Heraldic Elements in 19th Century French Furniture

Whether emblazoned on the front of a cabinet or obscured within other carved elements, coats-of-arms, emblems, and other heraldic elements were loved by those…
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a black and white shield with trees on it
Ermine Tails
The chivalric Order of the Ermine was created by Jean IV Duke of Brittany in 1381. The ermine tail, a cross-shaped black figure on a field of white, represents the country -- now region -- of Brittany in northwestern France. It was used widely by furniture designers in 19th century whether to signal a piece was made in Brittany or that its owner's coat-of-arms included a reference to the region. Our Cabinet 3091 is a tribute to the history of Brittany and its heroine Jeanne la Flamme.
an ornately carved wooden headboard is shown
Fleur-de-lys on Savonarola chair
Although the Savonarola chair was invented in Florence, with examples still in the monastery of San Marco where he lived, the design was very popular in 19th century France. One such example, our pair of chairs (4187), has an intricately carved fleur-de-lys in low or "bas" relief. Interestingly, it retains the sprigs between the central and outer petals of the flower. Often these were eliminated in order to make the symbol more French, as when used by royalty.
a statue of a lion holding a book on top of a wooden table
Carved lion with fleurs-de-lys
Our 19th century French bench 5137 takes on a regal role having armrests in the form of lions holding a shield with three fleurs-de-lys, symbols of the royal family of France. Although somewhat reminiscent of Donatello's Marzocco in Florence (whose shield contains fleur-de-lys as symbol of the city), these lions are more medieval looking, especially with their stylized manes. They inhabit a perfect Gothic world with the rest of the bench and its elaborate tracery.
an ornate wooden door with a decorative design
Coat of arms from caquetoire
Whenever we see a coat of arms on a pair of 19th century Gothic chairs, we expect that it belonged to whoever commissioned the chairs.
an ornate wooden door with fleur de lis on it
Uniting Brittany and France on a Bench
This emblem including 3 ermine tails (symbols of Brittany) below a crown is one of a matching pair on bench 4183 except that the other one has fleurs-de-lys in place of ermine tails. Perhaps this regal bench proclaims the absorption of Brittany into France and promotes lasting peace.
an ornate wooden frame with metal rivets
The Medici and the Pazzi on a Savonarola Chair
The heraldry on this Savonarola Chair (4116) is an enigma. In the center is the crest of the Medici family of Florence but on either side is a dolphin, symbol of the Pazzi family who tried to oust the Medici as rulers of Florence in 1478. Morever, we shouldn't miss the irony of a chair with a Medici family crest in the design linked to their arch enemy, Savonarola.
an ornate chair with two lions on it
Lions Rampant on a Chair
It is not unusual for us to find 19th century French chairs that are in great shape when it comes to their framework but the upholstery is beyond saving. So replacing it means looking for something in the same spirit such as this wonderful coat-of-arms with lions rampant, fleurs-de-lys (for that French touch) and a bee (maybe for the Barberini Popes?)
an emblem on the side of a building
Roosters and a Star
This beguiling coat of arms on this 19th century oak cabinet 5112B has had us stumped but we love the two roosters carved in what may be a cock fight. They also appear to be crowing, which means that the star may signify the last twinkle of night time as dawn approached.
the coat of arms and crown are made out of bronze metal on a wooden wall
Dogs and Ermine Tails
Item 3091 is one of the most interesting cabinets we have ever sold. It tells the story of the region of Brittany in western France with prominence to the ermine tail, the cross-shaped emblem seen on flags by the roadside when the Tour de France passes through. That there are dogs rampant plus a crown speak to a very special heritage for this piece.