THE first coverings worn by furniture were very differently arranged from those which are to-day sewed and nailed on over springs. Everything was then tossed on the article, to drape itself naturally, and probably the effect was quite as luxurious, although the convenience may be a matter of question. The Romans had splendid stuffs, woven usually of wool and embroidered with gold, thrown loosely over their couches and canopying their tables; and a certain bed-covering, wrought by the needle in Babylon, was eventually purchased by Nero for a sum equivalent to eighty thousand dollars—a piece of extravagance which few of our modern magnates, with all their expenditure, will find themselves able to equal.
In the earlier years of our own era, leathers glued upon the surface, then cut in pictured outline, and the lines of the cutting filled with crude color, were the first covering, chiefly confined, though, to armory and chest. Afterward finer materials draped seats loosely without attachment ; in time these were stretched partially into the shape of the article, shrouding its frame, and even extending some way in front for the feet; while as for the various furs, they, of course, have been used from the day of the first savage to the present.
It must have been at an early period that stuffs covered with embroidery were thus used, for we know what the fingers could do in the Bayeux tapestry in the eleventh century, although that was a wall drapery; but long before that the destruction of Troy was wrought upon the golden veil of Wiglaf, King of Mercia, the daughters of Charlemagne had left names famous for weaving and spinning and embroidery, and the four daughters of Edward the Elder had been no less celebrated for their needle-work. Meanwhile it must have been something deserving the name of an art already when Dunstan drew the designs for the work with which some lady of the Church was to beautify his own sacerdotal robes. The Saxons were very early known for their fine wools, and we read something of the work they did in the old verse that runs:
•'And in a chamber close beside, Two hundred maidens did abide, In petticoats of stammel red, And milk-white kerchers on their heads; Their smock sleeves like to winter's snow That on the western mountains flow, And each sleeve with a silken band Was fairly tifed at the hand; These pretty maids did never lin, But in that place all day did spin."
Walls were hung and seats were covered with the result of their work long before damask came from Damascus or diaper had its name from Ypres.*
When the next step in luxury took place it was toward cushions on the chairs and benches. These cushions were at first bags of wool or feathers; afterward, in the fifteenth century, with shapes appropriate to their particular use, thick and luxurious for the seat, round for the feet, with indentations between the corners for the elbows. Contemporary with these were the counterpanes, or courte-pointelined and stuffed draperies, quilted, or caught through from side to side and fastened at each catching with a tag, as we make mattresses, or their descendants, the " comfortables," to-day. These were replaced by cushions entirely fitted to the seat, sometimes secured by straps; and after they became the fashion, besides the softer stuffs, various ornamental leathers, already in use, were adapted to the purpose. Of these the Cordovan was the most in demand, embossed and flowered in colors and in gold, and styled gauffered leather, as all leathers are styled when thus dressed; and Flanders and Russia furnished a fine article at a later day. There were, also, daintier coverings more fit to meet the touch of the fine garments that were in wear.
As seats became lighter and more movable, the covering was for the first time during the sixteenth century fastened on securely with nails, the stuffing and buttoning of the courte-pointe in its abbreviated shape being transferred to it. Springs, meanwhile, do not seem to have been used in chairs and sofas till about the time of Louis Quatorze.
Silks, made in the Greek Empire, had come in with the sixth century, at first too precious for any but ecclesiastical or personal use. Afterward there was velvet and samite, which latter some archaeologists presume to be the old French for velvet itself; and others insist that it was silk spun with gold—a precious material, to judge from the immemorial saying con
* Another derivation is from the old French diatpre, mottled jasper.
cerning a happy life, "Desjmirs files tfor et de soie"—days spun of silk and gold.
Gold-thread appeared in most of these earlier stuffs; their first epoch is entirely of gold and silver thread. Then came figured stuffs, sown with griffins, unicorns, wheels, Byzantine peacocks, tigers, swallows, apples of gold, branches of palm, lions, men, horses, and what not. Utrecht velvets followed in the fifteenth century, and brought after them the train of woollen plushes and stamped felts; and at last silks with velvet flowers were made in Venice in the sixteenth century, when bars, bands, and medallions were the choice. These were all daring in style and color: a gold griffin upon a brick-red ground, dull green on black figured with heads of fantastic birds in gold-thread, or blue scattered over with great branches of lilies in gold. But how very illuminating they must have been !
