A rare late medieval oak misericord chair pre 1540
Lot 581
A rare late medieval oak misericord chair late 15th/early 16th century, Argyll, West Highlands
£6,000 - 9,000
US$ 10,000 - 15,000
amended
Auction Details
A rare late medieval oak misericord chair late 15th/early 16th century, Argyll, West Highlands A rare late medieval oak misericord chair late 15th/early 16th century, Argyll, West Highlands A rare late medieval oak misericord chair late 15th/early 16th century, Argyll, West Highlands A rare late medieval oak misericord chair late 15th/early 16th century, Argyll, West Highlands A rare late medieval oak misericord chair late 15th/early 16th century, Argyll, West Highlands A rare late medieval oak misericord chair late 15th/early 16th century, Argyll, West Highlands A rare late medieval oak misericord chair late 15th/early 16th century, Argyll, West Highlands A rare late medieval oak misericord chair late 15th/early 16th century, Argyll, West Highlands A rare late medieval oak misericord chair late 15th/early 16th century, Argyll, West Highlands A rare late medieval oak misericord chair pre 1540 A rare late medieval oak misericord chair pre 1540 A rare late medieval oak misericord chair pre 1540 A rare late medieval oak misericord chair pre 1540
Lot Details
A rare late medieval oak misericord chair
late 15th/early 16th century, Argyll, West Highlands
The arched back within moulded downswept arms carved with a skeletal figure and a musician with a hat and cloak playing a pipe, enclosing a folding seat with foliate misericord boss to the underside, on square section legs with rope moulding to the front united by stretchers 84.5cm wide x 50cm deep x 92cm high, (33" wide x 19.5" deep x 36" high)

Footnotes

  • Three Late Medieval Scottish Misericord Chairs

    Seats with misericords and armrests such as these usually appear conjoined and in rows within the area devoted to the church choir. As freestanding, independent pieces, these seats are exceptional within the misericord canon (and very rare survivals of Scottish late medieval church furniture.) Their moveable nature suggests that they may have been used for visiting or officiating priests in a house chapel, near the altar, or in the apse of a church.

    The imagery depicted in these freestanding chairs consists of a single, central carving on the underside of each misericord seat and a carved armrest to either side. The single, centrally-placed raised image betrays Continental influence, as in English misericords the main carving is almost always flanked by minor raised carvings (called supporters). A single deeply-carved image was the norm only in early (thirteenth century) English misericords. Carved armrest images were common, but normally of modest proportions, and rarely as tall or as prominent as the ones adorning these chairs.

    The central misericord carvings of these chairs are relatively simple, unsophisticated images, but the subject of the carving on Lot 581 is quite unique. This depicts a rotund, smiling face, perhaps a female wearing a wimple. She is represented as an apparition emerging from a cloud of baubles, beneath a star-studded sky. To either side of the misericord, on each arm rest, is a seated figure. To the viewer's left is a male figure with puffed-out cheeks, hands on his bare knees, and wearing shoes. Protruding from his mouth is a broken-off feature, perhaps once an elongated, fattened tongue. A book rests behind his head, below which a cowl hangs from his shoulders. Behind his left hand, within the folds of his garment, there is the outline of a purse.
    To the viewer's right, an elephant man blows a trunk-trumpet that he holds with both his hands. He, also, wears a cloak folded below his bottom. He has bare knees and wears shoes.

    The central image on Lot 582 is a large, crudely-carved floral boss. From the carpel of the flower grow narrow geometric petals in the shape of a cross. These are separated by elongate petals with rounded ends. Foliate bosses like this are not uncommon on misericord seats. To the viewer's left and, unusually, facing inwards, stands a cloaked and bare-footed man with inflated cheeks, blowing a kind of trumpet that he holds with both hands. His large, hemispherical hat seems to be suspended just above his head. To the viewer's right is seated a near-skeleton, leaning slightly forward, hands on knees.
    It is possible that the two opposing armrest figures are intended to balance one another by depicting the joy, and the wretchedness, of the human condition.

    The third chair's central image depicts a curly-haired man or boy playing a twin trumpet (Lot 583), with one outstretched hand holding each trumpet tube. The figure is entirely naked, his lower parts much foreshortened. Even his miniscule penis is visible. He is surrounded by a triple border of upright petal-like patterns below sloping gouged-flute designs.
    The armrest sculpture to the viewer's left depicts a seated, bare-legged, bare-footed, five toed creature, either human or simian (as it has an animal's collar round its neck and seems to be covered in fur as far as the top of its legs). It holds with its paw-like hands a small ball-like object clutched to its chest. Pet monkeys were often depicted in medieval carvings with a ball and chain. This beast has sunken eyes, a flattened nose, and big teeth.
    To the viewer's right is a hooded, gowned, long-sleeved sandaled ecclesiastical figure holding a goblet between his or her upright hands held close to the chest.
    These two armrest figures appear to balance each other as animal/human, pagan/religious symbols, especially with their gestures of making an offering.

    Although these misericord chairs are unusually freestanding, their form, with broad arm surfaces and fat mouldings, is comparable with the simple oak choir seats at Dunblane Cathedral, Stirlingshire (c1520). Their ornamental scheme, in this case centred on single misericord carvings without supporters, is in line with the archaic nature of much Scottish late medieval woodwork and stone architectural decoration. The exuberance of the upright features corresponds with the upward-thrusting character of carving on other early sixteenth century Scottish woodwork, such as the thistle carving on the St Andrews cupboard, University of St Andrews, (c1503). The detail of the imagery suggests that the woodcarver has imitated the work of established Flemish masters; for example, the hemispherical monk's hat raised just above the head is a feature seen in figures on misericord seats in churches such as St Catherine's, Hoogstraten (modern day northern Belgium), by Albrecht Gelmers (carved between 1532-48).
    The particular form of these three individual misericord chairs may have been adapted for use by peripatetic churchmen in the difficult topography of western Scotland and its islands, where large churches with choirs were not common and where smaller forms of church furnishing were necessary. The reason for the exceptional occurrence of elephant imagery and skeletal figure on the armrest is unknown.

    Thanks to David Jones and Kenneth Varty for their assistance in compiling this entry

Saleroom notices

  • Please note the description should read 'A rare late Medieval and later oak misericord chair'. The principal elements are late 15th/early 16th century, however the chairs have been re-constructed from their original pew or choir stall form. Please contact the department for further information.
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