Chapter Viii

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ENGLISH FURNITURE OF THE SIXTEENTH AND SEVENTEENTH

CENTURIES

WHEN Henry VIII returned from his meeting with Fran├žois I and Charles V on the Field of the Cloth of Gold, he sought to introduce into England some of the magnificence that characterized the French court. Important changes in Windsor and Hampton date from this event. The great tide of the Renaissance, however, had reached England before this momentous gathering of sovereigns.

Torrigiano, a contemporary of Leonardo da Vinci, was commissioned to erect the tomb of Henry VII. His treatment was naturally in the style of the Renaissance which was approaching its first flower in Italy. Holbein's sojourn in England was an important link in the chain which was strengthened by distinguished visitors from France, Italy, and Flanders.

The sixteenth century was a period of great architectural activity in England. Hardwick Hall and Longleat are splendid specimens of the early Renaissance. The castle of None Such erected by Henry VIII, were it now in existence, would form a valuable addition to Renaissance architecture, for it embodied the work of many celebrities. John of Padua was court architect and to him was intrusted the larger share of the work. It was the king's wish to have the palace equal Fontainebleau, and he spared no expense in carrying out this desire.

The style known as "English Renaissance" or "Tudor" was a mingling of Italian, French, and Flemish, the latter largely predominating. It was not until the accession of Elizabeth that the style became distinctive. During her long reign greater encouragement was given to native workmen, and the style known as "Elizabethan" was much more English than that of the early Tudors.

Two marked phases in interior work existed under the Tudor sovereigns. The first was developed in Henry VIII's time; the second reached its culmination under Elizabeth. The first was the "linen-fold" motive in wood paneling and furniture; the second was "strap-work," mentioned in connection with the Henri II period which was contemporaneous with the Elizabethan. From France via Flanders the linen pattern is supposed to have emanated, although its origin is somewhat obscure. It was introduced into England during the reign of Henry VII and appears to have won instant approval. Like strap-work it appealed strongly to English taste. The treatment of the pattern suggested folds of linen arranged in long, perpendicular lines.

A room in Hampton Court is paneled in this manner and dates from the reign of Henry VIII. Haddon Hall, Parkham, and Oxbridge Castle contain rooms with similar woodwork. This scheme of decoration, which lasted for nearly a century in England, had no connection with the Renaissance. It has been called the latest survival of the Gothic and the last of mediaeval ornament. It was known in the monasteries of France long before it reached England, and it is possible that it may have been in use as early as 1450 in Flanders and Germany. In England its development was wholly secular and, with few exceptions, was confined to wall treatment. The folds were executed in low relief and, during the best period, were without ornament. A beautiful cupboard, carved in this manner, owned by Guy F. Laking, Esq., is shown in this chapter. This specimen belongs to the early sixteenth century and is of French origin.

When Elizabeth came to the throne the linen pattern had lost its simplicity. It gradually declined in favor and another style took its place. The beauty of Elizabethan strap-work has been mentioned. The development of this scheme of decoration, like its predecessor, was of slow growth, and was not perfected until late in Elizabeth's reign. It survived this sovereign many years, finding favor under the Stuarts. Haddon and Hardwick Halls contain many examples of strap-work. Over the fireplace in the Presence chamber of Hardwick is a simple interpretation of the motif, combined with the round and oval lozenge. In the state dining-room is a stone chimney-piece with a more elaborate treatment. A plain entablature, with an inscription, is surrounded by intricate strap-work in which figures are introduced. The date of the completion of the hall, 1597, is cut in the stone. Hardwick as a whole is a magnificent example of Elizabethan decoration.

The great Presence chamber shows another scheme of wall treatment which was in high favor towards the close of the sixteenth century. This was the plastered frieze used in connection with wood paneling or tapestry. The great tapestry-weaving districts of Flanders and the Loire were sending forth their beautiful productions to enrich the manor houses across the channel. The finest Flemish tapestries are of this century, and Hardwick has many beautiful specimens, the most elaborate hanging in the Audience or Presence room, which is illustrated in this chapter. Here the queen was received when she honored Bess of Hardwick, the Countess of Shrewsbury, with her visits. As a picturesque figure of her day * Bess of Hardwick almost rivals Queen Bess. Her wit, her beauty, her money, and her many marriages have been the theme of numerous stories. As a romantic heroine for an historical novel the Countess of Shrewsbury leaves little to be desired, and no background could be more kaleidoscopic than beautiful old Hardwick. The Presence chamber, where so many important events have been en-

linen fold cupboard, sixteenth century

acted, is in a beautiful state of preservation. Above the tapestry is the quaint frieze, once highly colored, but now faded to dim blues, greens, and yellows. Diana and her nymphs are represented in the plaster, together with strange birds and animals. The background is filled with stiff trees and the whole effect is quaintly decorative.