The Aubusson and Gobelin tapestries, also, were put to use in covering chairs and couches with their wonderful work; China sent satins and embroidery that for design, for flatness, for close heavy work, i6 not to be equalled at the present day by the most skilled of the French needle-women; while at last, during the Eenaissance period, some of the designs of the figured silks grew exceedingly gentle and lovely, purified from the rude fantasticisms of early days. Cretonne, made at first of hemp, had meanwhile come in during the tenth century for such of us as could not afford these stiff golden and silken stuffs, giving the same colors and designs, wanting nothing but the lustre, and not always that; and since then reps have simulated as best they could the Aubusson and other tapestries. For the rest, hair-cloth we have always with us—a fabric in daily increasing contempt, which has no virtue that cannot better be supplied by something else—its coolness by rattan, its shadow by adaptation ; for if one wishes a dark effect in any portion of a room, to set a jet-black article there is as bad a way of working as for a painter, wishing to produce an effect of blackness, to daub in the crude black. Nevertheless, those who are upholstering their gilt sofas in black satin cannot have a word to say concerning the black lustres of hair-cloth. It is not given to many of us to have chairs like Lady Blessington's, of mother-of-pearl upholstered in white velvet, on which the leading artists of the day have left their sign-manual in lovely landscapes and medallion portraits; but we need not go into mourning about it, and lumber our rooms with hearse-like monuments in dead black. There are exquisite goods to be had in the markets now, woollens of the purest tints that leave little to desire, cottons of smooth finish and pleasant pattern, cheap enough for the buyer to afford to replace them; and with these we can make our shabbiest articles of furniture so attractive — pinning the ma terial over the shape of the article till it fits, then cutting it, and binding the seams while still pinned in place — that, if it is not the furniture of palaces, we shall never feel it, so far as simple beauty goes. And we doubt not that any of those old mediaeval ladies, who set such store on their few hand - printed buckrams from Boukhara (a bit of ugly brown and red and yellow cotton buckram was preserved as a treasure by a certain Tyrolean countess who married an Elector of Brandenburg), would have given, had they dared, their best gold-threaded lions and leopards and heraldic beasts and inscriptions for any of the exquisite and dainty chintzes with which we of the present add a new bloom to summer.
NO sooner was furniture an established fact than ornament was applied to it. At first of the simplest description, it consisted of little but the hinges and locks, which, by-and-by, spread into beautiful proportions, and overlaid the surfaces with a glittering sort of embroidery. After that, panels were made, arches were formed at their top, a slice was pared off at the corner, making an initial species of chamfering or channelling, leathers were pasted over smooth surfaces, and were either painted, or, as we have already said, incised and the incision painted. The painting of the incision grew into a rich and effective decoration, and the slight modification of inessential shape grew into mouldings; into an ornament of simple lines made by rude tools; finally into carvings. After the fourteenth century there were few flat surfaces, and from that date ornament ran riot, and ended by paying no more attention to rule than we suppose a wild-blackberry vine in August pays to geometrical progression.
Yet there are certain rules outside of which ornament has no right to its being, and which have always been recognized by those of whose work the world does not weary. Thus, although ornament is always an accessory, since it is impossible that it should exist without its base, yet it is a constructive accessory, if one may so say; that is, it is never to be introduced for its own sake, but as a beautifying of the constructive design. The reason for its existence should be apparent upon its face, and every detail of it kept subordinate to the general effect.
It is considered by able critics that ornament is something to please the eye and the emotions thus affected, and not to arouse the intellect or the moral sense; and, in this view, beauty, the simple pleasure of line and tint, absolute fitness, takes rank before symbolism or the suggestion of hidden meanings; and it is claimed that the highest type of ornament, either for furniture or for any other purpose, is the purely ideal, and of this the best examples are to be found in the Grecian, the Saracenic, and the Early English. The Grecian, it is true, U6ed symbolic ornaments, but they were only those borrowed from the Egyptian and Assyrian and elsewhere, and repeated without the least reference to their hidden meaning, the fret of
the labyrinth by no means suggesting here, as it did in the Egyptian, the three thousand chambers under Lake Moeris, and the egg and arrow of the echinus standing for mere effect of light and shadow, and for no type of death and the resurrection.
