Furniture Of The Italian Renaissance

utility. For the first time designs were made with reference to their setting. The furniture of the private dwelling was suggestive of neither cathedrals nor abbeys. It was made with a careful regard for the needs of the owner, his station and manner of living. Thus houses possessed a harmony which had hitherto been absent.

The arrangement of furniture was greatly altered. Chairs and chests were no longer placed stiffly against the walls. According to one old writer the sixteenth century loosened the furniture from the side of the room, and distributed it "here and there in the manner agreeable to modern taste." With its changed position came a change in the construction and character of each article. The cabinet became a cabinet in the modern meaning of the word. It was no longer a press or a cupboard. The table lost its severe lines and plain surfaces, and developed into an ornamental piece of furniture. Wood-carvers, as if to atone for past neglect, lavished their highest skill upon it. The chair was completely transformed. It refused to be classified under one or two heads. There was the chair for the hall, the dining-room, and the bedchamber. It was imposing, simple, massive, or graceful, as the occasion demanded! The upholstered seat was introduced during this period. Hitherto chair cushions were movable; they were now a part of the frame. This was a radical change and gave rise to a new class of workmen—upholsterers.

bedchamber in the vincigliata, fiesole %

Among the sixteenth-century pieces of furniture which were unknown at an earlier date was the sideboard. The credence and the dresser have been mentioned. The sideboard was longer and lower than these mediaeval pieces and without shelves. One of the earliest references to the sideboard is in the journal of Benvenuto Cellini. To this prince of silversmiths we are indebted for many picturesque glimpses. Sometimes it is an interview with Michael angelo, sometimes a visit to the pope, sometimes a line about a piece of furniture. "Meanwhile I contrived, by means of a pupil of Raffaello da Urbino, to get an order for one of those great water-vessels called acquercccia, which are used for ornaments to place on a sideboard. He wanted a pair made of equal size. One of them he intrusted to Lucagnolo and the other to me."

Another writer of the same period says in a letter: . "When I entered the house of Maestro Giovanni, of whom I may have spoken, I was given bread and wine from the sideboard and pressed to lodge for the night." In this letter is a second reference of interest.. "On my way out of the city, I fell in with three youths whom I thought to be students. Two were weavers from Palermo, and the third a

state dining-room in the vincigliata, fiesole

wood-carver on his way to the palace to receive orders for a marriage-coffer. I hoped to learn more of his errand, but he talked little, and refused to tarry for wine." Unfortunately the letter gives no clue to the palace nor to the noble lady for whom the coffer was intended.

In the list of new furniture was the chest of drawers. This was placed in the bedchamber and was the forerunner of the bureau. During the sixteenth century the bed took on a new form. The massive Gothic bed was no longer tolerated. A lighter, more movable structure superseded it. Slender columns upheld a canopy of brocade or tapestry, and curtains of similar material inclosed the sides. The Renaissance bed was not a four-poster in the colonial acceptance of the word, for the back was completely encased in wood. This headboard, if such it may be called, was richly carved, and occasionally displayed the arms and insignia of the family. The bed in the chamber of the Vincigliata, here illustrated, has exquisitely carved figures, in place of lower columns.

Bedrooms of this period were more comfortable than they had been at any previous time. Panes of glass were no longer a luxury. With larger windows came more light and better ventilation. A brighter, happier atmosphere was the result. This changed condition was not confined to the upper story. The lower part of the house was equally transformed. The shadowy corners, the dimly lighted staircases, and the dark passageways were of the past. The perpetual twilight of the mediaeval dwelling gave place to the sunshine of the Renaissance.

Among the host of articles which added to the comfort and convenience of the Italian house were clocks, mirrors, and screens. Clocks were not the invention of this century, but they were little used until this period. They were of small dimensions, elaborated, incased in metal, and sometimes ornamented with pietra-dura— an inlay of ivory, horn, mother-of-pearl, and iapis lazuli. Screens were of stamped and painted leather, and were usually imported from Spain. Mirrors were of two varieties. The common ones were of polished steel; the more costly ones were of glass. The frames in both instances were of metal and highly decorated. It was in the small furnishings that the art of the house was at fault. Mirror frames, clock cases, and candlesticks passed the border-line of good taste.

Chests gained rather than diminished in importance during this period. They were no longer used as seats, for chairs were abundant. They were no longer needed as receptacles for armor and implements of the chase, for hunting had fallen into disuse, and the sixteenth century was one of peace. The housekeeper did not require them for her household stores, for more convenient pieces of furniture were designed especially for her needs. The family plate was no longer concealed in them, for the silver was displayed on the sideboard by day and hidden in a safe at night.