The furniture of the room, with the exception of the stools with curved legs, belongs to the late sixteenth century. The table is the type that followed the board-and-trestle. The stretchers, or "struts," as they were then called in England, are a few inches from the ground. This long and narrow style remained the accepted form until late in the Stuart period. The round table with many turned supports, known in America as the "thousand-legged table," and in England as the "gate-leg table," was the successor of the heavy Elizabethan pattern. In the early Jacobean period (from the accession of James I until the beginning of the Commonwealth) many variations of the long table were in use. The legs were often skilfully turned, showing balls and rectangles, the struts were grooved, and carved with the "dog-tooth" pattern; occasionally brackets were placed beneath the top, ornamented in similar manner.

Chairs, as the seventeenth century progressed, became more varied and were, constructed with a greater regard for comfort. During the Tudor period there were few chairs in general use. Benches and stools were the common seats of the day. The Flemish chair, with high seat and low back, was placed in halls and audience rooms. It was seldom seen in the homes. The turned chair, with crude supports and heavy spindles, was a more common style and is interesting to Americans, inasmuch as it was the earliest type imported in the colonies. Governor Carver and Elder Brewster brought turned chairs with them in the Mayflower which are now exhibited in Pilgrim Hall, Plymouth.

The most important chair of Elizabeth's day and of the succeeding reign was the wainscot chair which, as its name indicates, was of oak. This was a massive piece of workmanship, far above the turned chair in point of execution, and often carved with strap-work, scrolls and bits of Renaissance ornament. A plain example of the wainscot chair is seen in Liberty Hall, Philadelphia, and a more elaborate specimen in the Essex Institute, Salem. The latter is a fine piece of Elizabethan furniture and would be rated as.such in England.

The wainscot table was a little later in date than the wainscot chair. It was a combination chair and table, the back of the seat forming the top of the table. It did not supersede the long table previously mentioned, but was used in connection with it until the more convenient " gate-leg table" became the accepted pattern. Esther Singleton, in writing of oak furniture of the sixteenth and seventeenth centuries, says of the word wainscot: "The name, according to Skeat,

being derived from the low Danish "wagenschot", the best kind of oak wood, well grained and without knots That wainscot was applied to the wood rather than the paneling we learn from Harrison's Historical Description of the Land of Britaine (1587), where he says, 'that the oak grown in Bardfield Park, Essex, is the finest for joiner's craft, for ofttimes have I scene of their works made of that oak so fine and fair as most of the wainscot that is brought hither out of Danske.'"

The word "joined" is a frequent one in old annals. In 1574 an inventory of the furniture in Thomas Cumberworth's house included: "A presse of waynscott wt diverse shelffes, 3 thrown cheyers, 3 joyned forms, 2 joyned tables, 1 pair of bedstocks, 1 grete waynscott cheyer, 1 waynscott bed, 1 court-cupboarde, 6 joyned stools." Joined furniture was made without nails, being fastened with mortise and tenon, a method almost as old as furniture-making itself. Presses and cupboards continued to be of colossal dimensions, and by their construction offered scope for intricate strap-work, paneling and figure work. "Court" and "livery" cupboards are frequently mentioned in sixteenth century inventories. Many are the interpretations by modern writers of the words "court" and "livery." The former is sometimes translated "short," the latter "service." Whatever their original meaning may have been it is certain that during the late seventeenth century, both in England and America, the words "court" and "livery" were used interchangeably, and always in connection with a high cupboard inclosed with doors. Many early allusions to this piece of furniture include silverware. In Romeo and Juliet, a servant in Capulet's house says: "Away with joint stools, remove the court cupboard, look to the plate." In Chapman's May Day, published in 1611, occur the lines, "And so for the feast, you have your court cupboards, planted with flagons, cups, beakers, bowls, goblets, basins, and ewers"; and again: "Here shall stand my court cupboard, with its furniture of plate." Another reference reads, "With a lean visage like a carved face on a court cupboard."

The piece of furniture thus designated in Thomas Cumberworth's inventory was doubtless unlike the press, and from the fact that the word "wainscot" is not used, was probably not of oak. The "thrown" chairs mentioned were of the turned variety. This inventory is interesting as it shows the furniture in a home of an Englishman of the middle class. "Bedstocks" were built into the wall and were the common beds of the period, setting aside the pallets of straw which were still used by the lower classes. The "great bed" mentioned was probably of carved oak and the most important piece of furniture in the house. The bedsteads of Elizabeth's day were huge affairs, many of them of great value. Some of the finer ones are preserved in the old manor houses and show a strange-mingling of Renaissance and Gothic. In the homes of the nobility there was always a state bed,

dining-room, showing cupboards with spiral supports, jacobean period

seventeenth century cupboard kept in readiness for a possible visit from the sovereign. The beds slept in by Elizabeth are past counting, and Scottish beds associated with Mary Stuart are almost as numerous.

