Monday 30 March 2015

A late 15th century folding chair: the sedia tenaglia

The sedia tenaglia is a folding chair with a backrest that first appeared in the late 15th century and persisted throughout the 16th century. Its main area of production was Italy, but these chairs were also found in the Alpine region (Switzerland, France and Austria). It is curious that these x-chairs appeared so late on the medieval scene, as the basic construction is not very different from the Savonarola chair or the late 14th century x-chair, but their seating is far more comfortable (at least my replica is). The main difference with the other x-chairs is that the X is projected at the side of the chair, instead at the front. This makes it possible to extent the legs of the X on one side and to create a (comfortable) backrest.

These two chairs  are from the Museo Storico della Caccia e del Territorio in Cerreto Guidi (Florence) Italy. They were made in Tuscany, date from the 15th-16th century and are made from walnut. The height is 78 cm, the width 37 cm and a depth of 26.5 cm. The seating is quite high, I guess around 50 cm (our seating height is around 43 cm). Both chairs have 7 back legs and a decorated back with circles.

Quite some pieces of the sedia tenaglia have survived and can be found in museums around the world or even be bought at antique houses. The surviving chairs are mostly made from walnut or beech. Beech has the benefit that it is easily bended by steam. The number of legs (for the backrest; the other legs usually number one less) can be an odd or even number and varies between 5 and 7. The wooden plate for the back is usually decorated with circular patterns with a cross in the middle. The following photos give a nice impression of the variety and sizes of the folding chair. The sources of the images are indicated; else they come from museum websites or other places on internet. One of the next posts will concern my construction of a sedia tenaglia.

This late 15th, or early 16th century chair is for sale at an antique dealer for 4800 dollar (at the time this post was written). The following photos show the specific details of the chair. The chair is 80 cm high, 43 cm wide and also 43 cm deep. The wood used for construction is beech.

You can see the wooden hinge dowels between the legs and seating rods.

Not only the back plate is decorated, also the legs and seating have some carved decoration.

The foot rail at the back is fastened with two dowels in the middle (left), 
while the foot rail at the front has two dowels at the ends (right). 

The circular decoration of the back plate. The backplate is fastened to the legs with two dowels at either ends.

The back side of the chair. The side of the chair; strangely the front legs look larger than the back legs.

The following six photos of a sedia tenaglia were made by Gary Halstead in a museum in Strasbourg, France. The chair originates from Switzerland or northern Italy and dates from the 15th century. The chair is made of beech and has seven legs. The photos were found on the greydragon website

 The seating of this chair is not very deep.

These two photos of the backplate show that it was fastened by two dowels at the ends. You can also clearly see that the decoration was made by hitting special punches into the wood.

The outer seating rails are larger and have a sawn out decoration. You can see that the legs are still a bit rough and bear the saw marks.

A sedia tenaglia from Tirol, dating from the 16th-17th century. Kunstgewerbemuseum, Berlin, Germany. 
Height 90 cm, width 46 cm. The chair has six legs. Image from the book 'Oude Meubels' by Sigrid Muller-Christensen.

A simple French sedia tenaglia from the late 15th - early 16th century. Château de la Rochelambert, St. Paulien, France. As the chair is quite fragmented, some construction details, like the front dowel, can be clearly seen. The chair has six front legs as well as six back legs.Image scanned from the book Mobilier moyen-aye - renaissance by Monica Burckhardt.

This sedia tenaglia can be seen in the Museum fur Angewandte Kunst in Frankfurt, Germany. The chair has likely 5 legs.
Behind the table a sedia savonarola can be seen.

This is the only contemporary image I could find of a sedia tenaglia. It appears in the clothing book 'Trachtenbuch' of Matthaus Schwartz of Augsburg, in an image of 1538 when he is 41 years old. The chair is small and only has 4 legs at each side.

These two chairs (3 photos) are from the Palazzo Madama in Turin, Italy and date from the 15th century. 
They have similar decorations as the one of the auction, circles with a cross. The 7 legs of these chairs are bend.

Left: A sedia tenaglia made in Italy from beechwood. It has a height of 80 cm, a depth of 48.8 cm and a width of 51.3 cm. The seating height is 47 cm. The chair has 5 legs and a decorated back plate. The chair is now on display at the Philadelphia Museum of Art, Philadelphia, PA, USA. Right: A sedia tenaglia with seven legs dating from the early 16th century and made from beech. 86.5 cm height, 44 cm width and 27.5 cm deep. Castello Sforzesco, Milan, Italy. Image from the book Mobel Europas II-Renaissance - Manierismus by G. Windisch-Graetz.

Left: A sedia tenaglia made in Italy from beechwood. It has a height of 80 cm, a depth of 48.8 cm and a width of 51.3 cm. The seating height is 47 cm (yes, similar to the chair above). The chair has 6 legs and decorated legs and back plate. The chair is also from the Philadelphia Museum of Art, Philadelphia, PA, USA. Right: This sedia tenaglia from the Morando Bolognini Museum, Sant'Angelo Lodigiano, Italy dates from 1490-1510. The sizes of this chair are: height 84 cm, width 37 cm and depth 29 cm. This chair has only 5 legs and misses the two outer seating rails.

A 16th century sedia tenaglia  from Burg Kreuzenstern near Vienna, Austria in seating and folded position. The chair has 6 legs and is made from beech, 80 cm high, 45 cm wide and 43 cm deep. Image from the book Mobel Europas I -Romanik - Gotik by G. Windisch-Graetz.

Left: Decorated folding chair with 6 legs from Tuscany. There is a bend  of the legs at the seating level. Collection Nella Longari, Milan, Italy. Right: Chair originating from Saluzzo, end of the 15th century. Italian private collection. Both images scanned from the book 'Il quattrocento - Mobili - Arti decorative - Costume' .