These armchairs are inspired by two celebrated suites of giltwood seat furniture supplied by the brothers Lorenzo (1783-1839) and Dionisio (active 1809-1830) Santi in Rome for the palazzo of Napoleon's uncle Cardinal Fesch in c.1806 when he served as ambassador to the Holy See. One suite incorporated armrests in the form of griffins rampant whose bodies terminate in bold acanthus scrolls similar to those on the present lot, and the other suite employed winged lion's heads as supports. Fesch took both sets with him back to Paris where they were sold in 1816. Chairs from the lion's head set entered numerous important collections including the Demidoff Collection at San Donato and the White House under James Monroe. A large group of eight chairs, ten armchairs and four settees from the griffin suite is now in the Lady Lever Art Gallery near Liverpool.
A drawing by the Santi brothers in the Cooper Hewitt Museum of c.1806 includes a profile view of an armchair with a scrolling zoomorphic armrest comparable to those on the Lady Lever chairs but with the head of a leopard or lion rather than a griffin, as on the present lot. This design was engraved in a simplified version in the 1828 Parisian publication Modèles de Meubles (1828), pl.52. Another drawing for an armchair with a scrolling griffin support appears in the 1806 Roman sketchbook of the architect Agostino Fantastici (see Lucy Wood, The Upholstered Furniture in the Lady Lever Art Gallery, London 2009, Vol. II, p.694-737, figs.433, 435, 438).
Another pair of armchairs of this model was sold Christie's New York, 15 April 2011, lot 470.