Reading Desks Stands Wall Brackets and Frames

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26. Italy, XVIth Century: Carved Stool

SchlouoMuseum, Berlin

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

SchlouoMuseum, Berlin 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 (%. 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

27. Venice, about 1500, Small Wall Mirror

') Such a one is depicted in one of Carpaccio's paintings (fig. 44) and on Ghirlandajofs 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). 2) A. Schmarsow: Melozzo da Forli pp. 33/4.

used to ornament them (fig. 463). Typical, however, for all these stands is that they narrow off upwards, the front and back 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 reached a high stage of perfection after the Germans improved the art of quicksilvering (Ludwig pp. 306/7).
  4. , while the head pieces and the consoles are decorated with rich festoons, armorial bearings, putti and fabulous animals (fig. 491, 494—498).

For large frames -) of a determined renaissance style architectonic constructions were naturally favored, the horizontals being shaped like socles and cornices; the verticals like pilasters. At first articulation and decoration were not achieved alone by carvings, for painting also had its part in this; up to circa 1500 a predella picture was inserted into the frame at the base. It is in harmony with the spirit of "classic art", which, essentially restricts coloured representations to the picture proper; to bring this into prominence by a forcible profiled carved frame, this indeed being its true office. Large frames, it is true, were chiefly in use for altar pictures; for in private houses large pictures were very rare 3).

Such architecturally built frames were also made on a smaller scale, and used for reliefs, paintings and mirrors (figs. 492/3). Besides these, the now common frames with like mouldings on all sides came into vogue for pictures of a small or medium size (fig. 506 and seq.); for their ornamentation the whole richness of motives developed by Italian cabinet-makers in the XV and XVI centuries were employed. The larger round frames imitating the festoons of fruit which the della Robbia family had made popular in their works, became a speciality. At a later period they were covered with rich bas-reliefs of a more ornamental character, rhythmi

  1. These sometimes serve as handles to a shutter to be drawn across the mirror as a safeguard, similar to those used to protect pictures during the renaissance.
  2. Vide: £. Bock, Florentinische und Venezianische Bilder-rahmen aus der Zeit der Gotik und Renaissance (Munich 1902), and Guggenheim: Le Cornici Italiane (Milan 1897).
  3. Vide: Schubring pp. 9—11.

cally divided off by projecting heads or knobs*). Finally the so-called Sansovino frames (fig. 513/4) which in picturesque alternation combine cartouches with different kinds of architectorial forms and fanciful decorations,

28. Painted Wooden Box, Gilded and Ornamented with Stucco, XVth Century

Victoria and Albert Museum, London

28. Painted Wooden Box, Gilded and Ornamented with Stucco, XVth Century

Victoria and Albert Museum, London were a transition to the flamboyant language of forms of the baroque period. Towards the end of the renaissance these became very popular, not only in Venice, which was their birth-place, but throughout Italy. The urirestfulness and intricacy of the pictorial composition and the high degree of the plastic illusion obtained, demanded, as a counterpoise, a ponderous or strongly rhythmical delimitation.

*) Sometimes they were inserted in carved wood ceilings. Vide: Geymuller and Stegmann quoted above, Vol. VII 1, Plate 6.

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