The Elizabethan

WHILE the Renaissance was working its way to the beauty of the antique in Italy, it was having no such success in Holland; for although their Flemish neighbor caught its spirit, the products of the Dutch themselves remained dull and heavy evidences of the use of a manner whose raison Wetre was not understood. In their struggle for civic life and religious liberty, they had little thought to waste on gewgaws; but their habits of thrift remained, and if people wished their furnitures thus and thus shaped and thus carved, the Dutch made them to suit the market. Nevertheless, age adds a sanctity to everything; and many of those old Dutch cabinets, gloomy, top - heavy, and overloaded as they are, sometimes covered with carving to the last splinter, and sometimes a solid patchwork of pottery of the most exquisite colors, are still so much sought after that it pays the counterfeiter well to fashion them in darkened wood with worn profiles to-day.

It was by way of Holland that the Renaissance reached England, partly by reason of the extensive commerce with the Low Countries; partly, perhaps, through the English sympathy with the people in their struggle there. It is only to Dutch example that we can attribute the heavy character of the Elizabethan style in furniture—the immense diameters of the supports, for instance, as sturdy as the legs of any plethoric burgomaster.

The Gothic had already begun to forget itself in England, and in the reign of Ilenry VII. had bent its high flight into the hunched and lowbrowed Tudor arch. It was ready now for further change, but not quite ready to surrender its existence; and thus all the Renaissance that came into England through the Elizabethan gate had still to pay tribute to the Gothic on its way. Neither pure Classic, nor pure Gothic, nor pure Renaissance, it yet had a certain royal warrant of its own, a stately charm, of which the English are still proud, speaking of it as the " noble Elizabethan manner," although this applies to the decoration of walls and ceilings, perhaps, more closely than to articles of furniture. There are many ancient drawing-rooms in England, in whose decoration there may be observed a delicate fancy of interlacing line on nearly as satisfying a plane as the Sar acenic. The strap-work, indeed, which was the first distinguishing feature of the Elizabethan, was, after all, nothing but a play of line, and allowed the greatest liberty to the individual artist. It required genius, though, to develop it properly, and it was too frequently nothing but a medley of uninteresting sequences; and when the shield-work was added, and pierced shield-work at that, it sometimes became confusion worse confounded. This strap and shield work, it may be remembered, was very noticeable in the Henri Deux style in France, with which, indeed, the Elizabethan was contemporary, that style ranging over the reigns of several successive monarchs.

Shield-work—the cartouch—is simply what it purports to be, the representation of the armorial shield and its supports, the latter pierced in every conceivable manner, with circles, lozenges, crescents, and all 6orts of openings, at first sight without rhyme or reason, although the interstices will be found, on examination, to assist in the general outline and effect. This use of the cartouch seems to be derived from the escutcheon and its heraldic ensigns, and the influence of those armorial bearings in the stormy periods of their assumption. Strap-work, also, is a term used as fitly as words can be used in description. What it describes is an elaborate tracery, in imitation of 6traps and buckles, varied sufficiently to atone for the meagreness of the type; and where it pleases at all, pleasing by its repeti-

Elizabethan Table from Leeds Castle, Kent.

tion, its symmetry, and the exact way in which each line seems to fit its place. It would be interesting to follow to its origin this strap-work, used so largely in Saracenic ornament as to suggest the Arab love and admiration of the horse of the desert; and to discover if both strap and cartouch were not reminiscent of the time of chivalry and the Crusades, with all their harnessing, their shields, and banners.

The Elizabethan pure and simple, that belonging to the exact era of the queen, has this strap-work sometimes finished off with slight scrolls— foliages, the Italians called them—and associated with some classical ideas not yet very exclusively or carefully managed; straps appearing well riveted to the middle of classic ornaments, and antique shapes rising, like the afrite out of the jar, from the curious Renaissance pilaster, neither a vase nor a pilaster, in truth, broken as it is half-way by the rising shape, like those of the Term®, with which the ancients made their boundaries sacred, smaller at the base than anywhere else, and bearing straps, arabesques, and rosettes on its face. The spirit which allowed this mingling of the Gothic and the Classic in the Elizabethan is nowhere more perfectly illustrated than where Shakspeare, in his " Midsummer Night's Dream," sends his Gothic fairies to frolic in the Athenian forest.