Next to this ideal in ornament comes that which represents an idea suggested by some object in nature, but not imitating that object, in which much India and Japanese work may be found ; not, however, all Indian or Japanese. In certain provinces of India it beautifies the architecture ; it is in the carving of the best of the articles in Bombay black-wood, and in fine India shawls. It is in perfection in the Japanese copper lacquer-work, centuries old, but fresh and firm as if just out of the maker's hand. After this come conventionalized forms such as the Middle Ages delighted in ; and, lastly, the merely imitative.
The handling of the curve betrays the spirit of all decoration. It is not only the line of beauty, it i6 the line of life ; the curve of the Pastoral Crook being the line, as it has been said, which the palms obey, springing at that point of the globe where the vital impulse is strongest ; the line in which the ferns, the last representatives of the period when the earth teemed with lavish waste of force, uncurl to-day, and in which we see the pushing, swift-growing grape-vine reaching for its support ; the line expressing the curve at the point of infinite strength. It is this line which is followed throughout all the curves of the Early English decoration. If the reader compares such lines as this and its derivatives with the lines of the Louis Quatorze and Louis Quinze styles, it will be evident how widely the latter differ from the lines of pure beauty.
All ornament lies within the province, technically, either of the " round " or of the " flat." To the round belong carving and all forms of relief; to the flat, the damascene, the diaper, and much of the geometrical design which is in reality an elaboration of the abstract principle of the beauty involved in the representation of the natural object, together with all the varying lights and shades of color, silver, and gold. In the flat also belongs a portion of the constructive order of decoration, together with inlay. such as marquetry, tarsia, precious mosaic, buhl, niello, and the ordinary veneerings. Of these, mosaic and veneering are of immemorial usage, although the antique veneering was of rich material applied in aesthetic design.
The introduction of costly woods, and the love of display rather than of solidity, brought the fashion of veneer into general use again. But while with the ancients it had been used with fine material as a further adornment to substance already fine, with the moderns it was resorted to as a falsehood to represent the structure of the article in question, for everybody desired the appearance of luxury without possessing the means to purchase luxury ; and so tlie furniture-makers, essaying to please their patrons, saddled the world with articles that, splendid enough for a palace, had not the coherence of a house of cards. Veneering became a modern fashion as 6oon as it was well known again. Catherine de' Medici had the walls of whole rooms veneered ; under the Louises, veneering with white and rose-colored marbles was practised, and in rosewood also. What was good enough for princes was good enough for subjects, and from the seventeenth century to the present it has been more or less in vogue. Even veneering, though, has its limitations, as every wood will not receive it; only the lighter and more porous woods, into which the glue (which is best when strengthened with brandy) can penetrate, lending themselves to the deception and flaunting in the false pretence.
Marquetry has a better right to be considered under the head of ornament, for marquetry cannot be applied except with ornamental design both in outline and color, since mere light and shade, in a certain sense, stand for color. Although it had been used by the Venetians, who had received it from the Orient, it was brought into more active use by the Germans and the Dutch toward the end of the sixteenth century, the German work being preferable, and inspired by certain old Gothic examples—rare, indeed, since marquetry was not a very favorite Gothic ornament. To-day the Dutch counterfeit those early marquetries, and sell them at high prices to those unable to detect the forgery. The early specimens represent flowers (the Dutch ones tulips), birds, and landscapes. Marquetry is usually done with wood, sometimes in geometrical traceries, sometimes in branches of foliage. The process is quite elaborate, the pattern being laid on cloth before it is applied on the surface that has been hollowed for it, where it is additionally secured by a series of firm but gentle taps. Sometimes the woods are in native colors, but more frequently they are stained, the holly or white-wood for the lighter tints, the oak and plane-tree woods for the deeper ones, acetate of copper producing green, indigo blue, and logwood, nitrate of copper, saffron, and other dyes being used. Tarsia is a marquetry in wood, chiefly pine and cypress, figures and draperies being effectively reproduced in this way by representing the angles and folds with wood laid according to the varying grain, some more prominent points afterward touched up with the hot iron. There is also a marquetry in straw, and the brilliant dyes which the straw takes, together with the lustrous substance itself, make the work quite attractive ; but it is too brittle and perishable to deserve much notice. No marquetry exceeds for curiosity that which is occasionally brought now from India, known as the mosaic of Bombay, and made of microscopic cubes of wood that produce a fine effect.
