Chapter Y

FURNITURE OF THE FRENCH RENAISSANCE

IT was during the reign of Charles VIII that the influence of the Italian Renaissance extended to France. With the accession of this monarch began the long wars with Naples and Milan which ended with the extinction of the house of Valois. Charles's campaign in Italy gained neither lands nor glory for France, but it laid the foundation of the French Renaissance.

"The new birth" in France may be divided into the following epochs: First, Transition, 1453-1515, including the reigns of Charles VIII and Louis XII; second, François I, 1515-1547; third, Henri II and Henri IV, 1547-1610; fourth, Louis XIII, 1610-1643.

The first epoch was Renaissance in detail only; the construction was purely Gothic. The fourth was the waning Renaissance when a threadbare tradition remained. The strongest period was the century 1515-1610, covered by the reigns of five sovereigns, three of whom left an indelible impress on the arts of the day. François I, Henri II, and Henri IV created epochs; François II, Charles IX, and Henri III did little for the honor of France and less for art. The forty-two years. encompassed by the reigns of these three monarchs, last of the house of Valois, were among the blackest in history. Little that was notable was produced in France between the death of Henri II and the accession of Henri of Navarre.

During- the thirty odd years that François I occupied the throne, more was done for the artistic development of France than had been accomplished in the combined reigns of Charles VII, Louis XI, Charles VIII, and Louis XII, who had ruled for nearly a century.

François came to his inheritance when the nation was ripe for a great art revival, and he had the wit to seize the opportunity, and the brains and wealth to make the most of it. His ambition was to raise France to an equality with Italy and to this end he invited great architects and painters to his court.

Italy was divided into countless kingdoms and dukedoms, but France was practically a united country. Italy had her Florentine school, her Venetian school, her schools of Siena, Milan, and Naples. The art of France was centralized in Paris. François called to his aid the greatest lights of Italy and Flanders, and began the series of magnificent châteaux which to-day bear witness to his munificence. Hundreds of native designers were employed in building Chambord, Chenonceau, and Fontainebleau, who worked under the guidance of such men as Serlio and Vignola,

Primaticcio, Leonardo da Vinci, Andrea del Sarto, and Benvenuto Cellini. Among the illustrious Frenchmen who joined forces with the Italian architects and decorators, and later formed the national school, were Bullant, Lescot, and Delorme. Besides building royal residences François remodeled the Louvre and added several rooms to the château of Blois which had been partially restored by Louis XII. In Chambord the architecture of a feudal stronghold was blended with Renaissance details. In Fontainebleau-a more consistent plan was followed. The interior of Chambord was demolished during the French Revolution, but Fontainebleau, in spite of its checkered history, remains to-day the truest example of the French Renaissance. Many stirring events have had this historic palace for a background. In one of the rooms the revocation of the Edict of Nantes was signed ; in another Monaldeschi was murdered; and in the great gallery of Diana occurred the death of Condé in 1686. Here years later the sentence of divorce was passed on Josephine; and here in the court of Henri IV, Napoleon parted with his Old Guard. Fontainelouis xii fireplace, chateau of blois bleau was alternately a royal dwelling, a military school, and a papal residence. Henri II and Henri IV did much to beautify it; Louis XIII was born within its walls but seldom lived there; Louis XIV cared little for it; and Louis XV shunned it altogether. Napoleon revived its splendor for a brief period and Louis Philippe spent a royal fortune in restoring it. Thanks to Louis Philippe the Fontainebleau of to-day is a faithful representation of the Fontainebleau of the sixteenth century. Much of the woodwork is the same and many of the frescoes have been merely retouched. The fireplaces and mantels have been restored from sketches and plans which had been carefully preserved.

The woodwork of the French Renaissance differed materially from Italian woodwork of the same period. The ornament was in a lighter vein, the carving more open, and less dependent on antique models. Even when the work was executed by Italian designers it was imbued with the French spirit. This is especially noticeable in the treatment of doors and chimney-pieces.

The fireplaces in Blois and Fontainebleau show with what a masterly hand the workmen of the early Renaissance wielded wood and stone. A Louis XII fireplace of stone is reproduced herewith. On a field of fleur-de-lis is a shield ornamented by a crown and surrounded by schallop shells. In another portion of the stonework is the pierced porcupine, Louis XII's emblem, combined with the ermine of Anne of Brittany. The uniting of royal emblems is seen in many of the rooms of this château. The salamander of François I and the monogram of Claude, his wife, daughter of Louis XII, occur over and o'vcr. The swan pierced with the dagger, Claude's insignia is also a frequent motif.

