An exceptional set of six Roman large-scale giltwood side chairs in the English taste. The caned backs have an elaborate shaped splat decorated with low relief chinoiserie strapwork. The backs are surmounted by an extravagant cresting taking the form of a shell flanked by foliate scrolls. The seat rail has further shell carving above the legs and at the centre of the frieze. The cabriole legs are enriched with further foliate carving and terminate in hairy paw feet.
This unusual set of chairs look at first sight as if they are English George I or George II but their appearance belies their true origin. Fashioned from the traditional Italian carvers’ timber of chestnut they form part of a little known school of English taste furniture made in central Southern Italy.
There are two variations of this model; ours, with carved shells on the knees and on the top rail and, another example, with carved grotesque masks on the knees and with a lion’s mask with stylized shell on the top rail. The second variation was a great success in Italy where it was reproduced several times. A set of six chairs of this model were in the collection of the Borghese family and were reproduced in situ in the Borghese Palace sale catalogue of 1892. There is a single chair from the G. Kerry Mentasti Collection that is illustrated in Goffredo Lizzani’s 'Il Mobile Romano' and an example in the collection of the Lady Lever Art Gallery, Port Sunlight.
The material, the carving manner and even the scale of these chairs clearly manifest their country of origin. However, the early 20th century scholars of English furniture history, Herbert Cescinsky and Percy Macquoid, mistook them as English. Cescinsky illustrates this set of chairs in 'English Furniture of the Eighteenth Century' and he describes them as follows,
“Fig. 107 is one of a set of twelve, somewhat heavy in character, but otherwise of fine proportions. The back is surmounted by a high cresting, a well-carved shell suspended between scrolling acanthus, a similar shell being repeated on the seat framing. The stretcher is of the flat earlier type, as is also the caning between the central splat and the outer framing. A double fillet is carried round the back, forming an interlacing strapwork on the splat. The cabriole legs are heavy, terminating in lions' paws, and carved with a shell and an acanthus leaf under. These chairs are gilt, the gold in some being now much worn.”
Our knowledge of this type of furniture has grown since then and we can now appreciate this unusual set of chairs as important examples of mid-18th century Italian furniture.
Herbert Cescinsky, 'English Furniture of the Eighteenth Century', Vol. I, The Waverley Book Company Ltd., fig. 107, p. 82.
Percy Macquoid, 'The Age of Mahogany', Lawrence and Buleen Ltd., London, 1906, plate 2, p. 36.
Helena Hayward, 'World Furniture: An Illustrated History', New York, Hamlyn, 1965, p. 127
Goffredo Lizzani, 'Il Mobile Romano', Milano: Gorlich, 1970, p.95, fig. 157.
Borghese Palace sale catalogue - 'Des Objets d’Art et Ameublement du Palais du Prince Borghese à Rome', 28 March - 9 Avril 1892, Rome, lots 616, 617, and 618.
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