Sitting on Family History

April 8 2010, 2:52pm

This chair belongs to a group of seating furniture known as “Vierlander” chairs.

These chairs originated in Prussia in the 18th century in the province of Vierlande in northern Germany, southeast of Hamburg. The area, populated by provincial craftsmen, was agriculturally rich and these chairs are “characterized by their intricate inlay of local woods.” The chairs customarily¬† commemorate important family occasions, such as a birth or marriage. In the latter case, there would be a pair of such pieces, with the bride and groom each “[having] a chair made for the installation of the new house.” The family name and date of the ceremony was inlaid in marquetry, along with figural and floral decoration.

The present chair is inlaid with various flora and fauna that carry symbolic meanings. A single dove with an olive branch, as well as a pair of kissing doves, are represented to signify love and peace. There are four cornucopias symbolizing fertility and abundance, as well as acorns, which, as the seed of the oak, denotes growth and potential in addition to fertility and life. In his 1892 volume  The Boy Travellers in Norther Europe, Thomas Wallace Knox illustrates a scene in which Vierlander chairs are described:

In the lower rooms of the house we saw several chairs bearing names and dates, and I asked Mrs. B what they were. “I ought to have told you, my dear,’ said she,’ that it is the custom in Vierlande, whenever a wedding takes place, for the bride and bridegroom to have chairs made, one for each, bearing their names and the date of the wedding. The chairs are of the same pattern, as you see in this pair, but the bride’s chair is made a little lower than that of the bridegroom, to indicate that the husband is the superior and the wife sits below him.’ “I looked at the pair of chairs we were considering and also at several other pairs, and found that what she said was correct. In every instance the bride’s chair was about an inch lower than the other, and it was also more delicately made. I wonder if this is intended to show that the bride is more refined in nature than the strong-limbed and coarse-looking husband, such as Vierlande husbands are?”

Something to ponder when you next sit down…