As dower or marriage coffers, the chests, or cassoni, of the Renaissance developed into works of art. Many artists made their reputations in this field alone. The finest gesso work, the purest gilding, the most intricate intarsia, and the best type of carving entered into the construction of these coffers. The cartouche or pierced shield was often a feature of the carved chest. Acanthus leaves and delicately modeled arabesques were also favorite designs. One Andrea di Cosimo was noted for his skill in adapting the cartouche. Yasari says of him: "It would not be possible to describe the vast number of decorations in coffers and other works of similar kind executed by Andrea di Cosimo, seeing that the whole city is full of them. I must, therefore, decline the enumeration of them, but I cannot omit to mention the circular escutcheons which were prepared by this artist, and to such an extent that there could hardly be a wedding solemnized but that Andrea must have his shops filled with such works, either for one or another of the citizens."

Many coffers were decorated with gesso, a composition of paint and gold-leaf. But the most beautiful ones were of intarsia. In the fifteenth century intarsia, or the inlaying of colored woods etched by hot irons, was little known outside of the

renaissance beamed ceiling, residence of frederic c. bartlett, esq., chicago

Carthusian monasteries. In the sixteenth century its fame reached the courts of Francois I and Henry VIII. The inlay was composed of natural and dyed woods scorched with hot sand or iron and polished with penetrating oils. Geometrical patterns, copied from mosaics, cinque-cento ornament,, landscapes, and figures were executed in this medium. Each artist had his own methods of preparing the colors, and these secrets were carefully guarded. Among the famous workers in intarsia, the intarsia-tori, as they were called, were Fra Raffaello, Fra Damiano, and Fra Bartolommeo. These men were monks of the Carthusian and Dominican orders but they made marriage-coffers as well as choir stalls and sacristy presses. A notable piece of this sixteenth-century inlay is the screen in the Charter House at Pa via, decorated by Fra Bartolommeo. Another celebrated example is the chasse containing the relics of St. Dominic in the church of Bergamo. This work was executed by Fra Damiano, but it is called "Charles Y's intarsia." When Charles of Spain visited Bergamo he refused to believe that the chasse was made of inlaid wood, declaring it was the work of the brush. Nor was he convinced until a piece of the wood was removed. In memory of this occasion, and the tribute paid to the monk's skill, the wood was never replaced. Many museums and private collections contain beautiful specimens of this Renaissance inlay, notable specimens being in the Yincigliata.

Situated on high land, overlooking Florence and Fiesole, is- the Castello di Vin-cigliata, rich in sixteenth-century treasures. The present owner is an American, Mr. John Temple Leader, who has spent a fortune in restoring it. Although the castle is no longer used as a dwelling there is no suggestion of a museum in the arrangement of Mr. Leader's collection which includes furniture of unusual beauty, rare pieces of silver and bronze,, and exquisite enamels, faience, and glass. Part of the building antedates the Renaissance, and the rooms in this^ section have been sympathetically treated. The ceilings are particularly fine and range from late mediaeval types to those of the sixteenth century.

Ceilings and side walls during the Renaissance were treated in a masterly manner. Architects adapted the vaulted ceiling to new conditions and transformed the flat Gothic type into a thing of beauty. One treatment of the flat ceiling consisted of horizontal - beams, another of cross-beaming. The sunken panels formed by the latter scheme were ornamented "by carved rosettes in high relief. This treatment was a revival of the coffered ceiling of the Romans and became one of the most characteristic features of the Renaissance house. When left in the natural colors of the wood it was very harmonious. In the typical dwelling of the sixteenth century it was seldom painted. In the palace the rosettes were usually of gold set in a colored background.

Usually, when one wishes concrete examples of Renaissance decoration, he must

renaissance coffered ceiling, residence of the late william c. "whitney, esq.

renaissance carving turn to the homes of princes. In the palaces of Rome* Florence, Naples, and Venice every fifteenth and sixteenth century type of ceiling is represented. Some are very fine, others are too ornate to be beautiful. Florentine palaces are simpler in architecture and furnishings than those of any other Italian city, and consequently Florentine ceilings are more worthy of study. In the Riccardi Palace built by Michelozzi, for Cosimo de' Medici the Elder, and famous as being the birthplace of Lorenzo the Magnificent, are ceilings of great merit, and notable ones are in the Strozzi and Gondi palaces.

