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Summary of Sleigh
One of the most elaborate Sleighs in the Tyrwhitt-Drake collection this example has a seat carved in the shape of a nautilus shell, supported by putty and a wonderful prow in the form of a phoenix. Made in the mid 18th century.
This type of Sleigh was particularly popular in Germany where they were used for parades and races by the wealthy. They were considered an art form and their owners would attempt to outdo each other in their design and presentation. The person of the highest social standing would invite the prettiest lady as a passenger. She would sit in the upholstered seat whilst he would drive the horse from the pillion seat at the back at break neck speed.
Elaborately carved with mystical beasts, flora and fauna or biblical themes and brightly painted, these Sleighs were an art form. The harness on the horses was equally as elaborate with collars mounted with full size antlers, leather faced with velvet and lots and lots of bells.
Height: 3ft 6 ½”
Length: 6ft 7 ½”
Width: 1ft 11 ¼”
This is an extraordinary Sleigh that would have been a sight to behold when it was fully painted and pulled by a horse in magnificent harness.
The main seat for which sat the guest, is in the form of a nautilus shell with carved scalloped edges. It is supported by scantily clad putto’s with arms outstretched. On each side the putto hold a shield which would have carried the coat of arms of the owner. The seat is upholstered in a rich, expensive brocade with a floral pattern. It has faded and may have originally been green in colour. It is fixed to the seat with tacks.
At the back of the main seat is a pillion seat where the driver would have sat. This seat has a leather covering and the underside is heavily carved with foliate motifs. This Sleigh appears to have lost its runners as the seat ought to have some sort of supporting bracket and the driver would need something to brace his feet against.
To the front a magnificent phoenix with outstretched wings sits on top of a heavily carved foliate base. Individual feathers are carved on the birds wings and they are supported by and iron strip that has been counter sunk into the carving.
Traces of paint and gilding survive but it is a shadow of the Sleigh is a shadow of its former colour.
There are no inscriptions on this Sleigh.
The Sleigh has lost its runners but otherwise seems in good condition with no parts of the carving missing. It is rather solid and has stood the test of time. Almost all of the original paintwork is missing and the fragments that remain ought to be consolidated. The fabric on the seat is original and beautiful, but faded, a conservation clean and assessment of its fragility should be carried out.
This Sleigh is owned by the Victoria and Albert Musuem and is in the care of the Tyrwhitt-Drake Carriage Museum
Maidstone Museum and Art Gallery
St Faith's Street,
Maidstone Museum and Bentliff Art Gallery / Amy Bracey / Robert Lovell