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Wednesday, November 11, 2020

Furniture applique in the Greco-Roman world

 Little wood survives from ancient Greek and Roman furniture, although ancient texts tell us woods used for such purpose were maple, oak, beech, yew, and willow. Pieces were assembled using mortise-and-tenon joinery, held together with lashings, pegs, metal nails, and glue. Wood was shaped by carving, steam treatment, and the lathe, and furniture is known to have been decorated with ivory, tortoise shell, glass, gold, or bronze attachments similar to this example.  Furniture was also veneered with expensive types of wood in order to make the object appear more costly, although not as elaborate as palatial furnishings in the Near East.

The sella, or stool or chair, was the most common type of seating in the Roman period, probably because of its easy portability. Although those of the poor were surely plain, the wealthy had access to precious woods, ornamented with inlay, metal fittings, ivory, and silver and gold leaf. Bronze sellae from Herculaneum were square in form and had straight legs, decorative stretchers, and a dished seat. The sella curulis, or folding stool, was an important indicator of power in the Roman period. There were sellae resembling both stools and chairs that folded in a scissor fashion to facilitate transport.

A chair with a back, sometimes crafted of wickerwork, was known as a cathedra.  Some scholars think it was a later version of the Greek klismos although others propose it was a type of chair associated primarily with women.  Roman artwork shows it being used in a classroom setting with the tutor ensconced in a cathedra, the seat of power, while pupils sit around him.  A chair with both a back and armrests was termed a solium in Latin and were equivalent to the Greek thronos. A type of of solium resting upon a cylindrical or conical base is thought to have been derived from Etruscan prototypes.

Roman couches, some with elaborate bronze fittings were used for both sleeping and dining. The two types might be used interchangeably even in richer households, and it is not always easy to differentiate between sleeping and dining furniture. The most common type of Roman bed took the form of a three-sided, open rectangular box, with the fourth (long) side of the bed open for access. While some beds were framed with boards, others had slanted structures at the ends, called fulcra, to better accommodate pillows. The fulcra of elaborate dining couches also often had sumptuous decorative attachments featuring ivory, bronze, copper, gold or silver ornamentation.

The subselium was an elongated bench for two or more people and were considered to be “seats of the humble.” They were used in peasant houses, farms, and bathhouses but also found in lecture halls, in the vestibules of temples, and served as the seats of senators and judges. Roman benches, like their Greek precedents, were practical for the seating of large groups of people and were common in theaters, amphitheaters, odeons and auctions. The scamnum, related to the subsellium but smaller, was used as both a bench and a footstool.

Applique with Scylla Greek possibly from South Italy 300 BCE Silver and Gold that I photographed at the Getty Villa

Roman applique of a winged sphinx Byzantine Period courtesy of the Getty Villa

Applique with two men in togas Roman 50-75 CE Bronze that I photographed at the Getty Villa. 

Box Mirror Applique with Eros and Psyche in Relief Greek 4th century BCE Bronze that I photographed at the Santa Barbara Museum of Art

Applique of Youth Wearing a Lion Skin possibly Eros Greek 100 BCE that I photographed at the Getty Villa

 Ivory or bone furniture fragment Etruscan 300-100 BCE that I photographed at the Getty Villa

Applique with Medusa Greek 300-275 BCE Silver and Gold that I photographed at the Getty Villa

Bacchus Applique from a Triclinium Couch Roman Bronze 1st century CE that I photographed at "Pompeii: The Exhibit" at the Pacific Science Center in Seattle, Washington.


Applique of Ceres or Juno from furniture or a chariot Roman 50-75 CE courtesy of the Getty Villa

Etruscan applique of Kore from Cerveteri courtesy of the Getty Villa

Applique of Roma or Virtus from furniture or a chariot Roman 50-75 CE courtesy of the Getty Villa

Greek or Roman bronze relief of the head of a woman 3rd–1st century BCE or 4th century CE possibly used as an applique for a piece of furniture courtesy of the Metropolitan Museum of Art

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