In The Dark Ages

THE furniture of the Dark Ages, such as it was, was made upon.tradition of the old Roman joinery, save where, here and there, some germ of the Gothic thought started and fitted the article exactly to its use, however rude the construction. It was doubtless adapted to the con: ditions of life in the stone fastnesses which were made not for pleasure* but to resist attack, and life within which was only an affair of time between battles. The one great hall served for every use. The family lived there, the vassals met there; it was dining-room, sleeping-room, and hall of justice. The bedchamber was merely a space screened off from it. If a guest came, his bed was built up, curtained, and screened before his eyes—a chamber within a chamber. It was all a grand sort of encampment.

In this vast hall, around the immense hearth where the whole trunks of trees burned, a score could sit at ease, and if the blazing fire were too hot, thrust their feet and legs into osier baskets that protected them. Torches hung from hooks in the wall, or quaint oil-fed lamps made darkness visible, and, later, sconces and chandeliers and candlesticks lent their illumination; for, long before carpenters and cabinet-makers had any skill at all, the iron and brass workers of the provinces were accomplished artists. At the upper end of the hall the flagged floor was usually raised, forming a slight platform, where the lord and his ladies sat, the ladies at their wheel and, after they had had a glimpse of some piece of Oriental tapestry, after some wandering knight had told them of its beauty, or some returning priest had advised them of its uses, at their needle-work. Around this part of the hall ran a form, a bench, after a while divided by arms and dignified with a back, already an improvement on its backless, armless predecessor. This form was evidently a fixture to the wall; for, while the front of the tall back was decorated according to the taste of the period, the back was invariably rough. There was but one chair in the hall. It belonged to the master. Sufficiently uncomfortable, a mere box, knobs at first continuing its four uprights, and afterward with a six-inch railing around the three sides, it was yet the seat of honor. If a

superior visited the castle, it was relinquished to that personage; if one who was held as inferior came, the master retained his chair, and the guest took a bench. These benches were sometimes a mere plank supported by uprights; sometimes long and narrow chests where valuables were packed, inside of which other boxes were fastened or strong compartments made, certain of them very simple, others entirely covered with rich ornamentation of hammered iron-work in locks, hinges, clamps, till they were really beautiful objects, and others nothing but a whole net-work of iron over red or gilded leather. At first these chests were adorned merely with this lavish iron-work, and covered with leather stamped in curious patterns, painted and gilded; at a later period they carried armorial carvings and other emblems cut in the wood of which they were made ; and as taste and the love of ease developed, backs were added to some of these as well as to the forms, together with arms, all carved very ornamentally; but the seat was still a lid that lifted, and these were the chief and, for a long time, almost the only pieces of furniture of the Middle Ages. By degrees cushions were laid upon it, stuffs were thrown loosely over it, footstools were placed before it; and then, as the small articles of value increased, it was lifted upon feet; one was superimposed upon another, the lids were changed to doors, and the chest became the cabinet. Folding-seats meanwhile were an ancient article of use in this restricted equipage—camp-stools, as they are still called—for they were a remnant of the Roman, and were, moreover, a part of the household that could be taken into the field, as any chieftain could make his throne upon a camp-stool, with men of arms holding his banner behind him.

As the Dark Ages came to an end, as chimney's were introduced, as life in the castle became a more permanent thing, and as various refinements among the neighboring clergy became contagious with the laity, ideas for the decoration of the halls were borrowed from the decoration of the churches, and their articles of convenience were imitated; the screens, that had defended the dwellers from the draughts of the doors and the windows and the great chimneys, were beautified with liome-wrought tapestry or with that of Flemish handiwork, were made of splendidly gilt leather or of heavy cloth from Syria; they lined the whole extent of the wall of the room, sometimes in a heavy curtain such as now hangs before the door of many European cathedrals, sometimes in a carved wainscot extending above the head; and sometimes they divided the great rooms with wonderfully carved partitions—the portion behind being known as " the screens." Indeed, the screen played so important a part in this old life that no modern representation of a medi-

ieval room would be complete without it, and it is no wonder that upon this feature was lavished all that skill and fancy ever attained. It stood around the huge beds that the dogs shared ; before the windows; in folding-leaves around the corners of the fire, from the shelf over which hooks held some hangings that could at will shield the lady's face from the blaze.