The chimney-piece of the room in Blois, illustrated on page 59, shows the charm and delicacy of the "François Premier" style. This salon was decorated for Queen Claude and the initials C and F interlaced with crowns are conspicuous in the carving. The intricate low relief is characteristic of the early Renaissance. The fireplace in the gallery of Henri II, reproduced on page 61, is one of the most famous in France. The royal arms, more elaborately executed than in the Louis XII mantel, occupy the center of the chimney-breast. The frescoes were originally painted by Primaticcio and his pupil Abbate and later restored by Jean Alaux.

renaissance chair, chateau of blois

Henri's initial inclosed in a crescent, the emblem of Diane de Poitiers, is a favorite motif in the decoration. Four crescents encircling fleur-de-lis adorn the fireplace and are repeated over the doors. The ornamentation above the mantel contains a hint of the interlaced lines and bands which were destined to become a marked feature of the Henri II style in both woodwork and furniture. The development of "strap-work" is an interesting phase of Renaissance ornament. It originated in Italy, but was less favored by the Italians than by the the French and English. In England during the reign of Elizabeth this form of carving was used so extensively that it is to-day largely associated with the name of that sovereign. "Elizabethan strap-work" is the name given to the pierced and scrolled woodwork of this period.

Less remarkable in an architectural way than the François I period the Henri II surpassed it in the industrial arts. Furniture, textiles, porcelains, and bookbindings were triumphs of artistic achievement. Jean Grolier, in his exquisite bindings, carried the intersecting ribbon ornamentation to a high degree of beauty, suggesting the interlaced work of old Celtic and Saracenic patterns. The exquisite Oiron faïence, better known as "Henri Deux ware," was decorated with this scheme of ornament. In the intricate strap-and-band decoration furniture-makers found an extensive field for ingenuity. The pierced shield, the lozenge, the flat cartouche, were combined with interlaced lines in countless ways. Grotesque heads in low relief were also used in connection with strap-work, particularly in cabinets, presses, and armoires. In the Cluny Museum is a mourning cabinet belonging to Diane de Poitiers, ornamented with bands of interlacing ribbons painted in dull colors. Another cabinet with similar decorations came from Clair-vaux Abbey. A chest with Henri's monogram has narrow lines of marquetry in a pattern that might have been a direct copy of a book-cover. There are three coffers in the Louvre, and two in Fontainebleau, which display this handling.

In the cabinet furniturermakers found the finest medium for their talents. So long as ornament was controlled and made subordinate to the design, every piece of carving from the hand of the French designer was a thing of beauty. Delicate arabesques and the more severe strap-work appeared to great advantage in the cabinet. The construction of this article gave scope for a treatment which was impossible in the bed, the chair, or the table. What the chest was in the hands of the mediaeval craftsman, the cabinet became in the hands of the furniture-maker of the French Renaissance ; it was the highest exponent of the craftsman's skill. Fontainebleau, Blois, the Louvre, and the Cluny contain many beautiful specimens of this period, roughly spanned by the years 1550 and 1600.

In this country there are fine specimens in museums and private collections, but they lose much in being separated from their original setting—a remark that may be made in reference to all Renaissance furniture. In the Lawrence room in

fireplace built for claude, wife of françois i, chateau of blois the Museum of Fine Arts, Boston, an admirable effect is gained by the use of Renaissance panels which line the walls. Against this background the carved cabinets, the chairs, and the pieces of fine armor have a consistent setting. Much of Benvenuto Cellini's work is here in replica. The shield and helmet made for François I and the suit of armor belonging to Henri II, designed by Cellini and executed by his pupil Pilon, are both exhibited. Pilon equaled Cellini in strength, and Cousin and Jean Goujon surpassed him in delicacy. In the andirons of the many fireplaces of Fontainebleau and Blois may be seen the skill and ingenuity of French metal-workers.

When Henri IV came to the throne the.sixteenth century was nearing its close. Under Henri III the arts had declined. Henri of Navarre revived the glories of Fontainebleau and gave a renewed impetus to the industries of France. But times had changed and the creative force of the Renaissance was gone. Henri's queen, Marie de' Medici, cared little for French taste and sought to introduce Italian workmen at court. Furniture of her reign was either imported from Italy or patterned closely on Italian models. Venetian brocades and Genoese velvets replaced French and Flemish tapestries. Architecture, so far as the queen had a voice in the matter, was decidedly Italian. After Henri's death Marie commissioned Jacques Debrosse to build the Luxembourg. The exterior was planned after the Pitti palace, the queen's early home, and remains an interesting architectural monument to this remarkable woman.

