The Renaissance

THAT it has taken the historic movements of the world to produce the trivial things that constitute our household furniture—allowing that our furniture is trivial, and not as vital and necessary as temples and towers themselves—seems, at first sight, a monstrous declaration. But it is nevertheless true that the convulsions of empires and the epochs that have shaped the fate of races have also shaped the articles of our daily use; and the events that have brought about our styles of architecture have unfailingly reacted on our furniture and produced new styles there too.

Before the barbarians had destroyed the pos-sibilitv of further household art, the conversion of Constantine to Christianity had proved a death-blow to so-called profane art. Obediently to the imperial edicts issued after several milder ones had proved of no avail, the most beautiful works of antiquity were broken to fragments; whole cities waited on the word; temples were razed, gods overthrown, the lovely shapes of nymph and faun crumbled to dust in the furnaces; and such was the ruin that when the order to destroy these marvels of genius and workmanship was issued for the fourth time, by Honorius, the words were added, "if there be any."

But from the ashes of an old art a new one always springs. Ancient temples being no more, others were needed; and the Christians of the Eastern Empire, remembering with affection the circular buildings, used for sepul

Cinque-cento PaueL

chral purposes, of tlieir earliest worship at Rome, built churches in imitation of them, domed them, pinnacled them, decorated them, and Byzantine art was born, with all the symbolism of its ornament—the lily, the 6erpent, the sacred anagram of the fish, the trefoil and quatre-foil representing the Trinity and the four evangelists, the cross composed of five circles, and innumerable others. Doubtless this symbolism was a great stimulant to thought and to fancy, made doubly so by the history it hinted and interpreted in the absence of books, and evidently it wrought with force upon the imagination of those not yet so civilized as the Byzantine builders; and wherever the old Roman shapes, or remembrance of them, existed throughout the boundaries of the ancient dominion, the Byzantine laid hold of them in the round-arched, domed, and spired Romanesque and Romance styles. The Byzantine had all the impulse of the new religion that formed it; it was thoroughly vitalized, and easily wrought its will on the decaying substance of dead ideas. As it slowly travelled on its northern and western journey, it more rapidly moved southward, was seized upon by the Saracens at the conquest of Damascus, its ornament bent to their uses, and in its new guise—from which copies of living objects were excluded—was called Saracenic, and was carried by its masters into Egypt, into Sicily, and Spain; and whether the Northern and Western artists, who had been employed meanwhile in elaborating the rectangular basilicas, chanced to see it there, or whether the thing was only working itself out through the necessities of construction, the eleventh century saw the opening of that style where the idea of the Southern tent and of the long vista of the Northern forest met in the aisles and pinnacles with which the Gothic came to its splendid blossom in the thirteenth century. Thought was alive at last. The human mind, that had so long been benumbed beneath the pressure of superstition acting on the animal nature, began to stir; it had thrown off the shackles of the Middle-Age scholasticism—contending shadows of words. The people had outgrown the Crusades that had, however, enriched their experience and made them cosmopolitan ; all that the Arabs of Spain could so long have taught but for the suspicion of the theologians, became familiar to certain of them ; they began to look about and see what there was in the world that Aristotle did not know, and they took hold of nature as a child does to whom all is new. Roger Bacon was born; the laws of optics were discovered; the property of lenses; the elastic force of steam and gas; gunpowder; the compass; voyages were taken, and geography loomed into sight like the shores of another world; the feudal law gave way before the famous Roman law that governs us to-day; printing was invented; the Renaissance had dawned, and was sweeping forward to its noon—the Renais sance which may be dated from the year 1300, not long before Dante's birth.

In France this brilliant dawning went under a cloud in its first century.

Decoration Renaissance
Italian Oak Chair, Henri II. ; Walnut Credence, Louis XXL ; French and Flemish Pottery.

