The collapse of the Roman Empire in the fifth century AD moved the centre of culture to Byzantium. The Byzantine aesthetic was based on an amalgam of a new Christian tradition, mixed with Hellenistic taste and an oriental interest in rigid abstract ornamentation. In addition to this stylistic mix was the continuity of the cabinet-making tradition which resulted in the survival of the skilled craft.
Chairs and thrones remained important and were now based on a box shape with a back. X-framed chairs, often made of metal, were typically fitted with a slung leather seat. Combinations of desk and lectern were significant, indicating the importance of manuscripts and reading. Tables followed classical models, sometimes with drawers and lecterns, in a variety of shapes including circular. Chests were important and the open cupboard was fairly common. Some beds were magnificent structures with high canopies and curtains.
The skill of Byzantine woodworkers was demonstrated by their use of the lathe. They also used the panelled construction process to avoid the cracking of ivory panels due to shrinkage. As in other parts of the Mediterranean, limited amounts of wood meant that stone, metal and other materials were also used to make furniture.
The cataclysmic changes in the Western economy and political map resulted in an amalgam of classical styles, Byzantine skills and northern traditions. This period, called Romanesque (AD 1000-1300) was notable for its unsettled and unstable way of life, which resulted in generally sparsely furnished homes which had furniture that could be easily moved at will. This mobility is remembered in a variety of European languages in words such as mobili, mobel and meubles.
Chests and boxes of all sizes were the commonest articles of furniture. They ranged from the simple dugout tree trunk, through dome-topped and detachable lidded versions, to six-plank or boarded chests. Cupboards and presses were sturdily constructed and brightly decorated, and tables were trestle types or semicircular in shape.
Chairs were still a sign of rank, and the style of a chair reflected one's position in society. Both simple turned chairs with pegged members and box-seated chairs were decorated with carving, applied mouldings and arcading. Stools with turned legs were common, but the X-shaped or faldsthul (folding stool) was more convenient.
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