When, at length, mats of woven reeds and of finer material were laid upon the flags, there was probably a great outcry about effeminacy; and it must have been a revolution, too, when the great table became an established fact; for it was not sp many years before that people had eaten off a cloth laid upon the floor, and the free use of great cushions everywhere about the floor still recalled the custom. Probably the luxury of the repast was heightened by the strange hot and sweet spices that were brought from the East now, that cost immense sums, and were put away with the precious robes and goldsmiths' work. We read of banquets with ragouts of flesh and of fish, with fruits and sweetmeats and wines; and banqueting having become so delicious, of course the table became a place for lingering. The appearance of the table had certainly resolved itself into one of splendor; with spoil of gold and silver and jewelled dishes, and flagons from the Saracen artificer; with the rich cups and vases of the native artists; with colored glasses and rock-crystal; with bronzes and plate of all sorts, of Saxon, Scandinavian, or Burgundian workmanship. The credence, also, had been borrowed from the Church, and erected into the dresser, and on its shelves glittered the surplus of such costly plate and pottery as the house possessed. In addition to all this, garments had grown to be exceedingly rich, of silk and samite and figured Moorish stuffs, embroidered with gold thread and wrought with pearls, and they accordingly demanded other treatment than that of rude seats, or the neighborhood of spurs and swords. It is only the first step that costs; the Dark Ages were past, and the mediaeval fancy, stimulated by what the Crusades had taught, or by the slow opening of the Byzantine seed long slumbering there, began to produce countless objects of interest and of use, and to turn old shapes into new beauty; carpenters became cabi-net-makerSj cabinet-makers became artists. The halls that they adorned were no more places for men-at-arms; the natural and necessary feudal aristocracy gave way to quite another thing; life was no longer in common ; sleeping-rooms were set apart from the grand hall—hence the word apartment; the rooms of the mistress were set apart from those of her women; cabinets fit to hold her precious possessions were built in them, resting-places for her idle moments, 6eats that, being movable, must have the cloths, once carelessly thrown over them, now fastened 011 and nailed, beds of luxury, prie-di<Mx; the walls were painted above the tapestry, the beams of the ceiling were carved, the chimney was treated with honor and decorated to the last point; the windows were widened, the waxed linen and parchment of their panes supplanted by glass, their curtains made sumptuous; the rooms of the mistress became the pleasant place to loiter; the castle ceased to be a fortress, and became a dwelling. And at last, as the Middle Ages also passecl, as day by day life opened into an easier and more enjoyable thing, with all the pleasures of peace about it, enervated by luxury and subdued by what it fed on, then the dwelling was ready for a different furnishing, for one that should not only please the eye, which had wearied of the simplicity of merely noble lines, but should also please the body, that, no longer under the stern necessities of war and a warlike household, could afford to indulge its languor in comfort and relaxation.



THE influence of women in bringing about all these modifications of the menage has been a powerful one. From the day when the priests succeeded in prevailing upon the Gaul—who was in the habit of making himself the husband of as many wives as he could afford to care for—to imitate his German neighbor, who was the husband of but one wife, they made the marriage ceremony a thing of splendid note with the use of their most sacred and memorable rites. They honored the woman, and made her honorable in her husband's eyes, and through her obtained the influence over her half-savage lord that they could hardly obtain otherwise. With the Teutonic tribes, of course, this was unnecessary, for the women who had been held as a sort of priests themselves in the old wild life needed the countenance of 110 other priesthood in order to maintain the reverence of their husbands. Receiving reverence and honor then, they received indulgence; and thus with Frank or Teuton or Saxon the woman, as a rule, had what she would.

Moreover, life under the feudal system was calculated to make it difficult to refuse the woman anything she desired. She was obliged to be the partner of her husband's affairs much more literally and extensively than the greater part of wives are in these days. The border baron off upon his raids, the mountain chieftain who is obeying the call for the arriere-ban, must leave all his interests in his wife's hands, and, of course, prior to that, his wife must be made thoroughly acquainted with those interests. As to how well she protected them, history is full of the recital ; and more than one poet has sung of the gallant defence that some brave woman made, in those perilous days, of her husband's stronghold, his enemies encamped about her, laying waste with fire and sword.

