A BAROQUE ROMAN FALDISTORIO

April 14 2015, 11:45am

Carlton Hobbs LLC This large folding x-frame stool typifies the dynamic sculptural furniture creations made in Rome during the 17th and early 18th century. Imbued with a fluid sense of movement, the stool recalls Roman giltwood palace furniture made in the late baroque period. Detail. Carlton Hobbs LLC. The expressive posture of the cherubic heads modeled in the round is a hallmark of such furniture. Massive giltwood console tables are sometimes set with multiple busts inclined in different directions. One such table in Grimsthorpe Castle (and its pair in the Getty Museum), has nine such heads (figure 1). The present stool is remarkable in that each of the four busts is individually conceived, a conceit that would have added a great deal to the cost of the piece; indeed, the highly expressive medium of gilt-bronze, with a sub-structure of iron, confirms that the stool was an extravagant commission for someone of very high rank, and is the only known item of all metal seating from the period to be made in such a highly-developed manner. Within Italy, Rome was the only center at this date with sculptors and foundries expert enough to handle such a complex and detailed form in gilt-bronze as the present faldistorio. One of the most famous sculptors to demonstrate these skills was Gianlorenzo Bernini (1598-1680), whose monumental gilt-bronze baldaccino (c. 1633) of St. Peter’s Basilica was a remarkable feat of design and construction. Other artists of exceptional merit included Giovanni Giardini, Alessandro Algardi, and Antonio Arrighi. Figure 1 The Italian term faldistorio directly translates into the English term faldstool, which historically simply refers to a folding seat; both words are related to the French fauteuil, which is usually just applied to an armchair with open arms. In ancient Rome senior officials of all kinds were entitled to sit on a folding seat known as a curule; whilst it symbolized authority, its low arms and missing back also ensured it was not comfortable to sit on for long periods of time, encouraging the occupier to apply himself to his job fully, thus causing the chair to symbolize efficiency and speed.1 That it folded and could be easily transported additionally suggested both importance and wealth. The design remained popular in Italy throughout the Medieval period and into the seventeenth century, as represented by comparable pieces that have appeared on the art market (figure 2) and those in museum collections, like one at the Metropolitan Museum of Art in New York (figure 3). However such examples usually always bear plainer, spherical finials and the expressive sculptural detail seen here is rare. Figure 2

Figure 3 Elaborate versions of this form in carved and gilt wood were executed for high-ranking members of the clergy, like the pope or bishop. “In addition to their use as seat furniture, faldstools could also serve as armrests when [they] had to kneel.”2 Cherub finials on such seats, like those on the present stool, indicated that they were made for an ecclesiastic person of honor.3 A faldistorio of this form was designed by Gianlorenzo Bernini for Pope Alexander VII (r. 1655-67) for the Corpus Domini procession of 1655. Although the design for the stool is lost, it is depicted in a painting of the procession in the Musée des Beaux-Arts, Nancy (figure 4). Figure 4 Because of its place in classical officialdom, both formerly in the Roman Empire and latterly in the Byzantine, the chair seems to have retained strong meanings of temporal authority in Italy, where Dukes and Princes frequently used it as such. A drawing of the monument to Borso d’Este (1413-1471), Marquis of Ferrara, presents a number of accoutrements that signify his importance and authority, including his seat which is in the form of a faldistorio (figure 5).4 In a similar fashion, when walking in procession, the Doge of Venice would have included in his parade a number of objects that signified his importance called the seven “trifoni;” they included banners, musical instruments, candles, an umbrella, a sword and a faldistorio.5 In the sixteenth century the Venetian architect Jacopo Sansovino (1486-1570) claimed that the faldistorio represented stability, steadfastness, dignity and the preeminence of Ducal authority.6 Figure 5 Today, its religious purpose remains relevant; the term faldistorio has been used to refer to the seat used by a bishop when officiating at a religious ceremony. Indeed, the pope often still prays at such an object in public, and in the Anglican Church the term faldstool refers to a desk at which the litany is recited. Detail. Carlton Hobbs LLC. With its careful attention to fashion, it seems likely that the present piece was intended as a symbol of authority or power, rather than for use in any religious setting. It is also interesting to observe ‘contemporary’ feel of this piece’s design and the fact that it predates the creations of Alberto and Diego Giacometti by about 260 years. Detail. Carlton Hobbs LLC.