11113

THE FORDE ABBEY COUCH OF STATE, AN EXCEEDINGLY RARE CEREMONIAL COUCH

English. Commonwealth Period (1649-1660).

Measurements

Height: 42.3” (107.5 cm); Width: 94.4” (240 cm); Depth: 27.5” (70 cm).

Research

Of polychrome painted wood. Substructure consisting of six legs with turning, joined with stretchers, bearing elaborate original paint and giltwork on front and sides, with paint work of later date on back. Seat upholstered in stamped leather formed of three joined panels with brass studs, with evidence of original paint and gilding. Two flanking articulated ‘wings’ also upholstered in stamped leather with studs, supported by adjustable iron rods fitting into brackets, which also show evidence of gilding. Wood sections supporting the wings wrapped with further stamped leather and studs. Some minor damage to leather on underside of proper right wing. Two of the iron stays old but not original.

Provenance:
Probably made for Edmond Prideaux for use at Forde Abbey in the 1650s
Thence descent to Sir Francis Gwyn, 1702
House and contents sold to a Mr. Miles, 1846
Sold to Mrs. Bertram Evans, 1863
Thence by descent to Freeman and Elizabeth Roper, 1905
Remained at Forde Abbey until at least 1909.

Illustrated:
-Frederick S Robinson, English Furniture, London 1900, plate LXXL
-Herbert Cescinsky, The Old World House, London, 1924, p. 180
-Peter Thornton, Canopies, Couches and Chairs of State, Apollo Magazine, October 1974, p. 293
-Peter Thornton, Seventeenth Century Interior Decoration in England, France and Holland, New Haven and London, 1978, p. 173

Exhibited:
Bethnal Green Museum, 1896

Published & Recorded:
-FH Tomlinson, A Visit to Ford Abbey, London 1825, p. 16
-Unknown Author, A History of Forde Abbey Dorsetshire, London 1846, p. 83
-Forde Abbey Sale, Messrs. English and Sons, October 26-November 2, 1846
Catalogue of the…Entire Effects of Ford Abbey; Presenting a Large Assemblage of Ancient and Modern Furniture…Sold by Auction By Messrs. English and Son…On the Premises, on Monday October 26th, and Seven following days of business, at 12 o’clock precisely.
-J.H. Pollen, Special Loan Collection of English Furniture and Figured Silks, Manufactured in the 17th and 18th Centuries. Held at the Bethnal Green Museum, London, 1896, no. 51
-Country Life, Forde Abbey Dorsetshire – part II, July 10th 1909, p. 60

This piece must be considered one of the rarest intact survivals of mid-seventeenth century English furniture produced during the Commonwealth (1649-60). It is comparable to the so-called “Knole Sofa” from Knole House in Kent (figure 1), which occupies an iconic position in the history of the development of seat furniture.1 Through technical evaluation it has been evinced that both its painted legs and stretcher are original.

It is a testament to the couch’s historic importance that it formed part of numerous publications in the 19th and 20th century on the history of furniture. Evidence suggests that it was part of a set with accompanying chairs, made in the 1650s for one of England’s most picturesque country houses, Forde Abbey in Dorset, when in the ownership of one of Oliver Cromwell’s most senior officials, Edmond Prideaux (1634-1702). At that moment seat furniture of this kind was at its height of fashion; aspects of its design and decoration, such as the turning of the legs, painted detailing and gilded leather upholstery, are highly typical of its period, although only a handful of intact specimens survive. When new, the leather upholstery would have appeared richly colored, defined and glittering with vivid red, green, white and gold; the painted decoration on the wooden framework also included gilding, with a color scheme that matched the leather; even the metal brackets show evidence of gilding. It is a charming conceit of the piece that purpose-made embossed tassles are drawn along all the vertical surfaces of the leather to give the impression of fringing. It is clear that that this was a piece of furniture that was not merely designed for comfort, but was intended to impress, as in the mid-seventeenth century such couches had much more symbolic importance than we might imagine today.

Full research report available on request.

Full research report available on request.