An Exquisite Miniature Armchair

An Exquisite Miniature Armchair

This elegant miniature armchair is an exceptional artwork on a formal level and for the quality and variety of the materials used to make it. The seat structure reproduces, in small dimensions, a very popular Spanish model from the 16th century, known as Frailero (friar’s chair) and characterized by quadrangular legs joined by crosspieces, straight armrests and upholstered seatbacks and seat.


The distinctive elements of this beautiful small armchair are firstly the use of precious mahogany wood for the structure, and secondly the ivory and tortoise-shell inlays decorating the moulded crosspieces on the front and the sides, as well as the similar moulded profile running under the seat. The front legs are refined by double thin ivory lines and the two backrest uprights are finished with two small carved ivory shells, a clear reference to Saint James of Compostela worship of which the shell is a traditional attribute. Both the seat and the seat-back are made of a fabric finely embroidered with floral motifs and silver threads, nailed to the wooden structure with small and elegant shaped silver studs. Within the center of the seat-back there is an embroidered IHS Christogram, an element clearly suggesting the function of our miniature armchair. At first glance it could seem like one of those miniature pieces of furniture that European cabinetmakers used to create between the 17th and 19th centuries to demonstrate to their client the quality of their work . After a closer look it is clear that this armchair certainly does not belong to that category but rather is designed and built to sit a wooden Niño Jesus (Jesus Child), following a typical late Renaissance and Baroque Spanish tradition. Elegant seats of this kind may be seen in various public and private Spanish collections, although they never reach the sophistication of the one presented here. We can find however, a direct reference at the Instituto de Valencia de Don Juan in Madrid, where a real frailero, not miniaturized, with an inlaid decoration of the same kind of our example is preserved.

Mahogany wood, ivory, tortoise-shell and embroidered fabric
17th century
cm H. 31 x W.17 x D. 19

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