A Spanish or Italian savonarola chair, with marquetry inlay and velvet cushion and back. This style of chair is also known by the names Dante, curule, sillón de cadera, and jamuga .
Height 39", width 23", depth 22"
Condition: Some losses and repairs to marquetry and some tearing to velvet.
Description from the New York Metropolitan Museum of Art:
The savonarola chair consists of four S-shaped supports on two runner-like stands. The disks that join two of the supports at front and two at back suggest that the chair can be folded up like a pair of scissors. This is not possible, however. The supports will collide above the turning point, allowing only a small degree of movement. This impractical arrangement can easily be explained by the chair's derivation. It descends from the sella curulis, or curule chair, an ancient Roman folding seat used by consuls and high officials. In its elegant medieval interpretation, the throne-like chair—by then called a faldistorium—continued to symbolize secular power, and as the customary seat of the higher clergy, it also came to express the authority of the church. The folding mechanism was eventually eliminated, and the place where the joint had been was marked with an ornamented disk. By the late fifteenth century the seat and back of the curule chair were usually covered with a luxurious textile or embossed and stamped leather, and the frame was ornately inlaid and carved.
The Spanish terms for the curule chair are sillón de cadera (hip-joint chair) and jamuga (saddle for a woman, or sidesaddle). As the chair type spread throughout Europe and parts of Spanish America it acquired many other names. In the mid-nineteenth century, during the Renaissance Revival, it was known as a Dante or Savonarola chair.
Hip-joint chairs remained accoutrements of the mighty throughout the 1500s, not slipping out of fashion for at least another century. Like Hispano-Moresque pottery, they may have been exported from Spain to Italy, stimulating the production of less sophisticated inlaid chairs on the peninsula. A noblewoman is seen seated in a handsome example in a portrait now in the Metropolitan. An etching that illustrates the abdication of control of the Netherlands by Emperor Charles V (1500-1558) in Brussels in 1555 shows hip-joint armchairs, as does a portrait of the powerful archbishop of Canterbury Thomas Cranmer (1489-1556) ten years before he was burned at the stake. A detailed list of property in the 1556 will of Sir John Gage of Firle Place in Sussex includes five Spanish-made chairs decorated with colored bone inlay.
The ritual function of the sillón de cadera has remained alive in Spain until our own times. The Spanish king Juan Carlos I (b. 1938) and H. H. Shah Kerim Aga Khan (b. 1936) were seated side by side on two such inlaid throne-chairs on the occasion of the Aga Khan Award ceremony at the Al-hambra on 5 June 1990.