Burgundy had been a stronghold of monks and of the false scholasticism that concerned itself with phantasms instead of things—scholasticism that died hard, that got the upper hand, indeed, and wasted three precious centuries there with theological puzzles, reducing chemistry to alchemy again, astronomy to astrology, and mathematics to magic. But in Italy, Dante and Petrarch and Boccaccio, lighted on their path by what the Renaissance had already done in France with the Provençal poets and troubadours, and leaning on the music of the tongue they used, founded the Italian language, restored classic studies, sought and found ancient manuscripts, which Petrarch copied, and begged his friends to copy and multiply, a century before the printer. And with that the taste for classic

ßtndy grew and spread; the antique was in eager demand; explorers ransacked the corners of the old empire, and resurrected from their long burial the broken sculptures, the vases, the mosaics, that Constantine's edict had overthrown—a resurrection of wonders—and a new art fed upon the old. Then Cimabue and Giotto painted; Brunelleschi measured Rome and rebuilt Florence. All the world began to feel the impulse: Chaucer sung; Columbus discovered America; Copernicus discovered the laws of the universe; the Cid was written; Raphael and Leonardo lived; Michael Angelo and Titian, Ariosto and Tasso, Dürer, Camoens, Paracelsus. France took up the march; Greek savants came over from Constantinople, and Greek studies prevailed as Latin ones had done in Italy. In the next reign Francis I. returned from the long Italian wars, and brought Italian remembrances with him; Rabelais and Ronsard rose, Scaliger and Montaigne. The eye wearied of old lines, and craved new forms of beauty; the sight of the unburied antiquities, the rumor of their loveliness, caused a revulsion from Gothic grimness and distortion; the clas-

Decoration Renaissance
Flemiah Chair, 1680; Oak Credence, Francis I.; Screen in Flemish Tapestry.

sicists had their way in France as they did in Florence; the Louvre was made over, Fontainebleau was built; and the Renaissance, whatever its results, reached its extreme at length with Tycho Brahe in science, fol-

Armoire inlaid with Marble and Colored Wood, Francis I.; Italian Walnut Chair, Seventeenth Century;

Bust in White Faience, Ronen.

Armoire inlaid with Marble and Colored Wood, Francis I.; Italian Walnut Chair, Seventeenth Century;

Bust in White Faience, Ronen.

lowed quickly as he was by Kepler and Galileo, with Luther in religion, with Palladio in art.

Of course such a great tide, as this uprising of the intellect was, could not thus sweep through the world without reaching all the by-places and sending currents into the narrowest channels; and thus it was that it reached every man's hearth. And when it had revived literature, breathed new breath into art, remodelled churches and palaces, it set about remodelling furniture. Printing had superseded the Gothic cathedral. Those who had studied the history of the world and of their country, the representation of the virtues and vices, the lessons of handicraft and the beauties of religion, in the thousands and thousands of figures carved on the cathedral, could study these things to infinitely more advantage between the covers of a book. The Gothic cathedral was practically ended, and with it Gothic carving and Gothic shapes. Meanwhile the universal application of the Roman law, giving right and equity and the protection of government to every citizen, hindered the necessity of any man's making his house a fortress, and the castle became the château, palace, manor-house, hall, grange. The manor-house and palace then, with their great glass windows, their light and airy rooms, their balconies and gardens, and their intimate home life, from which the communism of the clan had utterly disappeared, required no more hard and formal shapes in the furnishing and adorning, but shapes fit for ease and enjoyment ; and thus the Roman law brought Roman luxury again, and with the unearthing of the Pandects at Amalfi, long before Pompeii shook off her ashes her splendors were revived. The Italian cities, alive and answering to the age, as commercial cities always are, were already rich in luxury. Venice, through her intercourse with the Levant, teemed with Oriental beauty ; Florence modified this by the clarified and cultured taste of her court ; Pisa and Genoa were not far behind. When the French princes married Italian princesses, the latter brought their luxury and love of beauty with them ; and the artists who had wrought the Flamboyant Gothic to its last degree of attenuation seized this Venetian and Florentine brilliancy and covered it with French originality. What Francis I. began, Catherine de' Medici, the wife of Henri Deux, continued, and Mary de' Medici, the mother of Louis Treize, strove to uphold. With the latter monarch the Renaissance, in furniture at any rate, may be said to end, as the next reign—in which the tide of thought, checked three hundred years before, flowed back over France—brought in something with an immense difference ; although all styles since the period of Louis Treize belong derivatively to the Renaissance, yet they have acquired a more distinctive character, and, as one might say, a personal identity.

