Chapter Iy

FURNITURE OF THE ITALIAN RENAISSANCE

«TN the work of the Renaissance," writes John Addington Symonds, "all the great nations of Europe shared. But it must never be forgotten that the true Renaissance began in Italy. In art, in scholarship, in science, in the mediation between antique culture and the modern intellect, the Italians took the lead, handing to Germany and France and England the restored humanities complete. Spain and England have since done more for the exploration and colonization of the world. Germany achieved the labor of the Reformation almost single-handed. France has collected, centralized, and diffused intelligence with irresistible energy. But if' we return to the first origins of the Renaissance, we find that, at a time when the rest of Europe was inert, Italy had already begun to organize the various elements of the modern spirit, and to set the fashions whereby the other great nations should live and learn

"We cannot refer the whole phenomena of the Renaissance to any one cause or circumstance, or limit them within the field of any one department of human knowledge. If we ask the students of art what the}» mean by the Renaissance, they will reply that it was the revolution effected in architecture, painting, and sculpture by the recovery of antique monuments. Students of literature, philosophy, and theology see in the Renaissance that discovery of manuscripts, that passion for antiquity, that progress in philology ánd criticism, which led to a correct knowledge of the classics, to a fresh taste in poetry, to new systems of thought, to more accurate analysis, and finally to the Lutheran schism and the emancipation of the conscience. Men of science will discourse about the discovery of the solar system by Copernicus and Galileo, the anatomy of Vesalius, and Harvey's theory of the circulation of the blood. The political historian, again, has his own answer to the question. The extinction of feudalism, the development of the great nationalities of Europe, the growth of monarchy, the limitation of the ecclesiastical authority, and the erection of the papacy into an Italian kingdom, and, in the last place, the gradual emergence of that sense of popular freedom which exploded in the Revolution—these are the aspects of the movement which engross his attention. Jurists will describe the dissolution of legal frictions based upon the false decretals, the acquisition of a true text of the Roman Code, and the attempt to introduce a rational method into the theory of modern jurisprudence. Men whose attention has been turned to the history of discoveries and inventions will relate as the exploration of America and the East, or will point out the benefits conferred upon the world by the arts of printing and engraving, by the compass and the telescope, by paper and by gunpowder. Yet neither any one of these answers, taken separately, nor indeed all taken together, will offer a solution of the problem.

"By the term Renaissance, or new birth, is indicated a natural movement, not to be explained by this or that characteristic, but to be accepted as an effort of humanity for which at length the time had come, and in the onward progress of which we still participate. The history of the Renaissance is not the history of arts, or of sciences, or of literature, or even of nations. It is no mere political mutation, no new fashion of art, no restoration of classical standards of tast£. The arts and the inventions, the knowledge and the books, which suddenly became vital at the time of the Renaissance, had long lain neglected on the shores of the Dead Sea of the Middle Ages. It was not their discovery which caused the Renaissance. It was the intellectual energy, the spontaneous outburst of intelligence, which enabled mankind at that moment to make use of them."

Broadly speaking, the Renaissance had three distinct styles: The tre-cento, quatro-cento, and cinque-cento. The first was developed between the years 1300 and 1400 and its influence was confined to architecture and sculpture. Giotto, Arnolfo di Cambia, Andrea Taffi Orcagna, and Nicolo Pisano were its chief exponents. The quatro-cento belonged to the fifteenth century and was a more classic style than its predecessors. The work of Luca della Robbia, of Donatello and Ghiberti, and of Filippo Brunelleschi are magnificent examples of the second division. The cinque-cento was the culmination of the art of the Renaissance and is associated with the mighty names of da Yinci, Raphael, and Michaelangelo. The former styles were but preparation for the architecture, sculpture, painting, and decorative arts of the sixteenth century. Under the patronage of the popes and the powerful Medici family, pictures were painted, statues carved, tapestries woven, metals wrought, in a manner that the world had never seen before.

sixteenth-century chest of drawers, lucca

" During that period/' to quote from Symonds again, "the entire nation seemed to be endowed with an instinct for the beautiful and with the capacity for producing it in every form."

No article was too commonplace to receive the attention of great artists. The same care that was expended on the façade of a cathedral or the interior of a palace was bestowed on the simplest piece of woodwork. 2_Jhe carved chairs, the painted chests, and the inlaid cabinets all show that perfection of detail which characterized the boldest undertakings. It was this wonderful ensemble, this linking of the fine and decorative arts, that made the Renaissance the golden age of achievement.

It was not until the cinque-cento period that furniture showed traces of the classic revival. ^ Wood-workers ^^^^^^^^^^^^^^^^^^^^^^^^^^

motifs are exhibited in the furniture of the sixteenth century. It is well in studying the woodwork of this epoch to keep in mind the leading features of the three styles. The tre-cento consisted of interlacing lines combined with simple tracery and conventionalized foliage. The tracery was Saracenic rather than Gothic, and entirely free from symbolism. The quatro-cento blended the festoon, the garland, the band, and the cartouche with naturalistic fruit and flowers. The cinque-cento was a restoration of classic details and included the fret, the arabesque, the anthcmion, the scroll, and the acanthus. The arabesque or grotesque, as it was termed from its discovery in a Roman grotto, was composed of vases, shields, masks, sixteenth-century cabinet, lucca

anteroom chair of walnut

animal forms, and floral emblems. Symmetry, balance, and perfect proportions, united with faultless execution, saved the arabesque from becoming a grotesque in both senses of the word. In the hands of Raphael, Giulio Romano, Sansovino, and the Lombardi, this type of ornament reached a high degree of beauty. Raphael's work in the loggia of the Vatican is a splendid example of the arabesque.

Woodworkers adapted these three styles to the furniture of the day, and it is to their credit that they produced harmony, and not confusion. The backs of chairs did not resemble palace doors, nor did the columns of cabinets suggest Greek colonnades. There was a fine sense of fitness between the object ^ and its ornament. Herein was a vast difference between the handiwork of the Renaissance and that of the Gothic period. Gothic furniture as a whole was oppressively architectural. The lids of chests and the doors of cupboards were often church façades in miniature; and the finials of chairs and settles diminutive church spires. Gothic art was ecclesiastical rather than secular, and Gothic furniture, with few exceptions, was fitted for monasteries rather than homes.

The Renaissance raised furniture-making to an art. Pupils were apprenticed to a master and studied with him until they had perfected their craft, when they opened workshops of their own. The pieces produced in these great studio-shops united beauty, with

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