This Italian Renaissance, sixteenth-century walnut armchair (sometimes called a “Dantesca”) has X-form leg structures with pivots at the centers to allow for the legs to fold together. The legs uphold down-scrolling armrests with straight undersides and rosette carvings at either side of the hand rests. The legs are further attached at the bottom by sledge rails, detailed on the underside with an ogival arch and carved with lion’s paw feet at the front. Across the back and seat and secured with large-headed tacks is associated sixteenth- or seventeenth-century brown leather upholstery trimmed with metallic fringe and gimp. This cordovan (cordwain) leather is embossed with floral motifs that were originally gilded and possibly painted. The face of the leather across the back has a stylized palmette with leaves radiating to either side. The seat has various flower heads and leaves, the pattern of which does not appear to have been designed for the seat’s shape and size.
Folding chairs—designed so that they could be easily transported—date back to antiquity and were also common during the medieval periods. In the later fifteenth- and sixteenth-century Italian Renaissance period, designers specifically revived ancient Roman types, and this chair—the first important domestic seating furniture design of the period—has a form derived from the Roman curule seat (sella curuli), the chair upon which senior magistrates were entitled to sit. Introduced before 1500, these Italian folding chairs, which could also be upholstered in velvet, gained in popularity until they were replaced by rectangular armchairs in the late sixteenth century.
A closely-related pair of chairs was sold at Christie's London on November 4, 2010, sale 7876, lot 82, and a chair without the carved rosettes on the hand rests was sold by Sotheby’s Amsterdam on December 21, 2005, sale AM0975, lot 72. Another closely-related chair is in the Bardini Collection, Florence (see William M. Odom, A History of Italian Furniture vol. 1 [New York, 1966] 37, fig. 35).
Collection of Giuseppe Brambilla, Villa Farnese, Caprarola.
Inherited by the Countess Mazzarino (his sister), Milan.
Purchased from Countess Mazzarino, Milan, through Toledano & Co., Paris, by Mildred and Robert Woods Bliss, ca. 6/28/1929.
Collection of Mildred and Robert Woods Bliss, Washington, D.C., ca. 6/28/1929-11/29/1940.
Dumbarton Oaks Research Library and Collection, House Collection, Washington, D.C.