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Cabriole

Updated on January 10, 2010

Cabriole is a word applied to the legs of tables, chairs, or other pieces of furniture, shaped as the legs of an animal, or with merely a double curve, having originated in classical Greek and Roman animal prototypes.

The fashion was introduced in France in the 17th century; and it was prevalent in England from the close of that century.

Sheraton and Hepplewhite applied the term to chairs with stuffed seat and backs and mahogany legs.

Seventeenth Century Chairs

In the 17th century there were a number of developments in the design of chairs, some of them influenced by trade with the Orient. After the Portuguese returned from India with chairs having caned panels in their backs and seats, caned chairs became very popular throughout Europe and in the American colonies. They allowed air to circulate and were thought to discourage vermin, that might breed in chairs of solid wood.

The chief advance of the century, however, traced by many scholars to the influence of the East, was the reintroduction of sinuous curved shapes. For centuries most European chairs had been designed as patterns of straight lines, the backs, seats, and arms, making very little accommodation to the soft and flexible contours of the human body. Chinese furniture, however, included chairs with curved backs. Pictorial lacquered screens of the 17th century showing European traders loading Chinese treasure on their ships suggest that some of these Chinese chairs may have been introduced to Europe. Whatver their derivation, chairs with curved backs became fashionable during the 17th century. At the same time, straight turned legs gave way to arched "cabriole" legs.

Only at the end of the 17th century did upholstery come into common use. Earlier, in the 16th century, a few chairs had been entirely covered with fabric (even their legs and arms) and decorated with large metal studs.

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