Left thus so often to her own devices there, it is not remarkable that in everything pertaining to home affairs she took the lead and kept it: the weary lord was doubtless only too glad to be relieved by such vicegerency. In an old chronicle of the time, cited by an accomplished French archaeologist, the life of a chatelaine is given, with exactly such duties and honors as the mistress of a similar establishment would have in the present time.

Iler damsels, the daughters of neighboring lords and allies, attend her as she rises in the morning, and walks in the wood near by with her rosary in hand, and returns with flowers to the chapel and low mass, coming from chapel to be served with her breakfast of larks and chickens, and wine out of silver basins. That done, madame mounts her maidens on palfreys, and with their guests they all ride into the fields, returning to be entertained at dinner by the lord of the chateau, while the jongleurs play upon their instruments. Benedicite said, and the napkins taken away, madame dances with her chief guest, then spices and wine are served, and they separate for a siesta. After the short sleep, madame takes a falcon on her wrist, and they ride out again to the hunt, and, dismounting, they lunch in the meadows, and return singing gayly. Night coming on, they sup, stroll outside the walls, and play ball till dark. Then madame has the torches kindled, the minstrels come, they dance and drink wine, and .say good-niglit. One can see that life in the thirteenth century was becoming different in its gentle pleasures from the life of but a short pe-period before.

Thus possessing the ability to manage her husband's affairs and to entertain his guests, the mistress of the place, having her way in most things not unreasonable, could easily w^in him to procure for her all the garniture that rumor whispered her some other lord had brought his dame from the Levant, from the Moors in Spain, or, later, out of Burgundy. And so she procures, piece by piece, her square of carpet that has come all the way from Persia to be sold in one of the yearly fairs not too far off; her flowered leather from Brabant, to hang before the high back of the great elaborately carved seat, to get which and her noble dresser made she had such ado with joiner and wood-carver a year long; her tapestry from the Saracens before the day of Arras, Beauvais, or Lille; her Constantinopolitan coffer, broken and yellow, but covered with exquisite ivory sculpture, to feast her eyes and adorn the dresser's shelf—that is laid, by-the-way, with a napkin of creamy damask, with its border of black velvet and cloth of gold, and its fringe of 6ilk—where stands the superb dish of beaten silver from Cologne that on feast-days enriches the centre of her table, and that carries our modern epergiie back to the days of Chilperic and Queen Fre-degonde—procures all this, and is ready for the lady of the next demesne. She would not have had much difficulty, though, in her work, had her personal influence been less; for there were few nobles of any importance who, before the end of the fourth Crusade, had not made their journey into the East or into Africa, and had not become accustomed there to unheard-of splendor, had not admired and desired it themselves, had not brought home such things as were transportable; and when they had told


their wives the story, it was for the women to procure the rest themselves. " It was not surprising, therefore," says M. ViolletJe-Duc, " that with the sway of feudalism the role of woman became important, and that she assumed in the castle an authority and influence over the matters of everyday life superior to that of the castellan himself. More sedentary than the latter, she naturally contributed more to the embellishment of the stronghold, and entered more warmly into the rivalries pertaining thereto, which already appeared in the thirteenth century, when many castles were sumptuously furnished, and rich in hangings, carpets, wood carvings, precious articles, and wealth of all kinds, the more considerable inasmuch as they accumulated unceasingly, the wheel of fashion not turning then with the velocity of later ages." And when all this was achieved, splendid garments must be had to suit the splendid furnishing; and when satin and velvet were the wear, satin and velvet must be the seat. Thus, one thing leading to another, furnitures that had not changed for centuries changed soon with every reign.

Of course there were not wanting, then as now, people to inveigh against the extravagance of the women, who relegated the castle's great armories and benches to the huts of the peasants, who ruined the good old times; and gentlemen of small means in the fourteenth century aver that they cannot afford to marry, as gentlemen of small means do in the nineteenth, on account of the expenditure of the wives. Satires are written in which the lady declares that she must have an endless catalogue of treasures—page after page filled with her demands. " Don't I see," she says, " even the low-born husbands bring home to their wives, when, they have been in Paris, in Eheims, in Rouen, gloves, pelisses, rings, cups of silver, and goblets of gold ? Well, then, I must have pursefuls of jewels, knives covered with carving, pins set in enamel, white camelot and .broidery for my bedchamber,

"4 Et les eourtinesi ensement, Pigne, tressoir semblablemcnt, Et miroir, pour moy ordonncr, D'yvoire, me devez donner.'