Of this class of ornament the most magnificent, of course, is the mosaic in stone. Sometimes this is executed even in jewels. Florence has for hundreds of years been famous for its pietra dura, or pietra coinmessay " which," says a traveller, " is a marble grotind inlaid with several sorts of marbles and stones of various colors In one is represented the town of Leghorn." A table made of this work is described as a structure of ebony, " divided into compartments by columns of heliotrope, Oriental jasper, and lapis lazuli, which have the bases and capitals of chased silver. The work is furthermore enriched with jewels, beautiful ornaments of silver, and exquisite little figures, interspersed with miniatures and terminal figures of silver and gold, in full relief, united in pairs. There are, besides, other compartments formed of jasper, agates, heliotropes, sardonyxes, carnelians, and other precious stones."
Another choice method of ornamentation is niello-work. This is wrought upon an inlay of silver or corresponding material, the design, like a pen-and-ink sketch, being cut in. The niello is itself a powder formed of copper, sulphur, lead, and borax, melted together and pulverized. Spreading it on the design, a flame is blown over it by the blow-pipe, which fuses it, the outer particles clinging to the rough sides of the cutting ; it is then finished by rubbing the surface with pumice and afterward polishing by hand. It is to niello-work that we are said to owe our possession of pictures printed from engraved plates, as it was in obtaining proofs of the design (by first filling the lines, before the niello itself was spread there, with black matter* over which a sheet of damp paper was laid and a roller passed, thus procuring an impression) that its further use was suggested to Finiguerra.
The gayest of all ornament that furniture has ever known, and at the same time one that degenerated from harmless beauty into the most meretricious, in its universal application and overloading, is boule-work. This was the invention of a French wood-carver of the name of Boule, who, living to the age of ninety, was able to carry his work under his own eye to its highest point of perfection. It consisted strictly of an inlay of brass or of unburnished gold in tortoise-shell, and afterward was extended to admit incrustation and mosaic of copper, ivory, mother-of-pearl, and colored woods, together with more costly substance of silver, lapis lazuli, jasper, precious stones, and even of enamel, upon ebony or any dark background. The designs were complicated, intended to be graceful and harmonious, and, besides the arabesques, represented animals, flowers, fruits, landscapes, battle pieces, and hunting parties. This decoration became immensely popular. The king, Louis Quatorze, was delighted with it, and gave the inventor apartments in the Louvre, made him engraver of the royal seals, and in his brevet styled him architect, painter, sculptor in mosaic, artist in furniture, engraver, master of inlay, and inventor of ciphers.
But even this ornament gave way during the reign of Louis Quinze to the Rococo mania, when decorated plaster and gilt wood—torturing the rocks, shells, and roses out of all semblance to anything either in nature or in art, its very name a corruption of rocaiUes and coquiUe0, rocks and shells—usurped the public fancy, abashed noble decoration, debased taste, and wrought havoc with design.
Rich carving in the solid, however, always remains a fit manner of decoration when its model is satisfactory. It takes the light and shade more handsomely than any gilding or burnishing. If it is done in accordance with correct principle, palaces can a6k nothing more beautiful for the ornament of their furniture, even if they demand anything more showy, and if it is expensive, it is everlasting. At present a prevailing ornament, where carving.cannot be afforded, is flat, smooth mouldings enclosing plaques of porcelain.
Meanwhile, to remember the character of the object to be ornamented is the first consideration—its origin, its growth, its purpose. When we turn a chair into a shell or a shell into a chair, and furnish a room, as it were, with trophies from the submarine residence of some aquatic tribe, we forget the history of the chair, prevent its development in its proper traits, and turn beauty into monstrosity. Misapplied ornament is worse than poverty, for it is also vulgarity.