All this thorough change of style in furniture was made the more possible by the fact that the wars, from the time of the Crusades downward, had so told upon the resources of many of the nobles that they had been obliged to sell portions of their patrimony, the land had been divided and subdivided, wealth had been created, and there were a multitude of buyers, the money of the rich bourgeois being as much worth to the artisan as any other money. Every article made was made, of course, to fit the new life, and not the old idea. They all became lighter, easier to handle, their construction unwisely less apparent, their ornament the main consideration ; the heavy hinges were dropped, the elaborate hammered iron-work, the locks ; delicate mouldings appeared, panels glazed with exquisite faience, carvings where classic fancy yet wrestled with Gothic monsters; in the later era, marquetry of rare woods, and incrustation of tortoise-shell and brass, mother-of-pearl, ivory, and niello-work. And thus composed of various elements, a mixture of all the world had ever seen, but essaying to

clarify itself along the way, the Renaissance swept forward to its full development and perfection in the revival of the ancient Roman arabesques, the imitation of fruit and flower, and leaf and bird, the banishment of shield and strap, the exclusion of symbolism, the recognition of nothing but ¿f absolute beauty, the delight of the (J aesthetic sense, the worship of the "ongh" curve, the high comedy of "Much ^ftjgy Ado About Nothing" and of "A6 You Like It" in the Italian Cinque- vT'1' cento. For the Gothic had meant JJF*^iTT^ aspiration to the unknown, the opening of life on the side of the soul, while the Renaissance in art meant nothing but the passing moment and the enjoyment of the senses.

After the lightness and less solemn character of the pieces of furniture in the Renaissance, the chief characteristic is their ornament; their shape, meanwhile, ceasing almost entirely to present anything original. This ornament is so peculiar, that no one who has once become acquainted with it can fail to recognize it. It everywhere follows and strives for the classic, dallying on the way with the Byzantine that enchains and masters it, and haunted, meanwhile, by the old Gothic ghost that will not down.

It is full of delicate interlacings in the beginning, intricate linear tracery, fine scroll-work, and conventional foliage—that is, the foliage treated upon a geometrical plan. This is the form known as the Trecento, and which owes a great debt to the Saracen. After the year 1400 it leaves the old traditional subjects, and seeks new ones to its mind—natural rendering of fruit and flower and insect and other objects; and at that time, the period of the Quattrocento, the cartouch, or scrolled and pierced shield-work, appears, borrowed from heraldry. It is the era, then, of Luca, della Rob-bia, of niello-work, of enamelled pottery. And finally, after the year 1500, the cartouch and strap disappear, the arabesque perfects itself with exquisite lightness and grace, classical details abound, especially the old

Greek anthemion, the fret, and the acanthus, sculptures of scarcely surpassed loveliness, and grotesqueries so full of spirit that the whole 6eems to be a style of light high comedy, suitable only to pleasure, to the delights of a sensuous love,of beauty. And yet it has been used on funeral monuments.

But this last development of the style, the Cinque-cento, was one that required too wide and deep a knowledge for the usual decorator; besides being an artist, he must be antiquarian, scholar, scientist, and poet; and it was only for about fifty years that it was pursued.

Thus it will be seen that no style presents such a medley as the whole career of the Renaissance—classical and Saracenic ornaments on the same piece of work; panels faceted and cut like jewels; the square parting the circle; human and ideal figures, and those of birds and beasts and reptiles, natural, conventional, and grotesque; the crescent, the vase, the cartouch; all flat decoration: a harnessing of straps, buckles, ribbons. It is the style of caprice; set free from the rules that had so long bound it, the art revelled in unconfined fantasy.

