art in association with Princeton University Press, 2012, pp. 225-26.

NOTES:

1. See Schottmuller, Frida. Furniture and Interior Decoration of the Italian Renaissance. 2nd ed. Stuttgart, 1928, p. 247, under no. 406.

2. Thornton, Peter. The Italian Renaissance Interior, 1400 – 1600. New York, 1991, pl. 196.

3. See Dennis, Flora. “Representing the Domestic Interior in Fifteenthand Sixteenth-Century Italy: From the Birth of the Virgin to Palaces of Cheese.” In Imagined Interiors: Representing the Domestic Interior since the Renaissance, edited by Jeremy Aynsley and Charlotte Grant, pp. 22 – 45. London, 2006, pl. 2.2, a woodcut set of about 1550 by Giacomo Rufinelli illustrating stages of the Jewish Passover feast, and pl. 2.14, Supper at Emmaus, a painting of about 1576 – 77 by Jacopo (ca. 1510 – 1592) and Francesco II Bassano (1549 – 1592) (private collection).

4. See, for example, The Virgin at the Annunciation from a diptych by Gaudenzio Ferrari (1475/80 – 1546), Venice, ca. 1510 – 20 (Palazzo Layard, Venice; Halsey, Ethel. Guadenzio Ferrari. The Great Masters in Painting and Sculpture. London, 1904, ill. following p. 40).

5. Victoria and Albert Museum, London, 2258-1910 (Currie, Elizabeth. Inside the Renaissance House. London, 2006, pl. 51). A related chair was included in the sale at Sotheby Parke Bernet, New York, 10–11 November 1972, lot 15. See also the chair illustrated in Kunst und Antiquitäten 84, no. 5 (September – October 1984), p. 95.
Robert Lehman, New York
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