Wood and Velvet
H:40” x L:28 1/2” x W:31 1/2” (102 cm x 72 cm x 80 cm)
Private Collection, Makati City
Episcopal chairs were used in churches during High Mass. They always came in a set of three, with the central one for the officiating priest sometimes bigger or more elaborate. In the 20th century, as the fashion for elaborate Masses and the Te Deum went out of favor, these chairs were used only when a high ecclesiastical official, usually a Bishop, presided. Hence, the chair became known as a Bishop’s Chair.
This particular episcopal chair is most unusual because its design and decorative motifs show a Mudejar influence that pervaded fashion and architecture in the 1890s as a result of the wars in Morocco and Algiers. The chair still has most of its original light blue paint on the flat surfaces and the gilding on the carved leaves and flowers.
The chair is unusually low as episcopal chairs go and stand on four turned tapering legs resembling an inverted bud carved with acanthus leaves and attached to a spool, the bottom part of which is carved with lotus petals. The legs end in a ring and ball feet.
The front and sides of the wide, blue-painted seat frame is edged with gilded molding and carved with a row of seven gilded stylized crosses on each side. At first glance, the cross looks like a fleur-de-lis, but is actually composed of four tri-lobed leaves joined together at their stems. The seat is upholstered with new velvet material.
The slightly inclined chair back consists of a single slab of wood, its upper part cut out to form a wide, lancet-shaped Arab merlon flanked by small and narrow ones surmounted by turned and gilded finials. An ovate, velvet-padded backrest at the center of the wooden panel has a pair of acanthus scrolls with a fleur-de-lis at the center carved beneath it. Palm fronds emanating from it frame the lower half of backrest. A large flower with many petals carved above the backrest is flanked on either side by a symmetrical C-scroll joined by a fleur-de-lis to form a crest. Flowing downward on either side are laurel branches and acanthus scrolls. Beneath each finial on either side of the merlon is carved a tri-lobed flower from which emanate a garland of laurel leaves that reach the top of the arms attached to the back.
The wide upholstered arms undulate in a curve to form the armrest then gradually rise over the arm support to curl downward into a scroll in front. The outer and inner edges of the arms are carved with a row of overlapping leaves that curl in front to form a scroll.
-Martin I. Tinio, Jr