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FURNITURE OF THE FIFTEENTH CENTURY HE fifteenth century was a period of transition. It marked the end of the

Middle Ages and the beginning of modern history. The keep, the draw bridge, the embattled tower, had no part in the architecture of the day, and with their passing the mode of living was greatly altered. The hall ceased to be the point about which the life of the house centered. It was no longer the scene of activity. The dais, the minstrels' gallery, the long tables for the retainers, lost their significance. Dining in public went out of fashion. The lord of the manor added a room to the great hall and dined with his family in privacy. Life was more luxurious, but less picturesque than in an earlier and ruder age.

The century that witnessed the waning of medievalism was one of great progress. The invention of gunpowder revolutionized war, that of the compass increased navigation, and that of printing ushered in the dawn of a new era. It was an epoch of stirring events that included the wars of the Roses, the conquest of Granada, the expulsion of the Moors from Spain, the capture of Constantinople, and the discovery of America.

Architecturally the fifteenth century had less to its credit than the fourteenth. Houses embodied the characteristics of the late Gothic, and while there was a greater variety of material used than at any previous time buildings showed less constructive skill.

The chateau of Langeais, the Cluny, and the famous house of Jacques Cœur at Bourges, are typical French dwellings of this period. Hurstmonceaux Hall, in Sussex, erected by Sir Roger Fiennes, treasurer of the household under Henry VI, and Tattershall Castle, in Lincolnshire, built by Ralph, Lord Cromwell, treasurer of the exchequer under the same sovereign, are notable examples of English architecture of the day. Both are of Flemish brick, with stone trimmings and were the first mansions built in England of this material. Houses of this age were not distinctive types. They were links between the fortified buildings of feudal times and the more comfortable homes of the Renaissance, and are chiefly interesting from the historical point of view.

The furniture of the early fifteenth century did not differ materially from that of the fourteenth. Designs remained strong and simple and ornament was a means, not an end. But the day of Gothic simplicity was nearly over, and by the middle of the century the fate that had overtaken the architects pursued the furniture-

makers. Ornament was piled upon ornament until the original beauty was entirely effaced. Skill of hand remained; the brain back of the hand had deteriorated.

A waving form of ornament resembling a tongue of flame supplanted the geometrical tracery, while cinquefoils took the place of the earlier trefoils and quatrefoils. This flaming motive had dominated church architecture, to its great detriment, for more than a hundred years and had given rise to the terms, Flamboyant, in France, Flowing, in England, and Fischblase, in Germany. Wood-carvers sought to surpass each other in the elaboration of this theme, and in fantastic combinations of foliage, grotesque animals, and figures.

Chairs more than any other pieces of furniture suffered at the hands of the artisan. Built on severe lines they were little adapted for the overloaded system of decoration. Chests and cupboards, while lacking the simplicity which had hitherto been their chief charm, were by their construction less injured by complicated ornament. Many of the finest specimens of fifteenth-century woodwork were in the form of presses and cupboards. Bedsteads were too cumbersome in design, and, except in the homes of the lower classes, too ornate to be interesting. Tables had altered little in shape or purpose and were the sole articles of furniture to conform to severe lines and to unadorned surfaces.

It was an age of exaggeration in furniture and scarcely less so in dress. The pointed cap, so long a feature of mediaeval fashion, rose to enormous heights, and shoes were so elongated that walking with ease became a fine art. At the French court, ladies in formal attire could not pass through an ordinary doorway without lowering their heads, and the followers of Charles VII were obliged to walk three feet apart in order to have sufficient space for the long and tortuous points of their shoes.

The resemblance between the architecture and the furniture of historic periods is plainly discernible. The similarity that costumes bear to both might also be

english monastery chair, fifteenth century

the t\pe of hall. that became extinct in the fifteenth century. reproduced from an old illumination cited. Many parallels could be drawn between Louis XIV furniture and the gorgeous dress of that day, between the more ornate furniture of the reign of Louis XV and the greater extravagance in fashions, between the simpler Louis XVI

furniture and the return of the French court under Marie Antoinette to a more refined mode of dress, between the classical furniture of Napoleon's time and the severe gowns of the empire, and between the stately furniture of the colonial period and the equally stately costumes. So long as the pointed arch remained a vital force in architecture, furniture and dress reflected in a greater or less degree Gothic principles. This period included three centuries and might well be called the Pointed Age.