The Stuart period, beginning with James I and ending with the reign of Queen Anne, covered more than a century. The early Jacobean style was an outgrowth of the Elizabethan. During the reign of James I there was little change in furniture making. With the accession of Charles I the Jacobean style became more firmly established. Homes were more comfortably furnished than at any previous time and the mode of living was more refined. Queen Henriette Marie was partly responsible for the greater refinement of the court. England was far behind France in the small comforts of life and the Queen's influence in this direction was beneficial; so also was that of Van Dyck. The great Flemish painter came to England at this period in order to paint the royal family. Those matchless portraits of the Stuart children did not comprise all of Van Dyck's work on English soil. His visit was scarcely less momentous than thatr of Holbein a century before.

Inigo Jones, sometimes called "The English Palladio," was at the height of his fame when Charles came to the throne. Christopher Wren was born seven years later, his long life spanning nearly a century, 1632-1723. The influence of these two men was very great, not only upon the architecture of the day, but upon the decorative arts, and especially upon furniture-making. The work of Jones was more closely identified with the early Stuarts and that of Wren with the later Jacobean period.

seventeenth century cupboard

ciiest of drawers, memorial hall, deerfield, massachusetts, late jacobean.

One of the distinctive features of Jacobean furniture was the spiral leg which is seen in chairs, cupboards, and chests of drawers. The finest type of spiral was not of the turned variety, but carved by hand. The most interesting pieces of this period were elevated cupboards standing on high spiral supports.

During the Commonwealth progress was retarded. The conditions of the country were not such as to foster the work of the decorator and furniture-maker. With the Restoration came prosperity and a renewed interest in the arts of peace. Charles II had spent a large part of his life in France and was thoroughly imbued with luxurious ideas which he had profitably studied at the court of Louis XIV. Furniture of this reign is somewhat grotesque, combining a medley of designs,

tapestry woven by mary queen of scots

French, English, and Flemish. One marked change for good was the tendency toward lighter, more graceful forms. The introduction of walnut made a startling difference in furniture-designing. The wood did not lend itself to carving and new effects were obtained by veneer and inlay. Cupboards and chests of the late seventeenth century show a variety of decoration. One unique scheme of ornament had a great vogue in England and was widely copied in this country. A plain surface was ornamented with turned pieces of a different wood, cut in the shape of ovals, drops, spindles, and nail heads. Sometimes the pieces were painted, in order to give variety to the scheme. According to Dr. Irving W. Lyon, the pioneer writer on colonial furniture in America, drop ornaments were first used by Peter Koek, a Fleming, who decorated his furniture with carrot-shaped pieces of painted wood. "Nail heads" the same writer traces to a Norman origin, stating that the true nail head was diamond-shaped. Some of this applied-ornament is highly decorative, and marks a distinct epoch in furniture-making. Paneling during the Stuart period remained in favor and was diversified by diamond* 94

FURNITURE OF SIXTEENTH AND SEVENTEENTH CENTURIES

shaped moldings. The "rising" panel belongs to this period and the depressed or sunken panel to Elizabeth's reign.

A characteristic example of applied-ornament is shown in the chest of drawers in Memorial Hall, Deerfield, Massachusetts. According to tradition this piece of furniture was brought from Scotland in the late seventeenth century.

The adjective "Jacobean" has been variously interpreted by furniture writers; some limiting the word to the reigns of James I and James II, others using it in a broader sense and including the furniture of the entire Stuart line. The term is used in the wider meaning in this chapter

The accession of William of Orange, in 1688, was a turning-point in English furniture-making. The best that Holland possessed passed into England, and from that date a beautiful simplicity was manifest in English handicraft. The Flemish chair of cane had already influenced chair-making, and was a distinctive feature of the late Jacobean period. Prominent among Dutch innovations was the cabriole leg, a furniture accessory which was destined to revolutionize the chair, the table, and the chest of drawers. Marquetry was freely used over large plain surfaces, and with its popularity paneling declined in favor.

Changes in furniture-making are gradual. It was not until the reign of Queen Anne that the Dutch and English designs were assimilated. The perfected style is known by the name of this sovereign and belongs to the early part of the eighteenth century.

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