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Ask A Worthologist Question: Victorian-Era Dantesca X Chair

by Mike Wilcox (04/11/12).

WorthPoint member Dave B. found an interesting0looking x-chair at an estate sale. After doing some online research, he got excited, thinking he may have found a centuries old piece of furniture. Wanting to confirm his find, he contacted WorthPoint’s Ask a Worthologist service to see if he correctly ID’d the piece.

Dave B. purchased an interesting chair above at an estate sale for $125, its unusual design was what brought it to his attention, as it was very different from anything else on view and appeared very old. Getting it back home, Dave had a stab at looking it up on his own online and he thought might have made a big find, as it look liked chairs from the Italian Renaissance and could be centuries old. Such was his excitement over this piece he thought he’d have us here at WorthPoint give our opinion on it. He contacted WorthPoint’s Ask a Worthologist service to inquire about this piece and his inquiry was forwarded to me, here’s his question:

“I like to use things I’ve found bargain hunting to decorate my apartment rather than buy things new, so I’m always on the lookout for something unusual. Things that have been around a while and have a history interest me more than something out of a department store. I found this piece at an estate sale and I think I got a huge deal. After I got it home I looked it up on the internet and found out it could be Italian and 400 years old! I didn’t haggle on the price as it was only $125 and looked really old compared to most of the stuff there. If it is as old as I think it is, I plan on selling it, but want to be sure of what I have and its value before I do. There are no markings or labels on the chair and I’ve checked it out all over.”

Here’s my response:

Well, Dave, I can understand your initial excitement; we all get it, even for those of us in the business for many years, the thrill of a find is the best part. The worst part, though, is finding out “The Find”—while interesting—is not what we first thought. This chair is a reproduction “Dantesca” chair, a variation of the “Savonarola” chair—the style gets its name from Girolamo Savonarola (Sept. 21, 1452- May 23, 1498), who was a late 15th-century Catholic monk often pictured seated in such a chair.

Savonarola’s fame was his crusade against what he called “The Vanities.” His followers collected up the things Savonarola claimed were immodest and held huge bonfires. In 1498, they held the last bonfire of the vanities and burned Savonarola. While the original chairs were designed to fold, the majority of reproductions of the Dantesca type do not.

The good news is that your chair is still an antique simply by the passage of time. It is a late Victorian version, which often tends to be more ornate than the originals, many 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.

This replica Savonarola chair, circa 1900, in oak with carved lion face below seat, carved women and winged cherub faces on the arms, sold for $720 at Cowan’s Auctions in Cincinnati in 2008.

In the current market, comparable examples sell in the $400-$600 range. For comparison, I found a very nice one, circa 1900, in our Worthopedia that sold for $720.

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


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3 Responses to “Ask A Worthologist Question: Victorian-Era Dantesca X Chair”

  1. Lisa Mull says:

    Every now and then I read something that tickles my fancy. You did that to me with this article. I choked on my drink when I read your sentence, “In 1498, they held the last bonfire of the vanities and burned Savonarola.” That line alone is worth a year’s worth of reading!

    Thanks for your clever and very informative articles. Even if the topic doesn’t apply to me, I read your comments. You always have something interesting to say!

  2. Mike Wilcox says:

    Hi Lisa,

    Thank you, I always try and pop in some humorous aspect to each article. I found when teaching my Antiques identification courses that students always remembered a historical fact if it was coupled with some interesting or humorous tale. It seemed to cause what ever the topic was to stick in their head ;~) I’m glad you’ve enjoyed reading the article as much as I do writing them.


    Mike Wilcox

  3. Jim says:

    Hi Mike, I just read your article. I know that this post is a few years old, but I also have a Savonarola chair very similar to the one Dave asked his question about. The reason I’m sending this email is because the Savonarola chair I have actually folds…and instead of lions…. its carved with what looks like an old mans face on the upper arms. what are the chances it could be an original survivor? Thx, jim

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