For those who can afford none of these ornaments there remain certain woods always charming in their self-colors, which, when well made up, remind one that beauty unadorned is adorned the most; since the simplest article when perfectly constructed is already ornamented in a way, while no ornament at all is preferable to any exuberance and wealth of that into which the conscience of art has not entered.
THE GOTHIC STYLE\
rT^HE Gothic was the term bestowed in derision by the classicists upon mediaeval art. Under the fascination of the Renaissance, the taste for this style declined; bnt of late years it lias been upon the increase till the
style has become a matter of universal pride and research. The Gothic, if not indigenous to England, took such root there that it became national ; and such study has it received that its course is very plainly to be traced. Of course, in a land where inediœval castles crown every hill, mediaeval furniture has some pre-eminent rights ; but in this country it is exotic. If we did not build mediaeval battlemented buildings when we had the French and Indians to fight, we can hardly build them now. Neverthe-
less, there are conditions with us that give various forms of the Gothic a right of place: the greater part of our country is so sparsely settled, and 8till so well wooded, that the spire is as much a landmark here as it was
in the regions of its birth and early adoption; and our climate derives a good claim to the use of the Gothic from its character of shedding heavy snows and rains, and of calling down, as it were, by its many spires and pinnacles, all the sunshine there may be; for the rest, religion being free to all, if it is found that the Gothic is the best suited to any religious needs and ceremonies, the privilege of choice is as much ours as it ever was any blue-blooded Norman's. Having buildings in the Gothic, of course the furniture follows.
But we can urge a right to such furnishing as Gothic buildings should hold, through our ancestry and our love of old association, although we cannot hope to see that furnishing in perfection remote from wealth. It is true that it lends itself very kindly to the cheapest wood, not only because it replaced the old Saxon, which employed wood altogether^ but because, when first appropriated from the churches for household purposes, with the slow adoption of civilizing forms of life—as in credence, armory, bench—it was of course used upon portable material. But the wood is to be carved and ornamented to the last degree, and the stingy and shabby has nothing in common with Gothic; a plank which helps uphold another plank may be sawed with a rough trefoil, to be sure; but that is no more Gothic than crude carpentry is cabinet-making—unless one can say that the alphabet is poetry.
If not the most beautiful, the Gothic is certainly the most picturesque of all the styles of furnishing; and its religious character,its symbolism, in which every moulding, every dentellation, has its religious meaning, does not unfit it for the uses and companionship of home. It is an arbitrary and exacting style, too, requiring to be complete, without a single archaeological detail at fault; and if undertaken by those who have not made
it a severe study, it is apt to be full of error. An anachronism in itself when transplanted to another, era, the unlearned are liable to make its every item an anachronism too; they will give us a carving of tropical
plants upon this Northern stem, whose essential characteristic is that it adopted into its decoration only the vegetation of its neighborhood; they will give us a modern tufted carpet with a Gothic wainscot, a buhl table underneath a Gothic window. This is almost, if not quite, the only style that admits no stranger to its hospitality. With a Louis Treize chair you may have a Cinque-cento cabinet; with a Quatorze console you may have a Japanese armory; «but in the Gothic the old rule holds—if you are not with me, you are Against me. It makes but a single doubting exception in admitting the Turkish lounge for those whose bones demand something less severe than Gothic pur sang—the Turkish showing no wood at all, and with its cushions and its general derivation being sufficiently Byzantine still to claim some affiliation of race, and have a right in a cousin's house. Cushions, and stuffed and tufted seats, indeed, are as much a part -of the Gothic as chairs with tall backs finished in ogival arches, or crests and quatrefoils: they represent in this generation the old counterpane, which was a lined and quilted covering for seats as well as beds. Draperies, also, play an important part in the style, screening recesses and dividing rooms, as in old mediaeval usage, where they originally made all the divisions of the one great hall. These draperies should always be of thick and rather rich material. The days that brought them into use needed them both thick and heavy; and where tliey used to be of gauffered leather, they were afterward of silk and wool wrought tapestry, or, as Alienor de Poictiers says," Le velours est le plus honorable qui le peut reconvrir" (of all coverings, velvet is the most honorable). For those who cannot afford the richer varieties, come soft woollens covered with work like that of the ordinary broché shawls, in fine quaint figures, or in plain material crossed off at long intervals with
