Reading Desks Stands Wall Brackets and Frames

The less frequent articles of furniture of the Italian renaissance were built on the same architectural principles, and decorated in a like manner as the most necessary pieces of household furniture. This is true of writing and reading-desks, stands for busts, and other purposes, brackets, mirror and picture-frames, and other objects peculiar to the home.

The use of the church reading-desk or lectern was for the psalter to rest upon at such a height that all the choristers might be able to read the large and clearly traced music and the text of the sacred hymns. Its heavy base was generally a self-contained box in which the missals were kept, at the same time it formed a step

26. Italy, XVIth Century: Carved Stool

Schlou-Museum, Berlin

27. Venice, about 1500, Small Wall Mirror thus making turning the pages easy. Here as well as in the church-stalls, intarsia work and rich carving were usual as ornamentation. In those reading-desks meant for private use there was no need of tall and heavy bases, the sloping upper part, perfect in itself, was detachable from its socle, and could be used on a writing table1), or the reading-desk proper was supported by a tall column or a baluster (figs. 458—460).

The bronze eagle-desks came to Italy from the countries of the Meuse but were probably little used for secular purposes. According to Bernardino Baldi, one such existed in the famous library of Federigo da Montefeltro, in the castle of Urbino2). Folding desks were also known, they were made of crossed laths, a piece of tensely stretched ornamented leather supporting the book. Flat carvings covered the slender supports which were joined together by delicately turned cross-bars. On some, behind the foliage a narrow band of pierced wood carving is present (fig. 462).

Stands meant for busts and medium-sized objects of plastic art were very rarely made open (fig.478) simply because of the heavy weight, they, as a rule, had to carry; moreover such an incongruity would have hurt the refined artistic feeling of the High Renaissance. It was only in the XVIth century that lighter stands came into vogue when busts — in imitation of classic Roman models — were tapered off into an oval and fixed on round profiled socles.

In the XVth century busts terminated at the shoulders, their place was on the mantlepiece or above the doors. Now the stands, which as supports for tables and chairs had been developed in manifold forms and designs as also in their carved decorations, became taller and more slender (fig. 476, 477, 479). Painting was but rarely

') Such a one is depicted in one of Carpaccio's paintings (fig. 44) and on Ghirlandajo's frescoes, Botticelli's St. Hierony-mus and St. Augustinus, in the church Ogni Santi in Florence, and in Pinturicchio's "Virgin Surrounded by Angels" in S. Maria del Popolo, in Rome, as well in many other pictures. Also small writing-desks, placed on tables, have sometimes been depicted (figs. 4 and 371, and Bode Plate LXXI).

used to ornament them (fig. 463). Typical, however, for all these stands is that they narrow off upwards, the front and bade straddle apart, but their profiles are identical.

The clothes-rack (attaccapanno or capellinaro *) was occasionally provided with a carved ornamental top, or it was of a shield shape with cartouche ornaments (fig. 247). Sometimes it was combined with a shelf, and with this in Venice a peculiar small ornamented object of furniture was created known as restello di camera2), to which a mirror was often added. Its pegs, however were not intended for suspending clothes, but small articles of wear3).

It must not be forgotten that mirrors made of glass4) at that time were held as precious objects and therefore their framing worthy of every adornment ; florid decorations which with paintings and reliefs would have diverted the attention from the chief object, were here in their right place. The earliest mirrors were round like bulls' eyes and often deeply set in their frames which were likewise round; the transition to oblong forms was brought about by adding ornamented wedges. The frames were sometimes so broad and elaborate, especially in the restello, that the mirror itself was relegated to a secondary place, the decoration being the chief thing. Square mirrors sometimes bear phantastic carvings such as hermae and

') This literally means the place where clothes or hats are to be suspended. Another expression especially used in Venice is taccatabarro, the tabarro being the ample picturesque mantle of the Italian.

  1. G. Ludwig, in the above cited work gives full details as to the restello, and also mentions the restello di scrittura, serving for letters and writing materials. He derives the word from restellus (a small rack). The restello must not be confused with the restelliera or lanziera which was a large rack for holding weapons, lances, and banners.
  2. Therefore the lower part of the mirror frame is sometimes particularly broad, the transition towards the upper part being formed by scrolls or phantastic forms of fish (fig. 481).
  3. There were also such made of burnished metal plate. In Murano, the Italian place for glass-manufacture, the art of mirror making readied a high stage of perfection after the Germans improved the art of quicksilvering (Ludwig pp. 306/7)-
  4. Venice, about 1500, Small Wall Mirror appear fast joined to one another1). Naturally laths appear more delicate than hardwood. The object of the folding chair, viz. to be easily transported, was abandoned for both types as early as the XVth century, so a back formed of a simple board and a seat consisting of laths placed close together were added to the X chair. At the same time the front profile grew richer in the rhythm of its outline, the curve became more and more varied, and was ornamented with flat carving; the. backs being diverse in shape2) (fig. 396 and seq.). The folding chair underwent a like metamorphosis. The seat and back were then upholstered and together with the arm - rests ornamented with relief carving. In Upper Italy the front of the chairs were decorated with certosina inlays (fig. 403 ff.). In this way folding chairs became stable and comfortable seats; they had lost the attribute originally determining their peculiar function; but the impressive suitableness and harmony of their forms lent a new and peculiar charm to the not too florid productions of the later renaissance.

Besides straddle-legged X chairs there can be no doubt that others with vertical supports were also in use. Low chairs 'of this kind are to be seen on paintings of the XVth century, especially in bed-chambers. Higher ones are ordinarily provided with a bade, the seats being made of wood or plaited straw3) (fig. 408). Carved ornaments were applied to the cross-bars between the front legs and to the backs4), or these latter were resolved into a row of small columns (fig. 409 ff.). From the primitive original form of this object of daily use developed the stately massive chair whose place was always close to the wall. For by extending the front

Or the laths are crossed in the other direction, so as to form the back (fig. 394).

2) Sometimes they were ornamented with reliefs, this being an unsuitable decoration because it made leaning uncomfortable. — The so-called Savonarola X chair was also known in the Alpine countries and in South Germany, in the XVIth century.

*) Upholstery in most cases has probably been added later.

4) Chairs with particularly rich carvings in cartouche forms (fig. 450—455) were probably first made in the north of Lombardy, and imitated in the Alpine countries and in South Germany.

25. Venice (?) XVIth Century, Chair with Sloping Seat

Formerly in L. Bernheimer's Collection, Munich

25. Venice (?) XVIth Century, Chair with Sloping Seat

Formerly in L. Bernheimer's Collection, Munich legs above the seat and connecting their upper parts with the back the arm-rests were formed (figs. 420 ff.). Velvet, stuff or leather mountings soon became of general use; it is most instructive to follow in all details how the simple frame of the chair more and more acquired unity and a certain grandezza, by merely broadening out the back and emphasizing the seat wh6se mounting now reached down to the legs being sometimes edged with fringes of about a hand's breadth wide (figs. 419—438). Here, too, the application of carving was mostly limited to the cross-bar in front; the supports of the arm-rests were sometimes formed like balusters, while the arm-rests themselves together with the backs were carved. The seats and the backs were mounted with pressed leather gilded over and partly tooled, or covered with costly patterned stuffs. It is remarkable how uncommonly high the seats of these chairs were, a circumstance which, in a way, helped to making a straight and ceremonious attitude!) unavoidable. The same may be said of the sgabelli. Folding-stools were mostly of their present height; besides these, some very low chairs with ornamented backs, a row of balusters, or a carved frieze, are still in existence, which are very comfortable to sit upon (figs. 409 and 415).

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