Staked, Boarded and Folding Furniture from 1570 Italy


Indexer Suzanne Ellison was browsing this week through the 1570 “Opera di M. Bartolomeo Scappi,” a huge six-part book documenting the recipes Scappi cooked for cardinals and popes. And she turned up these interesting plates featuring some early furniture forms straight from the Middle Ages and “The Anarchist’s Design Book.”

Check out the staked tables (above) with the massive square and tapered legs. I’ve been meaning to build some tables like this, but my fear is that the legs will look too weird. There’s only one way to find out, I suppose.


Also interesting: A trestle table shown from the side. I love this image because it destroys the notion that each trestle had four legs and there is a problem with the perspective of the drawing. One point here for the Middle Ages artists.


Check out the collapsible table for cooking in the countryside. This form survives today and was widely reproduced as a piece of campaign furniture.


Finally, miscellaneous furniture: a small bench for sitting (banchetta, or today it would be called la panchetta) or as a step stool. Small benches similar to the banchetta are still in use today. Or, a very interesting taller bench for scrutiny of accounts or writing (or for sitting a bit higher) with a drawer neatly tucked under the edge of the benchtop.

— Christopher Schwarz

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15 Responses to Staked, Boarded and Folding Furniture from 1570 Italy

  1. So hard to tell what the finish represented by the cross hatching is on the seats and armoire in that plate. Cloth? Cloth and gesso? It fails to represent woodgrain unlike some of the pieces in the earlier plates, particularly the large wall-mounted cabinet in the first plate.


  2. KampWood says:

    Wow look at that ladder and those buckets! Whose for Mr. C S making a bucket and ladder book?


  3. brentpmed says:

    Now I am seeing Mughal influence everywhere like in the banchetta, dang it man, it’s like a song that gets stuck in your head


    • jenohdit says:

      The Mughal Empire had not been in existence for very long by 1570 and trade with Europe didn’t take off until much later.

      Far Eastern culture had an influence on what is now Italy for a very long time before that. The purple robes that Roman emperors wore were made of Chinese silk that came through Central Asia and Persia. Trade along that route continued until the Ottoman Empire interfered in the 15th century.

      Venice in particular where that books seems to have been published has a very “Eastern” look to a lot of its art and architecture.

      Also, Arabs ruled Sicily for a couple hundred years and that influence shows all over Italy.


  4. I was not interested in staked and boarded furniture until I saw these illustrations. They tie in with Charles Haywards book on “English Period Furniture” that I have just read. I particularly like the desk and matching “benchette” stools and I may make these when I have read CS’s book. I cannot work out the function of the coat hanger shaped device hung on the wall in the same photograph.


  5. waltamb says:

    This is great stuff… Imagine if everyone knew what was in all those books gathering dust around the world? What about all the books we lost to fire and flood too?
    In regards to some of the staked Furniture, am I wrong to think that we need to look back to the timbers they used?
    Much of those were likely split out of the log (possibly Oak or Ash) then easily worked to shape while green?
    If we choose modern Kiln dried woods, we make find it a bit tough going say in timbers like Hard Rock Maple Without the assist of Bandsaw and Power sanders.
    This is one of the things that we have forgotten… it is much much easier to work green wood than Dry and the finished piece can be much stronger.
    Keep up the great work.


  6. tsstahl says:

    Anyone else taken by the actual clawed feet of the credenza? I have visions of seasonally painted toenails on the furniture. 🙂


  7. Farmer Greg says:

    Are the pope sticks in the third illustration for use by the pope or on the pope?

    More seriously, on the little benches, are all four sides tapered, or just two? It’s hard for me to tell from the picture.


  8. I’m not normally pedantic about this stuff but feel it necessary to point out that you say, “One point here for the Middle Ages artists”, when the book was published in 1570. That puts it in the Renaissance period; roughly 1300 to about 1700.
    Sorry. I realize in the grand scheme of things it doesn’t make any difference, but it’s like calling a fillister plane a rebate plane. It’s just wrong.


    • Doug,

      No, this isn’t a Middle Age illustration, but its existence supports the fact that the tables from the Middle Ages were indeed three-legged and not a result of flat perspective.

      Hope this makes sense.


      • Ronald Pottol says:

        OK, yes, because one of the things about Renaissance is that they had discovered perspective, I’d expect that to be correct (though you still have the usual issues with a non specialist drawing specialist equipment).


  9. Bob Jones says:

    I like the legs that get bigger at the bottom. Like feet. Or a john brown chair. I’ll do this when I make my next table – sometime in the next year I hope.


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