You will sometimes find an Elizabethan chimney-piece, the fluted and channelled columns and the entablature of which leave little to be desired except the absence of the strap, which is apt to be bound somewhere about their length. Yet oftener the chimney-pieces are examples of cumbrous classicality, in which the drawing of the figure is not sufficiently correct to warrant the artist in giving the whole of it. Over the chimney-piece there was frequently an elaborate dais, and another over the door, thus giving prominence to the hospitality of the age, dignifying the door-way of the guest's entrance and the chimney-side to which he was made welcome. Above these places pithy mottoes, expressive of the duties of the entertainer, were carved.

Nothing can be finer in a lofty room than an old Elizabethan ceiling with all its intersecting curves and angles. Some of these ceilings were of a rich plaster-work, with deep square caissons, and bosses at all the intersections, or else a light crossing and recrossing of the interlaced arcs and chords of a small circle, with a mask, a rose, a leaf, or a star, at every crossing of the lines; but others were of the oaken beams, carved and gilt and often picked out in gay colors.

The panelling of the Elizabethan mansions was not the linen or parchment panel, popular in the preceding reign, although that was frequently adopted, but a simpler rectangular form of ornamentation that breaks up the surface of the wainscot nearly to the top of the room.

The Elizabethan chair is generally a very narrow and high-backed, low-seated chair, and except in its ornament, where the scroll plays a graceful but still rather unmeaning part, does not vary greatly from the chairs that preceded it; and we have seen chairs with an indubitable genealogy attached to them as Henri Deux and as Louis Treize, square, uncouth, half-backed, with twisted wood and fringed coverings, that could not be told from other of the chairs used in Elizabeth's day; there were also broad straight-backed seats, indicative of a time when lounging was not thought of, and hardly comfort, unless the human back was a stouter mechanism than it is to-day. But the tables, beds, and cabinets of the period are much more novel, and are to be rivalled, in the queer taste they display, only by the Dutch. These are characterized, wherever the column is used in their construction—and that is almost everywhere—by a slight inversion of regular Greek architecture, in a base of foliage to the column, something after the style of the Assyrian base, although in that the leaves grow down instead of up. Out of this globular mass of foliage the bulky column rises to complete itself, sometimes going straight to the top, sometimes pausing on the way to bulge out in another great globular mass, as if the not yet century old discovery that the world was round was a fact that the artists were still playing with. There are yet existing massive four legs bound together by strong cross-bars at right angles, as if they were not stout enough to go alone, although able to uphold a moderate roof; at some distance above the cross-bars the legs effloresce into the big spheres, the foliage on the lower half of the sphere growing up, and on the upper half growing down, divided in the middle by a ring or strap, or else efflorescing into a hemisphere of acanthus leaves. Other elephantine structures are extension-tables made to pull apart till the top falls into place, when it has doubled its apparent size. There are cabinets, too, of equally heavy design, with the vase-like pilasters and their Termœ between the doors, and with all sorts of relief in the favorite style of work, sometimes with sculptured figures and groups, the mighty cornice meanwhile upheld by pillars that again put forth the globular excrescence at some point, usually at about the centre of their length ; there are others whose great curling sideposts are one enormous scroll, beside which the inspiring but bulky Dutch ones, with their finely bevelled panels, have an air of noble dignity. The great tables of the period that stand on tables of the period that stand on

Elizabethan Table from Longford Castle.

size of the rooms for which these articles were designed should always be taken into account both in judging them and imitating them ; for massive and mighty pieces, within narrow bounds, simply assume their fit and unnoticeable size when space expands around them. Although the style exercises a certain fascination from the fact, perhaps, that it is so essentially and individually a style, and from its suggestion of a people making use of it, full of strength and of ideas, its interest attaches to the past, and it is not exactly suited, we think, to modern reproduction. Yet there was something about this furniture curiously in accord with the mighty farthingales and high heels and starched ruffs of the ladies who

. . . , . Elizabethan Table from Flaxton Hall, Suffolk.

moved among it, waited on by their ruffed and rapiered, stiff and stately, gallants. Hardly any other would 6eem so much in keeping with stout old Queen Bess herself; and it acquires another interest when we remember that it was articles of this description that surrounded Shakspeare and Raleigh and Bacon and Spenser, and all the rest of that noble cluster that loom through the mist of liistory in the stature of demi-gods.