In the château of Blois is a chamber where Marie de' Medici passed the bitter hours of her captivity. It has been described by Richard Sudbury in his delightful book, Two Gentlemen in T our aine:

"We turned with some reluctance from the scene without and the thoughts which it had inspired, to enter the apartments of Henri III. These occupy the whole of the upper floor; and if they are barren-of their former furniture, they may at least boasts a wealth of old and historical associations connected with the times of Catherine and her cousin Marie de' Medici. The whole suite, consisting of halls, of private rooms and galleries, overlooking the town, is in a perfect state of restoration. The French government has devoted much time and money to the preservation of old designs and styles of decoration. Everywhere the blue and yellow polished tiles, representing the or and azure of heraldry, are noticeable in their ever-changing designs upon the floor. The thick beams of the ceiling, decorated in the manner peculiar to the Renaissance, blend with that of the walls, and make us believe that it is yesterday in which we are living rather than to-day. A beautiful little chamber leads out to the private chapel of the king. It is lined with tiny wooden panels, two hundred and forty in number, which are of different design and highly ornamented in gold and brown. The ceiling is so similar

fireplace in the gallery of henri ii, fontainebleau jo to the walls that it gives to the whole the appearance of a little jewel-box built to inclose some roval gem. And indeed it did once long ago, for hard by is a window where Marie de' Medici, escaped after twenty years of captivity in this chamber."

Women wielded a powerful influence on the arts of France during the sixteenth and seventeenth centuries. Pious Anne of Brittany, renowned for her Book oj

Hours, cannot be reckoned as an important figure of her day so far as the arts are concerned, but a queen of the following reign, the second wife of François I, cannot be thus dismissed. Eleanor of Portugal, sister of Charles V, most famous monarch of his time after François himself, was notable in a century of notable women. Her interest in the development of French architecture and decorative art was very keen. Catherine de'Medici's talents were largely expended on court intrigues, but Diane de Poitiers was an important factor in molding taste in the reign of Henri II. In the waning days of the Renaissance Anne of Austria was a great bedstead belonging to anne of austria, fontainebleau patron of the at$s.

Anne's bedchamber is one of the most sumptuous of the apartments in Fontainebleau. The room is hung with Gobelin tapestries and is magnificently furnished. The chairs are upholstered in Beauvais. The tables and cabinets are inlaid in elaborate patterns and ornamented with delicate carvings. Rare vases and urns are scattered through the apartment. The effect is bewildering. Everything is figured, everything is full of motion and color. The tapestries and paintings depict the most stirring events. There is nothing restful about the room, except the bed which against a quieter background would arouse enthusiasm. It is a particularly fine specimen. The columns are well proportioned and treated architecturally with bases and capitals. There is no foot-board and the headboard is lower than in the bed of the previous century. The wooden canopy is part of the design and is richly carved. The hangings are of a unique pattern, woven especially for Queen Anne. Many royal heads have rested beneath the carved canopy and one papal one. Between the years 1812 and 1814 Pius VII was imprisoned in Fontainebleau. Many objects of interest belonging to him are exhibited in another room, the most interesting being a bronze reliquary, a gold and ivory crucifix, and a small clock studded Urith cameos renaissance paneling, replica of armor belonging

. . * xt i to henri ii, executed by pilon. dutch chair.

given by the pope to Napoleon. museum of fine arts, boston

The chandelier in Anne's bedchamber belongs to the late Louis XIII period and is oppressively gorgeous. Beneath each candle-holder is a huge pendant of crystal which glitters like a mammoth diamond. A comparison of the French chandelier with the Italian one of the day shows how superior the latter is in design and workmanship.

Louis XIV carried the golden glitter of the chandelier a point further than did Louis XIII, and Louis XV made it an excuse for every fantastic bit of ornament. Louis XVI restored it to an earlier simplicity, and Napoleon gave to it a Spartan severity. These various styles may be studied in Fontainebleau. From François I to Louis Philippe the palace is an epitome of the history of interior decoration. Seven historic periods, covering four centuries, are represented within its walls.

During the Henri IV period the shell, as a motif in wood-carving, came into prominence. At first its use was confined to finials of chairs and cabinets where it was extremely effective. During Louis XIII's reign the shell passed into another stage of its existence. It formed a part of nearly every piece of furniture, and was repeated in the decoration of doors and mantels. With the abuse of the shell began the long reign of rococo ornament—literally rock and shell—rocaille et coquille—which was one of the most remarkable in the history of decoration.

Simon Vouet, who bore somewhat the same relation to Louis XIII that his pupil, Lebrun, did to Louis XIV, was largely responsible for the florid ornamentation of the late Renaissance in France. He used the heavily scrolled cartouche, the fancy pilaster, the ponderous garland of fruits and flowers, the round cherub face and the fantastic shell. Doors and mantels were oppressively ornate and furniture, in order to conform to the same architectural scheme, was equally florid.