I must have halls, galleries, well ordered to receive strangers, and there must be beautiful beds and fine coverings, and the walls shall be hung; handsome chairs must I have, handsome benches, tables, tressels, dressers, screens, and any quantity of plate! Am I not of good family ?" she asks ; " and shall I go with less wherewithal than a shop-keeper's wife ?" And what was the case in one country, probably was much the same in another; what one woman lias, another has to have. Women taught to

u Pancez vous qu'elle preignent garde Comment l'argent se depent ? Non !"

And consequently artisans come from abroad to a market that calls—for it is little that the home-born artisan can do till he learns the foreign secrets— weavers from Greece and Asia, goldsmiths from Milan and Venice. Their craft becomes common; a commerce in ivory, ebony, gold and silks, and all things rare and fine, enriches everybody who is concerned in it; and out of this extravagance the arts and ' . % * the trades and the fairs flourish—flour ish from year to year and from age Mediaeval Dreaaer. to age—till the last of the fashions in furniture, that a daughter of the Greek emperor—lending her days to illuminate with the unforgotten glories of her father's court the barbarians with whom she has wed—brings with her in the tenth century from Byzance, is one day utterly set at naught by La Pompadour.

make themselves lovely must have the means with which to do it;

women living at home must have their homes beautiful and the requisite furniture.


ALMOST all that we know of very ancient furniture is gathered from bass-reliefs, mural and ceramic painting, and from scattered remarks of the writers of antiquity.

We have pictures of Egyptian throne - chairs, comfortable - looking, stately 6eats, rich with incrustation and mosaic, and others resembling our common wooden kitchen chair, while an actual example of one made nearly two thousand years b.c. of hard wood inlaid with ivory may be found in the Louvre. We have drawings of quaint Assyrian arm-chairs and royal seats from Persepolis, carved with the echinus, and carrying unicorns' heads in their decoration ; Greek chairs also, eclipsing in lightness and perfect grace anything before or since ; Roman chairs, with arms extending half-way along the side; Pompeian ones, finer than anything we can make to-day; and the curule folding-chair. It is possible that the golden chair of the Emperor Kien Long, and the other chairs of China, the rattan and bamboo ones, point backward to greater antiquity, as the Chinese has not for thousands of years been known to make an improvement on himself.

But after the extinction of the greater part of Roman splendor, and the withdrawal of the rest to the East, where day by day it assimilated itself more and more to Oriental customs, the habits of life seem to have returned to something very near the primitive. In the general desolation there was no more furniture, and, as we have already said, nobody to make it, and the European began again at the beginning. The first, and very frequently the only, seat was doubtless the chest, that its predatory owners found the most convenient to their uses, and that served

Modern Gothic Diuiug-rooui Seat.

for bed and 6eat and table too. The bench was probably suggested by this for temporary purposes, made simply as the rudest bench of to-day, with a plank and two uprights, but after a while with more care. Small

luiiiuii iteucti of öixieeuih Ceuiury ; Flemish Weapoua ; Italian and Puliwjy Ware.

benches served for solitary use, and for the seats of inferiors. These were lower than the others, sometimes oblong, sometimes triangular, in shape; which people of the wealthier sort covered with a bench-cloth or with cushions. We still have it in an improved form in the little three-legged stool which many of us remember. In an old manuscript of the British Museum, Constantia, Duchess of Lancaster, the wife of John of Gaunt, is represented sitting on such a stool; and hundreds of years later the little thing reached its highest honor when, under the name of the tabouret, the ladies of the court of Louis Quatorze fought for it. " To have the tabouret was, in the old French court, a right possessed by certain persons to place themselves on this stool or on a folding-seat in the presence of the queen. The tabouret was originally conceded only to princesses or duchesses; but it was afterward allowed to all such ladies as occupied the first rank in the queen's household, and whose husbands had a right to an arm-chair in the king's apartment, especially when they were dukes and peers. From the reign of Francis II., cardinals, ambassadresses, duchesses, and ladies whose husbands were grandees of Spain, as well as the wives of chancellors and of keepers of the seal, were permitted to occupy them." Meanwhile the stool was a seat less dignified than the folding-seat, and that less honorable, of course, than the chair. But that was at a late day of its life.