Modern Gothic Chair. , j. í.« i broad bands of a contrasting color, that being one of the distinctive signs of the later years of the epoch; while the earlier years bear geometric forms, griffins, unicorns, basilisks, and heraldic lions framed in circles, and others show Gothic characters alternating with checks. The bands, from their constant Saracenic association, are always correct, and can in themselves contain these ear-
Her emblems. The colors should seldom be vivid, although they may be rich, for undue brilliancy would give too new an appearance for the dingy worsteds and faded silks of the old tapestries and cloths; the brick reds, dull peacock blues, and black and golds, together with the delicate, if not dingy, ecclesiastical tints, are best. These draperies at doors and windows are often hung under square lambrequins, but they are never overtopped with cumbersome loops and festoons; the dorsels of high-backed seats hang from little hooks or buttons, but the curtains and larger pieces fall freely by means of rings running on rods. Above the drapery a frieze is frequently seen, and this, when not stencilled directly upon the wall, can be painted on canvas strips and fastened in place on slight frames, allowing one to cleanse them, or to take them down and roll them away if leaving the house for a season.
The shape of Gothic furniture is not always necessarily pointed and arched, crocketed and trefoiled, although its ornament partakes of such character. There are many articles in the Gothic, especially in the modern reproduction of it, with little ornament and little shaping beyond those of their angular construction, but whose outlines, as the French say, frankly accuse their destination. Others are full of a rich elaboration of detail, but with solidity of structure and well-balanced shadow, and with ornaments of porcelain, and hinges and 6croll-work of hammered iron or of brass. The chairs are heavy, the sideboards dark and massive; little curtains, that may be as gorgeous as one pleases, provided their design is in character, shield the recesses of certain of the cabinets; the chandeliers are crowns of light; while the tables.have strong supports, particularly the dining-tables, in remembrance of the huge dishes they carried in former days, when, as it has been said, life was war; and after war, jousting; and after jousting, orgy. The large mirror does not, in strictness, belong to the Gothic, which knew only small glasses and gir-
andoles; yet it is not forbidden to its modern form, 6ince it is as desirable to add in the right spirit as to imitate, and too insistent imitation may make one absurd as Mr. Browning's "Middle-Age Manners Adapter," from whom the flight of the duchess was inevitable.
As, in adapting the Gothic to our uses to-day, we do not intend to forego the pleasures that have come to us since its earlier era, a music-room in that style may be peculiarly rich and effective. The harp has universal rights, and the organ was not entirely unknown even in the Dark Ages. We read of an organ constructed by a Venetian for Louis the Debonair in the ninth century, and there were, doubtless, others of earlier date; aud although spinet and clavichord and piano can hardly claim such long descent, yet the existence of the organ makes the piano less of an anachronism than it would seem. Meanwhile the beautiful shapes of the Gothic, all its significations, emblems, and spiritual consonances, make it particularly appropriate. This style is also very well suited to the library, because of its ecclesiastical origin, and because of the preservation of books and learning by the priests and monks; while it lends a necessary air of cloistered quiet there. But in its heavy and solid forms it is, be6t of all, suited to the dining-room, and it has many articles of its mediaeval period that answer almost as well to the needs of the present there as of the past; its sumptuous appearance, too, supplies exactly what the dining-room requires. But in the drawing-room, the Gothic is to be handled with great care, constructed of the choicest woods, and illuminated with much ornament of delicate brass, porcelain, bits of mirror, sconces, cushions, and soft draperies of the paler tints, since it needs all the lightening it can have, in order to overcome its dark and rather sombre character in a place devoted to lightsome gayety. For the rest, tessellated floors with rugs, raftered roofs, deep caissons in ceilings and windows, stained glass, coats of arms, antique mottoes, armor and weapons and foils, and any spoils of the chase, are the fit things to greet the eye of any entering a house built and furnished in the Gothic.
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