The Louis Quatorze

THE grace and beauty of tlife Renaissance, while it was still pursuing its serene course in Italy, and endeavoring to make headway against the Gothic in England, had been falling into neglect in France, so that the lovely furnitures of the reigns of Francis I. and his successor would hardly have recognized much relationship with those that followed.

It is true that the later furniture was still well and solidly built, and there yet remain frequent specimens of great beauty and much interesting quaintness. But, in the main, design had been diverted from it, owing to foreign wars and religious disturbances, with a decimated and impoverished population either for manufacturing or buying; the arts in general had languished, and nearly all the sweet play of fancy that illustrated the early Renaissance was absent from the furnitures of less than a century after.

It was only when the splendors of the court of the Grande Monarque blazed up, that furniture, following the lead of architecture and general decoration, took a fresh departure, and clothed itself in what has been called a new style, probably because it is almost utterly unlike any of the old ones, constituting so veritable a rebirth that the French themselves are apt to consider it a second Renaissance. If it was not entirely novel in its repetitions, it was in its motif; it retained, for instance, the cartouch of previous styles, always made a prominent centre, magnified and distorted; but the scrolls, the ribbons, the straps, that accompanied and inwreathed these cartouches, were used not only as ornament, but also as structure, and fairly turned into the legs, and arms, and brackets, and other members of the various articles of furniture themselves, although, to be sure, it had some excuse for such treatment in the excrescences and vagaries of other styles. This is what will be perceptible to any one studying the outlines of a table or chair or couch in this style, even if much more important and striking differentiations presently develop to the eye both in separate pieces and in the broad effect of many in furnishing a room.

One of the characteristic elements of the style of the Louis Quatorze, applied to furniture, is the system of curves and flourishes into which it breaks up every profile and surface—a multitude of loose profligate lines/wanting-in all tha modesty of nature or majesty of art. An inverted S, the upper and lower limbs used as separate features, adorned and joined —the shape of certain lines of the violin infinitely less refined—expresses the tendency of the greater part of its outlines—loose curvatures that filled the ideal of grace in their day under the impression that they obeyed the line of beauty; but the line of beauty, it has been decided, follows a chaster curve—one that does not launch out in all its force at once, but that cherishes some repression and restraint. The style avails itself, also, of the usual forms of the Renaissance? but always, with this recurrent setting; and it cares little for beauty of-detail, that it can attain sharp light and shade. The origin of the style would seem to have been primarily in decorative purposes in building, and its use was adopted into furniture from that. It^came from Italy, and it was largely used by the Jesuits jn their structures. While exhibiting at first a semblance of purity and..humility jn_the absence of much decorative painting and color, it f Tused the most brilliant and dazzling of all possible combinations in white-and-gold stucco-work.

In the preceding century, beautiful and superior as the furniture was, it was 6till so costly in table, chair, and cabinet that only the very wealthy could indulge in any great amount of it. Thus, for instance, benches, tressels, and coffers had still been in use for seats. If a plain citizen had a single chair, he did well. And in general the rich chairs and fauteuils belonged to those who could afford to overlay them with cloth of gold, if they wished to do so; and they were made with the greatest care, Paris having already established a reputation for fine work in this department. The arm-chair was still so unused to common possession that it had not outworn its honors, and even in the reign of the Dieu-donne himself, as Louis Quatorze was sometimes called, contests were maintained for the " right of using the arm-chair " in the royal presence.

But with the introduction of the new style and its resulting manner of work, all the world could afford chairs and tables. Gilding covered a multitude of sins then, as it does now; rude work escaped observation under the slurred light that gilding casts, and gilt deal and plaster were immeasurably cheaper and easier to attain than that solid seasoned wood and fine carving to which the workman needed to give years. Thus Paris took hold of the new 6tyle, and in taking hold of it made it her own, gave it eventually another identity, and at once a wonderful brilliancy. The means taken to reach this identity and brilliancy were a multiplicity of points of relief, in the first place, and an indifference to symmetry, in the second place — a disregard and sometimes an intentional avoidance of it, as by that means greater variety of light and shade was attained ; and that was always the end in view, the convex and the concave alternating, gilt projection npon hollow background. Although the general schemejwjs^lajsaLcalj, countless details making no pretence to the classical were adopted : shells, flowers, fruit, birds ; scrolls either in smooth outline or in that of the acanthus ; heads and faces of ladies of fashion ; ribbons, shields, straps—all mingled, but all with a view to their disposal merely in the possibilities of light and shade.

All the peculiarities of the style, of course, exaggerated themselves as they went along ; so much so that in the next reign they had become so elaborated as to deserve separate no-; tice, the Louis Quinze having many characteristics whose germ is to be Louis Quatorze chair. f°und in its predecessor, but whose development is its own ; although, as the title Elizabethan comprises, unless when speaking precisely, much that really came after it, so it is not unusual to speak of both of these French styles uuder the generic name of the Quatorze.

Whether meretricious orno^ nothing could be more brilliant than the effects thus produced. They bent themselves especially to interior decoration, and they constituted a style to be chosen where great display and splendor are desired—the style of state occasion and parade. An excellent thing in the style was that it took into" its plan not merely the sofas and cushions, but the jwholej'oom—doors, chimneys, ceiling, walls. The cabinets fitted the design as much as the panels, the mirrors fitted the panels ; such a panel needed the support of such a table, with its sprawling legs beneath it; such a coup (Tœil would have been unfinished in the design without such a couch and cabinet and drapery to complete it. The pictorial quality was always considered, and, such as it was, a saloon in the Louis Quatorze had no appearance of a bric-à-brac shop of curious incongruities ; but when it was surrendered by the designer to the owner, it was one harmonious whole. Of course the result was exceedingly gay and bright, and better adapted to be the outward expression of life in that magnificent and scandalous era than anything simpler or chaster. "All that the taste of the time could combine of flowers, ciphers, and allegories was scattered over a golden background " in one of the rooms of thp

apartment of the Queen Regent at that period ; " a solitary window, of which the frame was silver, served to light it."