The best furniture of this period—the middle of the seventeenth century—was of Flemish design. Furniture-makers were divided into two groups; those who followed the lead of Simon Vouet whose inspiration was of Italian origin, and those who clung to the simpler sturdy designs popular in the Low Countries. Thus the furniture of the Louis XIII epoch represents two types. The first was undoubtedly more in tune with the ornate decorative schemes of the day ; the second was unquestionably the more beautiful, though always a little incongruous with gilded walls. The direct Flemish influence of the late French Renaissance has been attributed to Rubens^who visited Paris at the request of Marie de' Medici in the early part of the seventeenth century. This influence strengthened in the succeeding reign and did not end until the Louis XIV style was well established.

The furniture of Louis XIII's time was much more varied than that of the preceding reign. There were sets of chairs; six or twelve single chairs, four armchairs, and two sofas—all constructed on the same lines and upholstered in the same manner. Designs in stuffs had changed. Bouquets, knots of ribbon, and garlands

of flowers replaced the small and more classic patterns. Life was growing more luxurious and it was transforming furniture. It was not only transforming, it was creating. The divan with high curved back, padded with velvet or brocade, was the product of Louis XIII's reign; so also was the console.

Prints and illuminations of the time of Louis XIII show a variety of chairs— chairs for the master of the house, the mistress, the children, and special shapes for the servants. Litchfield says that the word "chaise," as a diminutive for "chaire," found its way into the French vocabulary at this period.

With the inauguration of the scroll and shell a different form of arm-chair came into existence. The seat was lower, the arms more curving, the upholstery more comfortable. Severity of line was lost and with it the beauty of line also. To balance the broader and deeper seat, larger supports were necessary, and these gave to the chair a heaviness which the light and delicate ornament accentuated.

This description applies to the French chair of Italian origin. The Flemish chair had a high seat, a comparatively low back, and turned legs connected by strong, rectangular braces. The French chair was supported by an X-brace, terminating in the center with a scroll. The chair designated as the "Regency of Anne of Austria," illustrated in Chapter IX, is a refined type of this style. The chair on page 57 combines the best characteristics of early seventeenth-century Flemish and French designing. Here is admirable construction united with admirable ornamentation. The outlines are Flemish but not extreme Flemish. The seat is lower and the back is higher than in many Flemish chairs of the period. The carving is French but is applied after the manner of the Flemish craftsmen. The turned legs and carved brace are Flemish, too, but treated with French delicacy.. The presence of the cane back is worthy of note, for it is seldom found in French chairs of this period. The cane back was a characteristic feature of the Flemish chair of the late seventeenth century and in various guises was known in England, Italy, and Spain. The chair in Blois is a particularly attractive example, and illustrates the fact that in an age of excessive decoration there was an occasional designer who could follow the dictates of fashion and yet keep his work free from extravagance. In the Salon Louis XIII are chairs which illustrate the point in hand. They are built on prescribed lines but are severely plain. The circular X-brace is without carving and the arms are straighter than in many chairs of the day. There is no hint of the shell or the acanthus leaf in any part of the construction.

This lofty apartment was decorated and furnished for Henri IV whose initials, combined with those of Marie de' Medici, are still visible in the painted cornice. The walls are divided into small panels painted with flowers and landscapes, and separated by carved borders. The large pictures form a permanent part of the

decoration, and are the work of Ambroise Du Bois. These huge canvases were painted for Henri IV ând represent scenes from the story of Theagenes and Char-icles. Between the pictures are carved arabesques of fruit and flowers picked out in gold. The room does not equal the gallery of Henri II in Fontainebleau, nor can it approach in simple grandeur the large apartment built by François I in the chateau of Blois.

The tables in this salon are noteworthy, for they exhibit a delicacy unknown in the Italian table of the day. The detached legs are held in place with a slight connecting base. The ornament is extremely refined. As the trestle table gave place to the bolt-and-slot table, and that to the table of the Renaissance, and that in turn to the hideous baroque table, so the French table of the early seventeenth century, faulty as it was in design, was slowly approaching the beautiful table of the eighteenth century, when, free from base-boards and connecting rods, it stood on four independent supports. The result was an English production of the eighteenth century, but the French had a part in its cabinet, late renaissance evolution.

Before Louis XIII's long reign was over the Renaissance had run its course. The history of ornament is the history of furniture and both repeat themselves. From a debased type slowly arose a vital one which, after shaking off the chrysalis stage, remained consistent for a brief period, then declined, and was finally superseded by a new force which in turn shared the fate of its predecessor. This waxing and waning continued until the early part of the nineteenth century when historic furniture, in the strict sense of the term, ceased to exist.

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