Originally the Blisses had a set of ten Spanish Renaissance walnut bancos or benches, but they returned four after they had approved the use of six of them for their new Music Room and its entrance hallway. With their fairly plain shape and unadorned leather upholstery, these benches epitomize the Spanish preference during the Renaissance for simplified, rectilinear forms. They also typify the practical Spanish employment of wrought iron struts for the underbracing and the use of large-headed, decorative brass nails to adequately secure the upholstery.
These benches, when acquired, came with original, period removable cases or “slipcovers” that would allow the owner to impress guests by greatly increasing the luxury of the seating while at the same time allowing for the removal and protection of the more valuable cases when the benches were not in use. Made of red silk velvet with thread-ofgold fringe, these cases are divided into three panels by gold galloon, originally with a crest set in the center panel. [The cases are not presently displayed with the benches.]
The backs of the benches fold over the seats by means of hinges, allowing for easier transport and storage. The vase-and-disc turning of the legs, achieved so that the bracing stretcher rails could be joined to the turned legs at large block areas—a design known as block-and-spindle turning—was a Spanish innovation quickly passed on to the Spanish Netherlands and from there to England.
It is unclear how these benches were originally employed. They might have served for banquet-hall seating or for the seating of a private chapel.
Bühl, Gudrun, editor. Dumbarton Oaks, The Collections. Washington, DC: Dumbarton Oaks Research Library and Collection (distributed by Harvard University Press), 2008, 344f, ill.
Reportedly from the Cathedral of Zamora, Spain.
10 purchased from French & Co., New York, NY (dealer), by Mildred and Robert Woods Bliss, 4/30/1929, and 4 returned in 1933.
Collection of Mildred and Robert Woods Bliss, Washington, DC, 4/30/1929-11/29/1940.
Dumbarton Oaks Research Library and Collection, House Collection, Washington, DC.