bench is a tribute to High Gothic styling as interpreted by 19th century French
craftsmen whose originality and whimsy make this among the most captivating
benches we have seen. In its overall
structure, it is faithful to its roots in the so-called Flamboyant Gothic,
making generous use of fenestrage or
tracery decoration whose inspiration lies in the elaborate designs of stained
glass windows in Gothic cathedrals.
As atype of furniture, the bench or banc is one of the oldest forms and like so
many others, traces its parentage to the chest or coffre. By adding a back and arms, the chest became
a bench while retaining its storage feature with the lid becoming the
seat. In chateaus, the vestibules or
entry areas were typically ringed with benches which were heavily carved and
often covered in pillows made of luxurious fabrics or draped with tapestries or
carpets. Benches were also used in the
bed chamber, frequently near the fire, in order to block drafts and increase
warmth. A bench remarkably similar to
this one is depicted in just such a vignette in the illustration of a 13th century
bedroom on Plate XIII of Volume I of Viollet-le-Duc's Dictionnaire Raisonné du
Mobilier. In the main
hall of chateaus, a high-backed bench on a dais or low platform served as the
seat of authority for the châtelain or owner in dealings with his tenants and
vassals (see Figure 2 on page 39 of the Dictionnaire). Benches were also used at tables for meals
in the main hall (see Figure 6 on page 97 of the Dictionnaire).
Otherbenches of a similar design displayed the contrast of happy and sad. On the front of the left armrest might a
frowning or melancholy face whereas on the right armrest would be a merry
face. Here, the expressions on the
faces are more ambiguous, although beautifully and intricately carved.
Theskillfully carved fenestrage on this bench is made up of three panels on the
back and three below the seat. In each
case, the two outermost panels match.
The panels on the back of the bench use the typical design of pointed
arches at the bottom with elaborate curving shapes above. In the case of the central panel, the area
above the pointed arches includes two
hearts, one of which is inverted above the other as when a paper valentine is
cut from paper folded at the top of the heart and then opened. The finials on either side atop the vertical
members are three-dimensional flames, the Old French term for which put the
flamb in Flamboyant Gothic.
Just asits forbears retained the storage aspects of benches descended from chests, this
bench also has a seat which doubles as the lid for the enclosed area
below. In keeping with 19th century
reverence for Gothic furniture, this piece is made from solid walnut and has
attained a lush patina with age.