This bench is a
feast for the eyes when it comes to decorative elements, imaginatively conceived
and beautifully carved, albeit not in the traditional sense. What attracted us to this bench was a number
of factors distinguishing it from other wonderful Gothic benches we have
offered in the past.
The inclusion ofangels and lions in the decorative scheme is very unusual, especially for
France and the 19th century revival of earlier Gothic style. While we see numerous examples of angelots or
cherubim in 19th Renaissance Revival furniture in France, to see the angel’s
head and torso as depicted in this piece of Gothic style furniture is quite
remarkable. Each of the three angels
atop the back of the bench is distinct.
They clutch a shield with simple bar or bend (diagonal) carved into it
but the left and middle angels have identical shields (although grasped at
different locations) while the right angel’s shield has the bend in the
opposite direction. While lacking the
sword of the Archangel Michael atop Rome’s Castel Sant’Angelo, these are
militaristic, protective angels rather than the angels found in Flemish
paintings whose purpose in displaying a shield was to wear the patron’s coat of
arms (for example, as part of the Ambierle Altarpiece attributed to Roger van
der Weyden at the Church of Saint Martin in Ambierle, France).
At the ends ofthe top of the bench are lions facing one another and holding shields of their
own. Seated on their haunches, their
heads slightly tilted and their lips parted, they appear attentive to the
angels and poised to assist them.
These are not theonly lions carved into this bench.
Others support the armrests and are in a completely different
style. They face forward, their manes
intricately carved and patterned, their front paws holding shields. To our surprise, we saw a very similar
treatment of a lion while watching The Three Musketeers (2011 movie version) on
cable recently. It was on the prow of an
airship used by the heroes to beat back their English foes and protect King
Louis XIII. To be historically correct,
the art director could have considered including the three fleurs-de-lys as
seen on shields held by our lions. This
arrangement of the fleur-de-lys in heraldry represented the royal standard of
France until the Revolution and then intermittently after the end of the reign
of Napoleon I.
The balance of
the ornamentation of this bench is decidedly Gothic, based on traditional
elements such as fenestrage or tracery.
Open tracery connects the pedestals on which the angels and lions sit
atop the back of the bench.
The backrest ofthe bench is comprised of four rectangular panels. The two outermost panels include a
six-pointed star, with a flower in the middle, within a circle above lancet
arches while the two middle panels are quatrefoils, incorporating the same flower
design, again within a circle above lancet arches. Between the rectangular panels are vertical
strips based on the same “flower above tracery” motif representing leaves (and
also seen in the armoire Item 5125).
Connecting the lions, at the top of the back, to the armrest supported
by lions is a strip using tracery in the shape of overlapping hearts. All of these strips are designed with lancet
arches at their bases.
The seat of the
bench is unadorned other than square panels inset into the seat, which opens to
reveal a generous storage space, and long decorative hinges that attach it to
The side panelsare what one would expect to see – linen fold designs filling rectangular
spaces. However, the front of the base
offers another unique approach to Gothic ornamentation. The basic linen fold
has been transformed. Half-moon arcs of
wide moulding are filled with crocketed shapes and adorned on the outside with
smaller crockets. This is a design we
have never seen before and which may be unique to the place where the designer
worked, perhaps mimicking a pattern used in local architecture. In any event, it all works well together in a
unique and pleasing design.
Jacqueline, Le Mobilier Français du Moyen Age à la Renaissance, Editions d’Art
Monelle Hayot (Saint-Just-en-Chaussée, 1988); Thirion, Jacques, Le Mobilier du
Moyen Age et de la Renaissance en France (Editions Faton, Dijon, 1998);
Viollet-le-Duc, Eugène, Le Mobilier Médiéval (Georges Bernage, editor) (Editions