armchairs in the caquetoire design are some of the most unusual we have ever
encountered. The principal reason is the
faces depicted at the top of each back, as if peering through a hole. Due to the flowing mustache, one is clearly a
man, but the other may be a woman.
Perhaps the likenesses of a married couple for whom these chairs were
made? If so, it’s an interesting twist
on the traditional association of the caquetoire design with women (see below).
The 19th centurysaw a revival in France of interest in designs of the Middle Ages. These armchairs are classic caquetoires
comprised of a tall, slim back and trapezoidal-shaped seat echoed below in the
stretcher. The shape of the seat, also
referred to ‘as in the manner of Tallemouze,’ is another charming example of
design evoking food: the talmouse was
a triangular puff pastry dating from medieval times but now recognized as the
ancestor of the cheesecake.
The origin of theterm caquetoire, however, is a bit sexist to the modern observer. According to the Rijksmuseum in Amsterdam,
the caquetoire was developed as a conversation chair for women (the French verb
“caqueter” means “to chat”). The broad,
trapezoidal seat accommodated wide dresses worn by ladies of the 16th century
who otherwise had been relegated to stools or windowseats (except in the case
of aristocracy and royalty) while their male counterparts sat on chairs.
Other features ofthe armchairs harking back to earlier times include the narrow back out of
which curving arms attach to posts in the shape of columns extending vertically
from the seat. These chairs have the added
feature of the carved head of a dog, eyes looking obediently upward, at the end
of each armrest – possibly a rendering of the couple’s faithful canine?
A characteristicGothic flavor is found in the hand-carved tracery or fenestrage design of the
backs. Sculpted in low relief, it is
simple – an arch with an intersecting ellipse containing what appears to be a
coat of arms and another reference to the chairs’ owners.
The tops areparticularly interesting in addition to acting as the framework for the faces
staring out from them. Below each head
are tiny fingers carved into the top of the arch as if supporting an entire
figure lurking behind the chair and struggling to emerge. That both faces have open mouths leads us to
speculate that they are either calling for help or merely “chatting” as the
caquetoire intended. Depending on
whether the chair with the man’s face is on the right or the left of the other
chair, the man and woman are either gazing at one another longingly or intentionally
avoiding each other!
Decorating thecentral arch of each chair’s back is intricately carved crocketing (stylized
acanthus leaves). Atop it all is a huge
and beautifully sculpted toupie in the form of a three-dimensional clump of
acanthus leaves. One of the toupies was
broken off when we received the chairs but has been repaired by our master
There is a split
in the back of one of the chairs but it has not been repaired. As with all the chairs we offer, these are
sturdy and ready for at least another century of sitting and chatting.