No strikingly novel pieces of furniture were evolved during the fifteenth century. New methods entered into construction and new effects were gained by combining different woods. English and German oak, French chestnut, Italian walnut, and Spanish cypress had long been famous, but their use was confined largely to the countries in which they were produced. But now woods were imported extensively, and we find Spanish cabinet-makers experimenting in the walnut of Italy, Italian artisans using the olive and cypress of Spain, French furniture-makers turning french gothic panel to Flanders and England for oak, and to the southern countries for the softer woods, and English workmen, while clinging mainly to oak, adding French chestnut and Spanish olive and cypress.

Italian walnut was as hard as oak and almost as enduring. Many of the choicest examples of the cabinet work of this period, found in museums and private collections, are in this beautiful dark wood. It was better adapted than oak for the

flemish cupboard

lighter pieces of furniture, and its exquisite grain yielded a more graceful form of ornament. In the hands of the Italian and Spanish craftsmen it became an ideal medium.

In Florence and Vargos were fashioned those chests and cupboards which placed the work of the south so far above that of the north. The Florentines had long demonstrated their ability, and in this century the people of Yargos nearly equaled them. Yargueno furniture was as celebrated as Cordovan leather.

Flamboyant architecture had made little progress in Spain and Spanish furniture was free from the absurdities found in the furniture of the north. Moorish traditions were deeply rooted and designs exhibited Saracenic rather than Gothic influence. Gothic motifs were not entirely absent, but they were largely overshadowed by the richer ornament of the east. Spain was the only European country that did not yield to the spell of the pointed arch. This worked for good in the fifteenth century when all other nations except Italy were well-nigh engulfed in Gothic detail.

With the exception of the English monastery chair the pieces of furniture illustrated in this chapter are early fifteenth century. The cupboard is of oak and is a typical example of Flemish handiwork. The carving shows the late Gothic arch, and the tracery is more compact than in earlier pieces of furniture. By the treatment of the arch the date of an article may be determined. Furniture followed closely on architectural lines, and it is interesting to note that when windows and doors showed changes in construction, cabinets and chairs exhibited similar tendencies. The difference set forth in the construction of a room may be seen in the Tyrolean interiors. The doors and windows in the bedchamber of the castle Meran, illustrated in the preceding chapter, are in the earlier style. The anteroom reproduced in this chapter shows the later treatment in the construction of the small door.

The Tyrolese more than any other people of Europe have clung to the customs of their ancestors. Prominent in the affairs of Italy and Switzerland during the Middle Ages they have had in modern times little part in the political warfare of their neighbors. Favored by an isolated situation they have been undisturbed by the march of civilization. In manners, in dress, in their home life they have retained the traditions of an earlier age.

During mediaeval times the Tyrol was alternately occupied by the French and the Germans, and architecture and furniture combine both French and German tendencies. This is well illustrated in the fine old castles that cling to the mountain tops and make this country one of the most picturesque in Europe. These feudal strongholds passed from one conquering baron to another. The schloss of one decade became the chateau of the next.

anteroom, castle m eran, german tykol, showing the early and the late gothic arch

Near the village of Meran stands the castle of that name, dating back to the twelfth century. The exterior has undergone many changes, but the interior has been little altered. The paneling, the mural decorations, and the traceried windows are early Gothic; the furniture and the tapestries belong to the fourteenth and fifteenth centuries. The furniture is particularly fine and consists of chests mounted with iron, presses and cabinets ornamented with hinges and locks of copper, long tables without decoration, and many beautiful chairs. The latter are similar to the old Roman curules, and unlike English chairs of this period, with their high backs and ponderous carving. A chair of this type is shown in the anteroom of Meran illustrated on page 31. The furniture of this old castle represents the best of the late Gothic school.

Toward the end of the fifteenth century a great change took place in handicraft. A new force born in Italy gradually spread throughout Europe. Gothic art was not uprooted in a day, and a period of confusion in design followed, in which the old forms were combined with the new principles of the Renaissance.

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