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At the center of Antonello da Messina's 1475 painting Saint Jerome in His Study is a rather interesting piece of design. Within a larger architectural space, Jerome sits at an elaborate wooden structure that seamlessly integrates everything he would need to carry out his work of translating the Bible into Latin: a writing desk, a bench, shelves full of books—even some plants and a hanging towel to indicate that this is a live/work space. One of the most important features of this structure is that it creates a contained space unto itself. Some of the design elements, the way it's lifted up on a platform and how the walls wrap around the sitter, reflect the contemplative nature of writing and reading. (If you look closely, you can see that he leaves his slippers at the base of the steps, reinforcing the idea that at his desk he enters a different space, both literally and metaphorically.)
Studies have shown that this kind of hybrid furniture existed in the 15th century. In the 1498 inventory of Lorenzo di Pierfrancesco de Medici's belongings, a large writing desk is described "with boards and a backrest, and with a cupboard with a cornice made of walnut and compartments decorated with inlay. Underneath the desk, where one puts one's feet, is a wooden platform raised up from the ground."
These ideas form the foundation of German designer Konstantin Grcic's latest work, a series of five chairs developed for Hieronymus, the designer's latest exhibition at Galerie Kreo. Fascinated by the way Saint Jerome's study sets up an inner space as much as a physical space, Grcic set out to emulate the sense of intimacy and introspection present in da Messina's painting.
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Though each of the chairs is made of a different material—marble, wood, fibre-cement composite, aluminum and 3D-printed sand—Grcic employs a similar vocabulary throughout the works. Planes meet to form nooks and ledges that can be occupied in different ways, while varying height "walls" immerse sitters in a private environment. Each design invites a different posture and dictates a certain way of placing one's feet and elbows. While comfort is not the first thing that springs to mind when looking at these chairs—they were made expressly for the gallery and not conceived of as commercially-viable designs—Grcic's contemporary translation of da Messina's painting invites us to reconsider how we interact with furniture.
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"Hieronymus" is on view at Galerie Kreo in Paris, France through July 14, 2016.