Where there was no remembrance of the Roman chair in the provinces, these stools may have originally suggested the loftier bi^t still solitary chair. Yet it is unlikely, on the whole, that the curule, or folding-chair, handy as it was for camp life, which was essentially the life of that period between Roman sway and modern, ever went quite out of use; and the chair may have been recalled by that, made fast and solid instead of light and folding. Nevertheless, the rumor of the chair's existence in the past could hardly have entirely died out, and the first awkward attempts may have been merely those of tradition without instruction.

But another seat, and one of intrinsic dignity, was the Roman "form," which the Church preserved, and which, like many other articles of furniture, came from the church to the house. This differed from the bench in the separation of its seats by arms, and the greater care of its workmanship. It was very heavy, and intended to be stationary; but when, as in the handsomest examples, provided with a straight back, and both back and seat covered with stamped leather, falling to the floor in front in a gold-fringed curtain, the pillared legs and the arms carved minutely, the rest of the visible frame inlaid with ivory, ebony, silver, and brass, with a narrow margin of wooden marquetry intervening between the feet and the bare flags of the floor, hardly anything could have presented a more imposing appearance.

Toward the end of the twelfth century the backs of the forms became higher, and presently they put on a dais, or wooden canopy, and assumed the full Gothic. When the Gothic dais was laid aside at length, as modifications for bodily ease took place, it is not unlikely that the modern divan, with its indications of separate seats, together with the sofa, can claim relationship with the "form."

It is not necessary, however, that the sofa should seek so haughty an ancestry as this old Roman shape; for not long after the tenth century the plain bench began to be furnished with a back, with arms hollowed out a trifle for the elbows, the wood-work carved, and cushions and quilted stuffs thrown over them. It was in that century that Robert of

Normandy, stopping with his knights at Constantinople, on his pilgrimage to Jerusalem, found the descendants of the old Roman Empire there already so Orientalized that they contentedly sat upon the ground with no benches in the audience chamber. Perhaps other evidences of a lux-

Auother Italian Bench; Tapestry, Subject "The Prodigal Son."

ury and a civilization unknown to them had chagrined the Normans, and made them glad to boast of the one thing where they exceeded; for, throwing off their cloaks, they sat upon them, and when, on their departure, the Greeks ran after them with the garments, they surlily replied that they were not in the habit of taking their benches with them. It seems to have been in more courtesy than they deserved that the emperor caused benches to be built around the hall, that they might sit as they were wont during the rest of their sojourn there. A few centuries later the backs of the benches attained great altitude, and a carved dais overtopped them as it did the " forms," and the seats were boxed and used for chests. These 6eats were loosely cushioned in costly stuffs, the cushions shaped in divers fanciful ways to give greater ease; and from little hooks in the backs of the benches, just where the arched dais began to curve all its splendid carving, a dorsel hung over the stretch of the plain wooden back, and this dorsel is the first known ancestor of our u tidy," although its use was not a " tidy," but a merely ornamental one. With this the bench became a really magnificent piece of furniture in the immense and lofty halls, and thus held sway till the Renaissance; and there is nothing lovelier in its way to-day than the old Italian bench of the latter era.

These were all seats of kindliness and sociability, of good neigliborli-ness. But the chair was a thing of state. Without any doubt, it developed itself at the first from the Egyptian throne, and it remained a throne from the time when but a single chair in the dwelling announced the sovereign rights of the master and ruler of the house, while the herd gathered themselves on benches, to the present, when its use confesses the sovereign rights of the individual and the universal sacredness of personality. The first chairs of the Middle Ages had sometimes only the uprights of the stool a little extended, and now and then, instead of the rude seat, a lacing of broad leather straps with a cushion. In the fourteenth century the royal fauteuils were given back, canopy, and platform; and a beautiful one consists of an oaken back, carved quite openly in the perpendicular, that upholds with its arches a square tower surmounted by tiny pinnacles and finials. The footstool is of lion's whelps, and the seat of four racing hounds, whose heads protrude from a Persian drapery figured in bands and circles.

