A Brief History of the X-Chair

For our period, there are two common forms of the x-chair. Both forms trace their roots back to the folding stool of the Egyptians, c.2000-1500 BC. Over the centuries, the concept of a stool or chair with crossed legs can be found in many different cultures. These stools were only sometimes collapsable.

The Romans were fond of the crossed legs design and developed the 'sella curulis' form of x-chair. This form has the legs crossing front to back and vise versa so that the 'x' is seen on the side of the chair and a back is formed. The sella curulis became a seat for authority figures and was often placed on a podium or built tall and used with a foot rest.

The 'x' form of chairs and stools can be seen through the medieval period used by authority figures such as kings (Dagobert I, king of the Franconians) and high ranking church officials (Pope Giulio II). It is in these examples from the middle ages that we see the crossing legs become frontal instead of placed sidewise. This emphasizes the "X" structure and became a symbol of authority.
Savonarola of Fernando Medici I, Palazzo Vecchio, Firenze Sedia a tenaglia from the Civic Museum, Torino

By the renaissance, the re-enactment forms we are most familiar with had developed. The savonarola is based on the frontal 'x' and includes a back rest. A close variant of the savonarola, the dantesca, has the same basic form, but consists of a front and back 'x' frame connected via supports (legs, arms or simply rods) and a leather seat instead of multiple slats. It is said that a dantesca chair was made and used by Queen Mary for her wedding to Philip in 1554. The other major form of renassiance x-chair is the 'sedia a tenaglia' or chair of pincers. This form returns to the sidewise 'x'. I have seen a few woodcuts and illustrations of this type of chair in much humbler settings. It appears to be the more common form for the middle classes in 16th century England.

It is interesting to note that Napoleon had a field-chair which is vurtually identical to a modern director's chair. This is the earliest documentation I can find for a director's form of x-chair.

The names used here to describe the different forms of the x-chair are not always the popular names by which they were known. I have been unable to find documentation for the use of the Italian names of the renaissance x-chairs (savonarola, dantesca, sedia a tenaglia) in Enlgand anywhere close to our period. While these forms of chairs were not extrememly common in England in the 16th century, they did exist and it is likely that there were English common names for them.

Lohmann, Birgit, The Illustrated History of Folding Chairs, Graduation Thesis 1987
Smith, Donald, Old Furniture and Woodwork, B.T.Batsford, Ltd., London, EN, 1937.

This page created and maintained by Cathy Snell.