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The Collector’s Minute: The Savonarola Style Chair

by Mike Wilcox (05/31/10).

This Dantesca-type savonarola chair, made during the late-19th through the first quarter of the 20th century, does not fold as the original versions did.

This Dantesca-type savonarola chair, made during the late-19th through the first quarter of the 20th century, does not fold as the original versions did.

This chair is a “Dantesca Chair,” a variation on the “Savonarola” style chair. The style gets its name from Girolamo Savonarola (Sept. 21, 1452 to May 23, 1498), who was a late-15th-century Catholic monk often pictured seated in such a chair. His fame was his crusade against what he called “the Vanities.” His followers collected up the things Savonarola claimed were immodest and held huge bonfires to burn these vain items. By 1498, the general population was quite fed up with Savonarola and held the last bonfire of the vanities, into which Savonarola was tossed and burned. Whether his chair went into the flames with him has been lost to history.

While the original Savonarola chairs were designed to be portable folding chairs, the reproductions of the Dantesca type made during the late-19th through the first quarter of the 20th century generally do not. The Victorian versions of this style chair also tend to be more ornate than the originals, often with carved mask top rails and lion or gargoyle head armrests. Such pieces were made on both sides of the Atlantic, though most we see today tend to be European examples. Examples with ivory or mother of pearl inlay tend to be Mediterranean, made for the tourist/export from the late 19th century to today. In the current market, comparable late 19th Century Dantesca chairs often sell in the $600-$1,100 range, lesser ornate examples in good condition made during the first quarter of the 20th century often go for less than $300.

Mike Wilcox, of Wilcox & Hall Appraisers, is a Worthologist who specializes in Art Nouveau and the Arts and Craft movement.

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