It was the use of this back, this raised step and canopy, which in reality made the importance of the royal fauteuil. Without them, it was a mere convenience; with them, it was the place of honor and apparent power. The canopy was, perhaps, in idea, the last remnant of the seclusion that draperies hung about the awe and mystery of rule. In the course of a hundred years the fauteuil was no longer folding. A back and stays rendered it fixed, and made of it the lovely old chair where the curved arm and half seat pass down and form the leg in the opposite curve, with fringes on the bars of the stays behind and cushions on the seat.

But while the idea of the curule chair was developing into a chair that any one might use, the chair itself was taking new forms. Square in shape, and when given a back, that back a finishing a finger's length in

Fauteuil of Charles V., Fourteenth Century.

height, if it had not this finishing, it was sure to be set against the wall that was tapestried behind it. When arras were added, the backs became of the same height, and both arms and back rather encircled the body of the sitter. In the twelfth century, turned wood had begun to employ attention, and cushioned chairs, the arms supported by little balustrades, differing only from a chair of the period some five or six hundred clinging folds, not too voluminous, made of soft stuffs; now they became ample, of thick brocades, velvets, and

Venetian Chair, Sixteenth Century; Bust by Jacques 8arazin. „ , ,

' i . furs, which required a great deal of room in order to be well managed, and not spoiled by creasing and rumpling; and thus open and easy chairs appear, mingling finely turned wood with delicate carvings in the fiat,' with broad seat, high back, low arms or no arms at all, that would be enviable chairs to-day either for comfort or beauty.

It is toward the end of the thirteenth century that we find architectural details so largely introduced into chairs. The backs of many, although of course not of all, were made exceedingly high, covered with

State Chair of Oak, Louis XII.; French Chair, Seventeenth Century.

Modern Gothic Drawing-room Chaire.

State Chair of Oak, Louis XII.; French Chair, Seventeenth Century.

wonderful carved work of armorial bearings, and crowned with dentella-tions, very humble chairs possessing still this crowning crest, if no other carving. But such seats were meant to remain fixed against the wall, as the wrong side of the back was usually rough, so that it is presumable

Modern Gothic Drawing-room Chaire.


Flemish Chair, End of Fifteenth Century.

that they occupied some place of honor. It is a similar chair, without the carving, moved out of place, that in the fifteenth century we find draped from head to foot with a vast hammer-cloth of rich material that loosely but effectively covers back and front and sides, and extends some distance beneath the feet of the person using it. Most of this cumbrousness went out of fashion in the succeeding century; the lighter rooms suggested lighter surroundings : a person wished to take up a chair and carry it to another's side, to the now more open window for the air or for the view, to offer it to a newcomer ; and the moment the chair was made light enough for that, the draperies and cushions could not be allowed to make themselves a nuisance with perpetual slipping off and readjustment ; they had to be nailed on. What they lost in picturesqueness they gained in the added convenience, and there was still great interest and picturesqueness in the shapes, while, so far as drapery was concerned, there was yet no lack of that in the apartments. After this, the way was open for the modern chair and the work of science there, with its stuffings, its springs, its casters, its damasks, and all the rest—the chair that in the days and the land of the Tudors and Stuarts presupposed a mighty spine in the user, that in Venice declared an alert and active race, but that in France assumed itself to be the companion of weariness and the friend of leisure, and which, taking on an unrighteous splendor in the days of the second great modern monarch in Europe, in those of his successor, Louis Quinze, adapted itself to the shape, till the body found it luxuriously delightful as a pillowed cloud might be.


Flemish Chair, End of Fifteenth Century.

Another Venetian Chair.

The greater part of these chairs, through all the many years, were manufactured in wood, but occasionally they are found to have been in bronze, in iron, and even in more precious metals — such as the famous chair of Dagobert, and such as the chair in which Don Martin, King of Aragon, was throned when, after subduing the rebellion in Sicily against his son and daughter, the sovereigns there, he returned to take possession of his own crown, and entering Barcelona in triumph, was seated in this chair, made all of silver, and wrought in the highest style of Gothic beauty. Silver, indeed, was not at all an unusual article for the construction of furniture, especially when all other freaks had wearied; there is much elaborate silver furniture still in Windsor Castle, and we read that the chimney furniture of the beautiful rooms of the Duchess of Portsmouth, one of Charles the Second's wantons, was entirely of silver, and so was the furniture of the king's room, so called because of some royal visit there, in more than one of the vast English country-houses.

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