It was a wonderful reign, that of the monarch under whose sceptre this order of decoration advanced. It compassed the entire period of six rulers of the English people and a portion of the reign of two others, and a style invented or applied under such fostering circumstances had time to understand itself and to progress undisturbed to the achievement of all that it intended. The one peculiarity of the times waô that of theatrical, ostentation or hollow sEow;., The long curling peruke and gorgeous robes ôï the king never failed to assist his stature, and strengthen the divine right of a potentate who patronized genius while himself ignorant of scholarship, and had the reputation of a hero without possessing knowledge of soldiery, who by his exactions and prodigality sowed the seed that not a hundred years later destroyed the divine right of all potentates, and who, with the finances of his kingdom bankrupt, yet maintained his place as the first sovereign of Europe only to have his hearse hounded by curses. Meanwhile lighter elements played about the immense pretensions of his magnificence; and if it was the age of Condé, Colbert, Bossuet, and Massil-lon, it was also the age of Molière, of Watteau, and of the musician Lulli. It would hardly have been in nature that such an era should produce any higher order of decoration than that of these flourishing lines in gilt stucco. Spectacle was to be regarded first of all ; solid reality was a matter of no consequence.

It was with the constant view to brilliant effect, of which we have spoken, that, as a rule, the flat superficies in the Louis Quatorze was little used, except under the control of marquetry and boule. Every surface was channelled and interlined ; it protruded, it receded, it was never stationary. Wherever the Grecian anthemion was used, it represented the round and ribbed shell ; and all these perpetually repeated lines, chan-nellings, flutings, and mouldings took the light forcibly, with sharp and shining profile, and made resplendent effect of brilliant lights and subtle shadows. This is more absolutely true, however, of the decoration of the room itself, in wall and ceiling and chimney, than of the furniture. There, on the so much lesser scale, the flat surface was not so infrequent in the ornament ; but in 6uch case it was never used without the aid of color, in marquetry, in enamels, and in the delicate painting of Watteau and others. Watteau, in the ornamentation of small rooms, framed his fetes and garden scenes with this scroll-work of the lines exacted by the style, mingled with fantasias of birds and flowers and flies, with free use of color.

Of course, under such a system of decoration, where all that was aimed at was present effect, and not permanence, furniture took an unstable character. There was a certain Igvely grace in the undulatory curves of the longjeg^jof-tableft^and cliairs and many of the elevated cabinets, as one^s first glimpse had them — a grace of which one wearied as of too much sweets, a grace all of which was revealed at once, leaving no bonmAyomhe for by-and-by. But there was no coherence,_or appearance of it; construction was defied, and the pieces might nearly as well have been built of reeds. With the exception of bookcases, which, owing to the scarcity of books even then, did not enjoy much increase of amplitude, every article of furniture received some variation from its past standard, and many altogether novel ones were produced from modifications of the old. Yet the ornament of furniture never was more dazzling; rare woods entered into the structure, while jasper, bone, coral, mother-of-pearl, lapis, enamels, and bronzes were still freely used.

Louis Quatorze Drawing-room.

Draperies were generously employed in the Louis Quatorze, and had become wonderfully fine both as hangings and as coverings to seats. The production of these tapestries had, many years before, been transferred to France by the Gobelins, Dutch makers of hangings, and established in Paris on the borders of a little brook in the Faubourg St. Marceau, whose waters were supposed to have some peculiar property valuable in the scarlet dyes of which Gobelin had discovered the secret. After the manufacture came under the royal protection, Colbert, the great financier, placed it in the charge of Le Brun, the artist; and nothing can rival the delicacy and beauty of tlie finish given to these tapestries, reproducing masterpieces of ancient painting and portraiture that counterfeited life. These magnificent fabrics adorned walls and windows, and covered furniture and heightened its effect, whenever they could be had; and, in the opposite contingent, they were replaced by embroideries only less precious, and by velvets looped back with ropes and tassels of gold. An engraving can give no idea of anything but the faults of the Louis Qua-torze, which needs to be seen in all its space and splendor, its white and gold and colors; and general eye-taking glitter.

The most striking novelty.of the. style, after the essential novelty of the shape, was the boule-work with its shell marquetry on vermilion or on gilded ground; and the exquisitely chased brass-work that, originally used to spare the weaker and more exposed portions of the inlay, afterward became a part of the plan of the ornament, was richly chased, and frequently thrown into relief with the finest repouss^-work. This incrustation and inlay made no simple adornment conforming to time-honored rules; on the contrary, it carried fantasy itself before it, and usurped everything to its own dominion. One had the article for the sake of the boule. The boule was no accident of the table or cabinet; the table or cabinet was a mere background and means of being for the boule. The inlay of these brilliant metals, costly marbles, ivory, and nacre upon dark rich material of ebony, lapis lazuli, precious serpentine, tortoise-shell, and the like, followed not only the elements of the style, but with those elements framed and surrounded a pictured mosaic of landscape, or of portrait, or of battle-scene, where the hues were as rich as, and the contrasts were more striking than, those of any allowable painting. Thus it would be difficult to conjure up anything more radiant and imposing, and in a certain sense beautiful, than one of the lustrous, lofty rooms of the Louis Quatorze, where, light and shade being the controlling thought, the soft rich hues of carpet and curtain and the burnished gold and wondrous color of the many-tinted inlay of the furniture are carried up and lost in the white and gilt splendor of wall, cornice, and ceiling, till the place and scene are regal, and fit only for the gallantries of the plumed and jewelled personages of courts.

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