- If we look at a painting in any particular time frame, you will see the fashions, the furnishings and designs of the interiors. An example is Velazquez “Las Meninas” or “The Family of Philip IV.”
How in the world did anyone sit down? Or ride a horse? Or play hide and seek? But no matter who or what designed these strange fashions, comfort of sorts was provided. After all, it is the Renaissance, a time of rebirth and revitalization of life and living. Stool sitting is an obvious choice for such fashions, but would you believe they actually did have chairs? For example, the caquetoire, a small
French conversational chair, also known as a gossip chair, standing on four legs held together with stretchers, designed in the Renaissance in the 16th century. The arms are wide, but not really wide enough for those voluminous farthingale skirts. The shape of the seat is what really distinguishes it. It was designed to be very wide in the front, and narrowed at the back, making a triangular shape. The back was high and panelled, and sometimes was decorated with carving and medallions. This chair has carved rams heads on the ends of the arms.
The chairs were apparently grouped for ladies to sit together and chat or gossip. Indeed the word caquetoire comes from the word caqueter which means to chat. Somehow the translation favors the word gossip over chat. These chairs first appeared in France but then found their way to other European countries.
The chair was designed during the reign of France’s Henry II (1547-1559), who married the Italian Catherine de’Medici, a woman of cruel but forceful character, who completely controlled him and their three sons, each of whom succeeded to the throne. She was instrumental in giving additional impetus to the Italian arts in France. She surrounded herself with Italian courtiers, who aided in introducing at the French court the amenities of Florentine social existence. Catherine died in 1588 after an active life as the central figure of the religious wars. Tradition ascribes to her the instigation of the Massacre of St. Bartholomew’s (1572), which occurred during the reign of her son, Charles IX.
Painting by François Dubois, a Huguenot painter born circa 1529 in Amiens, who settled in Switzerland. Although Dubois did not witness the massacre, he depicts Admiral Coligny‘s body hanging out of a window at the rear to the right. To the left rear, Catherine de’ Medici is shown emerging from the Louvre to inspect a heap of bodies.
Does Catherine de’Medici of the 16th century remind you of anyone you know today? What happened to women by the 20th century? Why did we need the wakeup call by Gloria Steinem?