It really was called an X-chair. It was also called the Dante or Dantesca chair, the Luther chair, and the Savonarola chair. The last name is the craziest; there really was a Savonarola, who played a pivotal part in the history of one city. But he had nothing to do with the chair. Imagine, if you will, the Rasputin spatula!
We’re nearing the end of the alphabet. Dots will be connected.
Simple, But Unbending Design
The simple design of the folding camp chair had been discovered early on in civilization terms. The Egyptians had them, and the Romans used them extensively, especially in military campaigns. A simple-X design that folded in the middle, sometimes also called faldstools. Perfect for those Charlemagne-era banquets, where you have to feed all the thanes and earls after they pledge fealty and argue about how to fend off the thanes and earls of the ruler across the border. Also handy at Red Weddings.
The Renaissance twist was to build the chairs from sturdier pieces of wood. However, these did not bend and instead sported elaborate carvings on the back, arms, and legs. The seat would be a sturdy piece of leather covered by a cushion. The place where the legs intersect was called a “boss.”
First of all, on the surface which I am going to paint, I draw a rectangle of whatever size I want, which I regard as an open window through which the subject to be painted is seen.
Leon Battista Alberti
Fenestra aperta. The window to the outside. It seems such a simple idea to paint light falling into a room, a mirror on the wall, or a landscape through a window. But it was new in the Renaissance. Windows themselves were changed, and the new technology and advances in understanding of mathematics spilled into painting.
STEM becomes Art
Alberti—architect, philosopher, and artist—was as famous for his ideas as his creations. But his idea about painting through the window inspired many of the painters who came after, from Da Vinci to Raphael. He was helping create the new idea of perspective, to help artists think of their canvas as a reflection of the world outside. But to be able to use that idea required a simple thing: the ability to see through the window.
Enter the Venetian glass makers: the guild, the island of Murano, sequestered and jealously guarding their secrets. I’ve mentioned before that the glass makers were a monopoly. The artisans were wealthy, but you could not leave the guild. Assassins were dispatched if a glass maker left with the secrets. Glass making technology improved significantly the early Renaissance, often shown in museums as elegant and sophisticated glass objects from Murano. But, just as significantly, the technology led to thinner, clearer glass–for windows. Everywhere.
One of the most famous people in Renaissance Venice was not an artist, duke, noble, doge, pope or even wealthy merchant. But she did know all of them.
Veronica Franco, a poet, publisher, and high society intellect was also known cortigiana onesta: an honored courtesan. The famed artist Tintoretto painted her multiple times, sometimes etching her name on the back and sometimes not. Her notoriety led to multiple books, movies, and even a musical about her. She was the toast of the town in 1565, the Kim Khardashian of her day. Except that the Khardashians haven’t been called before the Inquisition. Yet.
Honored Courtesan, no Mere Prostitute
Cortigiana meant, for women, a position parallel to a male courtier, a word with connotations of splendor and high cultural accomplishments. Onesta can translate as “honest,” and biographers of her have used that adjective. But used with the courtier, it meant privileged, wealthy, recognized.
She was respected for her poetry as much as for her beauty. Some poems were sonnets, love poems, but others were early expression of feminist ideas:
When we women, too, have weapons and training, we will be able to prove to all men that we have hands and feet and hearts like yours; and though we may be tender and delicate, some men who are delicate are also strong, and some, though coarse and rough, are cowards.
Franco: A Challenge to a Poet Who Has Defamed Her, from monstrousregimentofwomen.com