The early part of the century was still dominated by the use of oak, and all the time that wood was seen as a constructional material, rather than a decorative one in its own right, this would remain the case. However, by the reign of Charles II, oak was becoming displaced by walnut, beech, cherry, cedar, olive, yew and laburnum, as well as burrs of various woods. These woods worked well in veneer form, thus encouraging the replacement of oak for carcases with the more stable yellow pine.
The use of veneers opened up the decorative possibilities of parquetry, marquetry and oyster veneering (see below). The use of ebony in some cabinets in the first half of the seventeenth century, combined with bright, contrasting inlays of ivory, tortoiseshell, pietre dure etc., showed how the architecturally influenced form was becoming subservient to the cabinet-made surface effect. In America the use of local woods continued. In addition to oak, ash, maple and pine were widely employed in both joined furniture and chair work.
Canework, originally of Chinese origin, found instant success in the 1660s, and by the end of the century cane-workers had established themselves as part of the furniture-making fraternity. Cane never usurped the position of textiles, but its use as a flexible and decorative material for chair seats and backs ensured its popularity. It was most commonly used in this period in conjunction with carved and perforated splats for chair backs and seats.
Metal working began to be subdivided from the work of smiths into the more specialized trades of locksmiths and mount-makers. A certain interest in a more sophisticated approach to metalwork is evidenced by the growth of the process of chamfering the edges of metal mounts. Stop-chamfering was a further development which made an even more decorative outline by leaving some parts of the edge straight.
During the second half of the century, brass began to displace iron, and began its monopoly in the manufacture of cabinet mounts. This was due to the fact that brass was a good colour, easy to work and, by casting, could be reproduced accurately. The results were ideal for use on the lighter forms of furniture that were characteristic of the later seventeenth century.
In the seventeenth century, 'tortoiseshell' (actually turtleshell) was widely used both in Italy and the Low Countries. As it was malleable when heated, it could be used as a veneer. Laid in conjunction with metals such as brass and pewter on coloured grounds, it represented a high point in marquetry work. This process is usually associated with André-Charles Boulle (see below).
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