Piano, Louis XIIL

It was the second stage of this style that Francis I. brought into France, and that was so universally adopted there under his successor, in furniture and in all other ornamentation, that it acquired the name of Henri Deux. Its shapes were tall and rather narrow; frequently the legs of the larger pieces were vase-like, with the smaller vase of the flat panel upon the flat front; there were tiny pyramidal panels cut in jewel forms.

scattered here and there; sometimes four small circles around a fifth made the central ornament of large panels, recalling the Byzantine, while there were squares parting ellipses, and triangles broken again by circular forms, which latter, when surmounting any article, seem to be a reminiscence of the Gothic dais, possibly of the Gothic freemason; there were scrolled and conventional and natural floriage and fruit; cartouches, and intimations of 6traps and buckles were everywhere; and slender columns with Ionic volutes, and echinus, and guilloche, announced the influence of the Classic. This style, with more or less degeneration, prevailed during several of the brief reigns which followed that of Henri Deux. It was furniture of this description that surrounded Mary Stuart when her home was at the French court. But With the bloody religious wars in that day of St. Bartholomew, there was a general decadence of all decorative ideas and the application of them. The people were occupied with weightier matters; and the furniture of the reigns of Henri Quatre and Louis Treize is heavy and sad in comparison, the gayeties and fripperies usually wanting, but with the material adornment of rich inlay of ebony, lapis lazuli, pearl, and other costly variegated substances. Occasionally there were articles of satisfying beauty in the Louis Treize, of whose initial ideas the artists of to-day have known how to take advantage; but, as a rule, a room in that style is so dismally dreary and formal as to be almost funereal; the exuberant carving, when not ponderous and offensively out of taste, has become a meagre artifice, the greater part of the ornament of the wood is simply turned and twisted, taking and giving pleasant lights, but betraying a paucity of fancies. The fringes are the principal adornment of the seats, and the chief beauty is in the material.

Wonderfully different from that of this grave style is the furniture of the Cinque-cento, a style which aspired to nothing but to display itself in curves of complete loveliness, with no reference to any other emotion than pleasure; a style crowded with a fantasy of grace and luxuriance and laughter—the laughter of the gods; a style where every object in nature or art was seized upon and turned into beauty and made merry with, and where the refined bauter of the grotesque saw harlequins rollicking in the Grecian honeysuckles, wrought the acanthus scrolls into dolphins, and set fools' caps on the chimeras. Its shapes are stately, its figures

Diuing-t&ble, Louis XIII.

perfect, its humor triumphant, its arabesques so rich in detail that hardly an inch escapes decoration with a grace and exuberance of line that, in maintaining its curve, runs into all sorts of vagaries—imps frolicking in the flowers, dragon-flies that have half the mind to be winged griffins, leaves that fashion crowned, and bearded faces, the gayety of the whole in its free fancy never forgetting beauty. One can scarcely realize the grace and resplendence of such a piece of furniture adorned with the inlay of variegated stones, picked out with gold, and presenting the full wealth of life-like colors that distinguish the Cinque-cento.

Ebony Cabinet, Child's Walnut Chair, Oak Easel, Louis XIII.; Italian Sconce, with Copper and Gold

Chasing, Sixteenth Century.

Nothing more luxurious, perhaps nothing more enervating, can be conceived than lovely lofty rooms ornamented and finished in this style, to which only the soft and silvery sheens of satin belong as drapery. It is the furniture of summer palaces; its construction requires artists; its purchase the revenue of kingdoms. It tells in itself the whole march of life,

Ebony Cabinet, Child's Walnut Chair, Oak Easel, Louis XIII.; Italian Sconce, with Copper and Gold

Chasing, Sixteenth Century.

Nothing more luxurious, perhaps nothing more enervating, can be conceived than lovely lofty rooms ornamented and finished in this style, to which only the soft and silvery sheens of satin belong as drapery. It is the furniture of summer palaces; its construction requires artists; its purchase the revenue of kingdoms. It tells in itself the whole march of life,

fro.m the military encampment in the gloomy halls of the dark castle, to the dancing, laughing, flower-clad life in the lighted, sumptuous apartments whose low windows open on verandas round which the gardens bloom and the fountains leap.

Reuaissauce Table.

0 0

Post a comment