A beautiful example of horizontal beaming is shown in the music-room of Dorfred House, the residence of Frederic C. Bartlett, Esq., Chicago. In the William C. Whitney house, New York city, are several ceilings of the coffered class. This American mansion is truer to the Renaissance renaissance carving than many Italian palaces, vandalism, and scarcely less from unfortunate restoration. The Whitney interiors are very consistent.

Celebrated ceilings are in the ducal palaces of Mantua, Genoa and Venice, but, as a whole, they are very elaborate. Venetian decorators treated the ceiling as an independent thing, giving it a prominence which was fatal to the proportions of the room. They painted pictures in all the available spaces which detracted from the importance of the side walls and spoiled the harmony of floor, walls, and ceiling, which was one of the great principles of Renaissance decoration.

Paneling formed a part of the woodwork of the sixteenth-century Italian house, but it did not cover the wall so completely as in many English houses. It had the character of a high wainscoting divided into long, plain panels, headed with smaller ones, carved in low relief. Above the woodwork tapestry extended to the cornice. During this period tapestry becomes a part of the wall. Hitherto it had

The latter have suffered from

The latter have suffered from

door of the vatican Designed by Raphael

carved chairs in the lucca museum, early seventeenth century been simply a hanging, fastened at the top and moving with every wind that passed through the room. "Look for hidden foes behind the arras," was an old proverb which now lost its significance.

Tapestries were woven in great quantities in Genoa, Venice, and Palermo. The Gobelin weaves were comparatively new, as the industry, founded by Jean Gobelin was in its infancy, but Lille and Arras had been pouring the products of their looms into Italy for generations. Arras had given to the Italian language a new word, arrazzi and this term, in a general way, was applied to all textile hangings. Brocades, velvets, and decorated leathers were sometimes used in palaces, and again, the space above the panels was filled with mural paintings. But the everyday room—the room in the citizen's house—depended on the soft-toned tapestry of Palermo and Genoa for a background, and as no pictures were placed against it, the result was very satisfactory.

Pictures were the luxury of the rich.' The citizen's house, therefore, possessed a harmony which the home of the patrician lacked. Tapestry was little fitted to display paintings. The richly framed pictures, when brought into contact with the richly figured walls, produced an effect of over-decoration which was ruinous

to the unity of the room. The walls were sufficiently pictorial in themselves, and escaped being too decorative by the subdued color schemes of the weavers.

Mediaeval colors were glaring; those of the Renaissance were rich and somber. Venetian red, Gobelin blue, the golden browns and deep yellows of Palermo, and the silvery greens of Genoa were among the colors chosen by the tapestry-makers. It remained for a later and French taste to introduce the pale, cold colors, and the glittering gold which annihilated harmony and spoiled the relation of walls and furniture.

Against the low-toned tapestry, wainscoted in Italian walnut, the furniture of the day had its true setting. Brought in juxtaposition with the garish colors of the baroque period it lost its real character, and became too heavily carved for beauty. Perhaps no other style of furniture loses so much in being separate from its legitimate surroundings as that of the Italian Renaissance. For this reason museum pieces and isolated cabinets and chairs in a modern house give little hint of their one-time dignity. In the Renaissance house the furniture was merely a detail in the general scheme of furnishing, and as such it was nearly perfect.

Designs • of the late sixteenth and early seventeenth centuries maintained the high standard set by the early Renaissance furniture-makers. Carving was intricate but was executed in low relief, and the various quatro-cento and cinque-cento motifs were kept carefully apart. The chairs of the early seventeenth century, illustrated on page 47, show that at that late day the simple tre-cento ornament was skilfully handled, and there are many other pieces of similar date which show the same restrained treatment. One type of furniture had disappeared. The transition pieces combining Gothic and Renaissance principles were extinct. No two "styles were less fitted to go together, and no furniture was so painfully ugly as that which united Renaissance ornament and. Gothic construction. Be it said in favor of the Italians, that this combination was never common except in -monasteries where Gothic tradition was almost a religion. The chair on page 39 is a good example of the grafting of Renaissance details on Gothic framework, using good in the sense of typical.

