The Spanish Foot

First, I’d like to thank John Kissel.  On a recent trip to the Metropolitan Museum of Art, John took a number of photos in the period furniture area that he was kind enough to share with me.  John and I briefly discussed the wide variation in “Spanish Foot” designs.  I think the shot below says it all.

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One might ask, “why is it called a Spanish foot?”  My answer is, I’m not sure.  I can only surmise that this was one of many decorative post terminations used by Continental craftsman during the Baroque period. This style was heavily influenced by Spanish Baroque artisans and approved by Holy Mother Church.  (Interestingly enough Spain also gave us the Inquisition, at about the same time.)  The Spanish foot seems to have followed aristocratic Catholics around Europe then made it’s was to England in the furniture that we now refer to as Jacobean (the Stuart period) which ended (stylistically) with William and Mary.  I’m hoping that my friend, Jack Plane will “weigh in” and provide a little more background.  Again, if you’re not visiting Jack’s blog on a regular basis, you’re cheating yourself.

Here’s a look at a number of Spanish feet.  Basically, they all begin as right or obtuse trapezoids.  From that point, it’s all a matter of imagination.

From the craftsman’s point of view, the good news is that the Spanish foot is much easier to produce than it looks.  It requires the use of very few tools.  In fact, a simple (yet very satisfying) version can be manufactured with a handsaw, a couple of bench chisels and (perhaps) a file (or $200 rasp, if you’ve got one).

The Spanish foot is not for everyone.  It seems that you either love it or hate.  But it’s quick and unique and may have some contemporary applications.  Or maybe I just have a fetish!

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10 Comments on “The Spanish Foot”

  1. Jack Plane Says:

    The ‘Spanish’ or ‘Braganza’ foot is often accredited to the Portuguese bride of Charles II (1630 –1685), Catherine of Braganza, whose dowry purportedly contained furniture with the distinctive carved feet.

    However, the style of feet on your chair – and those that are generally described as Spanish feet – first appeared on English chairs in the very early 1700s.

    To my mind, the feet you have carved are the apotheosis of the genre.

    • D.B. Laney Says:

      Thanks Jack.  History and furniture, they go hand in hand.  Of course, now I’m envisioning a portrait of myself pasted up on some domed ceiling, one hand holding a v-tool and a couple of shallow gouges, the other reaching out to some angelic figure who bears a striking resemblance to Marilyn Monroe.  Not sure where that came from.

  2. Brian Eve Says:

    Nice! Thanks for the photos. It looks like there is a wide variety, nearly all of them being a bit simpler than ball and claw feet.


  3. D.B., I hope you do a tutorial on carving these.

    –bb


  4. The term “Spanish foot” is not contemporary and came into usage by the late 19th/early 20th century and was famously used by countless furniture dealers. Since that term is spurious we call them scroll feet, or in the case of the versions you show, “three-loped scroll feet”, a good, accurate description that keeps Catherine of Braganza out of it!


    • Yes, but all the museum curators call them ‘Spanish feet’…..
      🙂


      • Of course, many have in the past. Furniture curator’s have used colloquialisms and euphemisms without thinking as much as the next person has. But I would hope today most working in the field reflect on their terminology with the goal of reducing confusion for their readers. If you don’t know what a term means you shouldn’t use it or repeat it because just because it been used in the past. I have only used the term “scroll foot” in cataloguing furniture with this type of carved foot. The term “brush feet” for this form is good and dead, we can do away with “Spanish feet” as well!


      • Sorry Chris, I should have been a bit less subtle. Curators are notorious for passing along myths and legends. I was just being a tad sarcastic.

  5. D.B. Laney Says:

    I have heard of unscrupulous Victorian and Edwardian sellers of antiquities making up stories about their goods. Being a rather naive old man I’m always surprised. Imagine my reaction to our current U.S. Election! But I quite enjoy the story about Catherine of Braganza.

    In a much earlier part of my life, I was a serious student of the Renaissance (my college major). I seem to remember that the Stuarts were quite adept at raising capital through the issuance of Royal Patents. Imagine the lucky joiner who got the license to “carve Princess Catherine’s Spanish Feet”.

    If I’m not mistaken, our British brethren refer to a variant of a “C” scroll foot as a Braganza foot, one that presents on one or three planes. This style foot is easily carved, with specialized carving tools. Would that we still had a Cottage Industry system. I could take my rough work to the carver, the guilder, the polisher, etc. But, alas, it is no more!

    From now on, I’m going to refer to this style as a concave, convex, obtusely trapezoidal foot. Just to avoid confusion.

  6. Jack Plane Says:

    The earlier scroll foot is an entirely different entity to the type of foot under discussion here and the use of ‘scroll’ when describing the ‘Spanish’ foot is certain to muddy the waters.
    Although a misnomer, the moniker ‘Spanish foot’ is a familiar and broadly accepted term.


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