XVI.

THE JACOBEAN.

WITH the ascension of James I. to the English throne, we can assume that such a greater degree of splendor was added to everything as usually appears at the crowning of another monarch, with the new hopes and promises of the beginning of a reign, and the different fashions caused by the new individuality. And as nothing at home, easily reached and commonly seen, is ever quite so much valued as that which comes from abroad, it is likely that many articles of splendor were then brought from across the water; for, at any rate, at this time a fresh influx of foreign influence is seen to have made fresh havoc with such Gothic as remained. The shield, which, through the

Flemish Chair of Crispin De Passe. preference for the strap, had been but sparsely used in the preceding reign, and which had already much more vogue on the Continent, came now to be the centre of all decoration, and was lavished everywhere in a wild whirl of flourishing curves, together with the previously common straps and buckles and general tackle of war. Its universal use gave a somewhat less interesting air to the decoration than it had when the purer interlacing of the strap, with but here and there the convolutions of the shield, supplied its place.

But the Jacobean by no means contented itself with this simpler form of Renaissance. In other characteristics it tended more and more to the Classic, although never arriving at purity: in construction, that is, the horizontal of the antique mingling with the vertical of the mediaeval, and a volute upholding a pointed arch; in ornament, the Tudor leaf upon a Grecian frieze, with other equally maladroit and inappropriate arrangements, the furniture being, besides, of such an architectural description in

its main outlines that columns and capitals and arches and architraves were as proper to cabinet and table as to church and palace. But it was not, in truth, for more than a hundred years thereafter that pure classicism came to be well understood in England.

Much of the Flemish furniture corresponds with that which we find in England during the Jacobean era. Indeed, at an earlier date the Flemings were furnishing English mansions with something like monopoly, for we are told that " the chests and cupboards used in England in the fifteenth century were imported from Flanders: this, in the reign of Richard III., was considered to act so prejudicially to the interests of English workmen that a law was made 6 agaynst straunger artificiers,' prohibiting, among other articles of furniture, the importation of cupboards." Whether the law was evaded or not we do not know, but certainly there was many a Flemish cupboard in those old Elizabethan and Jacobean dwellings. The Flemish, and also the German, cabinet and credence, when , -

adorned as usual with carvings, may be — recognized by their more dramatic if ^MU^iak'

less graceful character, inclining to heav-

iness albeit—the Germans choosing, by- Sr ^Saa the-way, a rather didactic form of illus- S wflr^i trating in a literal faithfulness certain ^jfl classic and Scriptural legends. But although the Flemish carver was in the yf condition of the artist who complains XjL. O— §

that "his reach exceeds his grasp"—the /

more Northern mind never quite thor- 1 ^p**^ ~ ■ i oughly assimilating the light caprices M^F^XTOKSH^s: of the South, and apt to make a rude v r^ mimicry of its charming fooleries—his ideas wrought themselves, notwithstanding, into the picturesque.

Thus, while the French furnitures still retained the stately and sombre *

character into which their art had fallen under Henri Quatre and Louis Treize, the influence of the Italian form of the Renaissance, through the filter of the Flemish, made itself very distinctly felt in the Jacobean of the English; not, that is, so much in the effort of the Italian toward aesthetic perfection as in the play of fancy, stimulated by rumor and sometimes by sight of the new forms, but unacquainted with the laws that should control it. And even those Italian workmen who found employment in ebenisterie in England must have fettered themselves by the requirements of the taste around them, in great measure.