Upholstered chairs in the seventeenth century formed a «distinct class. In the early sixteenth century the cushioned seat was set in a frame of wood to which was added later a cushioned back. Gradually the frame of the chair was hidden by the upholstery of brocade, tapestry, or leather until the arms and supports alone were visible. This type was well illustrated at the Exposition of Arts and Industries held in Lucca a few years ago when,-in addition to many beautiful modern articles, was exhibited a rare collection of Renaissance furniture. Many pieces were contributedby old Italian families, and were shown to the public for the first time. The exhibition was especially rich in carved and upholstered chairs.

desk vnd chair used by savonarola, museum op st. mark. florence

The carved chair of Italian walnut reproduced on page 38 was loaned from the collection of the Mansi palace of Lucca, as were also the chest of drawers and the fine sixteenth-century cabinet with its priceless old porcelains shown on pages 36 and 37. This cabinet originally had a plain door of wood. The Renaissance furniture-maker was an artist and he realized that a piece so heavily carved should have a solid door, concealing and not displaying the treasures within. It was a nineteenth-century cabinet-maker who added the glass front.

The Mansi chair is worthy of study, as it represents a type which has grown to be accepted as characteristic of the Renaissance. Modern furniture-makers have copied its narrow back and high seat, and have made it a medium for jig-saw carving and glued ornament. It was merely an anteroom chair in the sixteenth century, and was not tolerated long by the Italians, although it was in high favor in England as evidenced by the many examples in English museums. A strange fatality has given prominence to this least desirable of Renaissance designs, and emphasizes the fact that in furniture the survival is not always of the fittest. The dignified arm-chairs and the fine, simple, straight-back chairs, illustrated on page 47, have been overlooked by modern wood-workers. The Renaissance table has never had justice done to its beautiful lines and restrained ornament, although the baroque table of the late seventeenth century has been made the theme of countless reproductions. When furniture-makers discarded the solid side supports of the Renaissance table they sought to hide defective construction with meaningless carving. The table with four separate legs was yet to come. The old forms with heavy standards and long fcot-boards were passing away. The transitional table was not beautiful, although the result achieved in another century was well worth the struggle.

The baroque period was the waning Renaissance and corresponded with the rococo period in France. The final illustration in this chapter is a typical Italian example.

Two pieces of furniture which assumed an important place in the late seventeenth century were unknown in the early Renaissance house, and these were the bookcase and the writing-desk. Bookcases, in the earlier period,, were made exclusively for the great libraries of Italy, and writing-desks were the property of monks'and

florentine marriage coffer

scribes. In the Museum of St. Mark in Florence is exhibited the desk used by Savonarola. It has not a line of decoration, a scrap of carving. The monks ornamented their chairs and benches, but their desks were as severe as their lives. Savonarola's desk is beautiful in its straight lines and plain surfaces, and aside from its connection with the great Dominican, has value as a piece of Renaissance woodwork. The curule shown with the desk is interesting. It is sold in replica all over Florence as "Savonarola's chair," the Roman origin being overshadowed by its association with the great Florentine.

The couch as distinguished from the bed was a product of the Renaissance.

a fine example of renaissance carving

a fine example of renaissance carving

state chair, late renaissance, baroque treatment

It was placed in the bedroom and, like many of the coffers, was ornamented , with intarsia and gesso. Yasari, in writing of gesso decoration, says: "And this custom prevailed to such an extent for many years that the most distinguished masters employed themselves in painting and gilding. Nor were they ashamed of this occupation. The truth of what is here said may be seen at this day in the chambers of the magnificent Lorenzo, on which were depicted, not by men of the common race of painters, all the jousts given by the duke."

Furniture-making owed not a little of its prestige to the patronage of the Medici family, and scarcely less to the powerful Sforza family of Milan, the Gonzaga of .Mantua, the Farnese of Rome, and the Doria and Spinola houses of Genoa. The cities of Italy were governed by men who vied with each other in fostering the arts. They were not all of noble birth, but they wielded a power equaled by few princes of the blood. A family numbering in its ranks such figures as Cosimo the Elder, Lorenzo the Magnificent, Clement VII, and Leo X had little to fear from royalty. When the glory of this family declined the arts of Florence declined also. And what was true of Florence was true of Genoa,of Milan, and of Rome. The late seventeenth century sounded the death-knell of the Renaissance. Fine art was dead, for the last of thé masters had passed away. Liberal art, more dependent on its patrons than fine art, deteriorated with the waning influence of those great families who had created standards of taste. The work of the stone-cut-ter.the silversmith, and the furniture-maker became a weak imitation of former beauty.

state chair, late renaissance, baroque treatment

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