Tuesday, March 23, 2010

Word of the Day: KLISMOS

Klismos. Sounds familiar, right? But what exactly is it? Let's make this a multiple choice question:


A. A lovely Jewish folk band of rag-tag musicians that play tunes like The Dreidel Song and dance around with bottles on their heads:

Bottle dancing is actually quite therapeutic. When I'm down in the dumps, I often slap on my yamulka and dance around the living room with a bottle of Bud Light on my head, swirling and weaving to the hypnotic melodies of Hava Nagila. Try it sometime. It's a sure way to beat the blues and at the same time get yourself evicted.

But wait. I just realized that these bands aren't called KLISMOS, they're called KLEZMERS. Close enough in my opinion. In any event, if you've got a Bar Mitzvah coming up, you might want to hire my favorite Klezmer ensemble ironically called "The Wholesale Klezmers" (I'm not making this up either, which is pretty funny, at least to me). And here they are:

Ok, so now we know that "A" is not the right answer. Let's move on to "B":

B. Klismos is an unsightly rash like psoriasis but thankfully can be treated with antibiotics. A friend of mine had a bad case of klismos around her bikini line and it ruined her entire summer. So talk to your doctor before taking Klismos to make sure it's right for you. Side affects include headaches, blurred vision, and hot-dog fingers.

If you thought this was the right answer, go immediately to a therapist and expain that you're a hypochondriac with way too much time on your hands. The correct answer is "C":

C. Klismos, pronounced "KLIZ mahs" (plural is KLIZ moy) is a chair style first created in 4th-century BC Greece with outswept saber legs and a concave toprail back.

The chairs are sometimes given arms, sometimes not.

Klismos chairs were designed to be elegrant and light, so that they could be easily carried. Their popularity is attested to by their frequent appearance in Greek pottery paintings from that era. Here's an image of Sappho, the ancient Greek poetess, taking a well deserved break in her groovy klismos chair (is it just me or does she have a VERY BIG HEAD?):

Around the 3rd-century BC the klismos style virtually disappeared until the 18th century rediscoveries of Pompeii and Herculaneum when the style was revived as part of the Neoclassical movement.

The elite designers of the time, including Georges Jacob (the favorite designer for Napoleon I and Empress Josephine) and Thomas Hope played key roles in reviving the ancient form.

And klismos chairs have remained wildly popular since then. Consider this famous Klismos designed in 1937 by Robsjohn-Gibbons. Isn't it dreamy?

And what are my favorite set of Klismos chairs? Glad you asked: they're this 18th century Italian polychrome set of eight that we have at C. Mariani. They have cane seats and are embellished with extraordinary neoclassical motifs of colorful urns, scrolling vines and flowers:


Patty said...

I should totally take up bottle dancing as my new hobby :P those chairs actually look pretty comfortable, thanks for posting!

Cashon&Co said...

those images crack me up!!! Informative and fun as usual! thanks!

Anonymous said...

Just FYI, klismoi are amply attested well before the fourth century BC; they are mentioned in Homer (ca. 700s BC), and visual representations of the klismos as we know it can be found from the fifth century BC through the 1st century AD, although you are right in saying they fall from general favour around the 3rd century.