We are told that not long before this period a certain large scallop shell had been brought home from distant seas, and that it took the eye of the decorators amazingly. A scallop shell could not, however, have been any new thing, for it had long ago been the distinctive badge of the pilgrim who had visited Palestine and picked it up on the shores there, and the escalop was a permitted bearing on the heraldic shield of one whose ancestors had made the same pilgrimage; and Bernard Palissy had used the tertiary shells in the decoration of his pottery. However this may be, it was now seized by the designers and used at every turn, never, of course, with the absurd profuseness of a later day, but quite upon the verge of that profuseness. If upon taking a chair you were not startled by the head of a monster leering over your shoulder, or his claws protruding beside your feet, you were likely to find yourself backed by a huge scallop, or half enclosed in the opening valves of another. Sometimes the effect, in a sumptuous drawing-room of fairy colors, may have been pleasing; but, as a rule, the whole chair, made in the form of a single shell, and the long couch, moulded with the whorls and channels of such a shell as belongs to Venus Anadyomene, can hardly be considered either so worthy or so beautiful as merely curious. But these shell forms and the shell in decoration disputed with the cartouch and cuirs—as they called the straps abroad—with rosette and scroll, with the fabulous griffins, and with the mermaids of the grotesque, whose tails, turning into scrolls, are seen dividing both to the right and left in the ornamentation of the Jacobean furnitures and chimney-pieces. Still, whatever the shapes, the carvings of the various articles were sufficiently rich, however questionable their taste, and the period has been called the Cinque-cento period of Eng

Jacobenn Cabluct.

f lish art. Yet, if such a thing were possible, it was the grotesquerie of the Cinque-cento disassociated from its loftier beauty, that is to say, what we understand by the word grotesque when used colloquially—the monstrous and ludicrous rather than the lovely—the word grotesque coming into use from the fact of the old arabesques that inspired the Cinque-cento, and with which the Italian so delighted itself, having originally been found in the grottos, while the application of the word in our language shows sufficiently the appreciation which such things found at that time in the general English mind; and both the application of the word and the use made of the designs show, moreover, that an exotic art can seldom have a healthy natural growth in a foreign land, that the mind which conceives is oftenest the only one that can go on originating in the special line, while the outside mind can only copy, and the errors of the mere copyist are wont to be equalled only by his vulgarities. If in the earlier Elizabethan there were massive Jacobean Court Cupboard.

traits to accord with the magnificent monarch of the era, in the Jacobean, with its torture of outline into conceits and quirks and quips, with the profusenees of its gilding, with its affectation of acquaintance with foreign fashion, even with the stiffness of that about it which chanced to be simple, and with the pedantic ignorance, if we may say so, of its misuse of classic details, we are reminded only of the vanity, arrogance, and petty travesty of majesty of James himself.

Nevertheless, the custom of more than two hundred years has taken off much of the objectionable in this style, for those things no longer likely to be repeated cease to be subjects of criticism, and are regarded as interesting and picturesque memorials. In the mean while, the style is valuable as showing the movements of the English mind in one of the many processes of art: The scale of its use in the decoration of such stately homes as Crewe Hall, Audley End, and Holland House—although the former, built on the boundary-line of the two reigns, is as often credited to the Elizabethan—its broad masses of light and shade, and its quaint and curious elaboration, render it stately and attractive; but it needs all the space and grandeur surrounding it that can be given in order not to

Diuing-room of Crewe Hall.

be vulgarized. Having so little in itself that is original, being on one side a new development of the style of the previous half century, and on the other an ill-adapted use of a Southern style (the Italian), the Jacobean is not often considered as a thing by itself, but, as we havd already said, it is usually regarded as a freak, and possibly a debasement, of the less pretentious but more pleasing Elizabethan.

Of late years a revival of this style has taken place under modifications that entitle it to the name of Neo-Jacobean, modern ideas being applied to the fashions of two hundred and fifty years ago, and modern art doing its best in the design and the daring yet exquisite arrangement of colors of the paper-hangings, which were unknown for nearly half a century after the original Jacobean came into vogue. The Another Jacobean Court Cupboard. principal modification which the style has undergone is in the reduced size of its articles and of their members, so that the huge acorn becomes something much more like a long slim vase, and chimney-pieces ornament a room without crushing it with their importance, in the dismissal of the shield, and the rendering of the tiny Classic balustrade wherever it can be inserted, while the old Gothic cove at the daised top of sideboard and mantel is not forgotten. There are many mantel-piece arrangements, with shelves and nooks and crannies for the security and display of knick-knacks, in this new form of the style —a form whose endeavor 6eems to be to produce solidity without altogether losing grace, although it must be confessed that, in lacking the nobler size of its prototype, it does not entirely escape stiffness, in spite of its generally pleasing effect.

Dining-room at Holland House.

0 0

Post a comment