WHEN a passion for collecting antique furniture first swept America, and prizes were plucked from attics, cellars and old barns, the eagle eye of the amateur sought only those fine pieces that were made in the age of mahogany and satin-wood. Every piece was dubbed Colonial with rash generalisation until the time when a little erudition apportioned the well-made distinctive furniture to its proper classes. Then every person of culture became expert on eighteenth century furniture, and the names of Chippendale and his prolific mates fell glibly from all lips.
That much accomplished, the collector and home-maker then threw an intelligent eye on another page of history and realised that the seventeenth century and certain bits of oak and walnut that had stood neglected, belonged to an equally interesting period of America's social development.
All at once the word Jacobean was on every tongue, as Colonial had been before. Attics, cellars and barns were searched again, this time for oak and walnut, not mahogany, and for heavy square construction, not for bandy legs and delicate restraint. It was the marvellous carved chest that first announced itself, and then a six-legged highboy, and the lower part of a thousand-legged table—which now we call a gate. These, we said with inspiration, are the gods of the first settlers; mahogany is but modern stuff.
But this time we were more savant than before, and instead of starving our eager minds on the occasional resurrected American bit, we went at once to the source, to England, and there found in abundance (for the long purse) a charming sequence of styles covering all the times of our earlier history as settlers and colonisers. Thus were we able to identify these strange early pieces of our own and to recognise our quarry when found in a dusty corner.
That very old pieces still are found, pieces brought over here in the days of their mode, is proved to any collector. In two towns on Long Island Sound I recently found for sale two six-legged highboys, William and Mary, and that great rarity, a straight oak chair known as a Farthingale chair, made without arms for the purpose of accommodating the enormous crinoline or farthingale of its day. This chair may have supported the stiffly dressed ladies of
Plate II—LATE TUDOR MANTEL From a house built in 1606, which showa a toning of Tudor style into Jacobean
Plate III—LATE TUDOR BHD With motifs which characterised early Jacobean carving, dated 1593
Elizabeth's court, so like it was to the Italian models of Tudor times.
The pity of it is, that no sooner had the artistic eye of the true collector begun to search for seventeenth century furniture than the commercial eye of the modern manufacturer began to make hideous variations on its salient features. He caught the name of Jacobean and to every piece of ill-drawn furniture he affixed a spiral leg and the Stuart name; or, he set a serpentine flat stretcher and called his mahogany dining set, William and Mary. These tasteless things fill our department stores, and it is they that are rapidly filling American homes. And the worst of it is, that both buyers and sellers are startlingly yet pathetically glib with attaching historic names to the mongrel stuff, and thus are they misled.
New furniture must be made, however, or resort must be had to soap-boxes and hammocks. The old models are the best to follow for the reason that the present is not an age of creation in this direction. The stylist is always a hobby-rider, and I must confess to that form of activity, but it is always with the idea in mind to make and keep our homes beautiful. And so I make the plea to manufacturers to stick to old models of tried beauty, and to buyers to educate their taste until they reject a hybrid or mongrel movable with the same outraged sense that they reject a mongrel dog.
Now let us pass through the gate that leads to happy hunting-grounds of study where we find historic men and women, both royal and common, making the times that called for the furniture we now admire as deeply as they admired it.
One might almost say that since Henry the Eighth's introduction of the styles of the Italian Renaissance into England, that country has produced no original style of furniture. But lest this statement be resented by affronted savants and hurt sentimentalists, side by side with that fact must be placed another, that England has played upon the styles she imported with such skill and grace that she has thus produced variants of great and peculiar beauty.
England has taken the furniture creations of Europe through the centuries and has impressed them with her national traits, with a resulting beauty entirely her own. The effect is bewildering to all but the student of styles, for without study one is often unable to account for certain alterations of detail and construction. It cannot be too often repeated that as each nation in turn adopted the Italian Renaissance, that nation impressed its own signet upon the style. Thus came all the variations.
It is to be remembered that in the case of England, the affair is one of great interest and complication. In the sixteenth century Pistaccio and his artist mates hurried from Italy at the bidding of Henry VIII and planted their classic patterns in the British kingdom. That was an infusion of the pure
Plate IV—LARGE OAK CHEST In noblest type of early Jacobean carving Courtesy of Chart ft
Plate V—EARLY JACOBEAN CHEST OF CARVED OAK Renaissance drawing is visible hut with a general flattening of the relief blood of the Renaissance, and it lasted well into Elizabeth's time before the Anglo-Saxon temperament altered it characteristically.
By the time James I, in 1603, established the Stuart reign, the style became markedly British, and British styles called Jacobean in compliment to James' Latinized name, prevailed until another imported fashion came along. Then came another and another, and so on even until the end of Georgian styles and the beginning of Victorian.
The Jacobean style developed serenely, playing happy pranks with itself, altered by mechanical inventions and by new woods, until the second half of the seventeenth century, when Charles II introduced strong French influence and Portuguese—which was not greatly different from Spanish. The French influence came lightly from the light ladies of the frivolous court, and the Portuguese from Charles' queen, Catherine, whose home was Braganza. Bombay as her dowry threw Eastern colours and design into the mêlée.
British styles were not yet to be let alone, for no sooner was the French way set than the Dutch pattern appeared, brought over by William and Mary. Delicately it came at first, giving place for hints from the court of Louis XIV, and then in full force by the time Anne took the sceptre in 1703. And all these styles imported throughout the seventeenth century, what were they but the several interpretations
of the Renaissance as it was expressed in France, Portugal, and Holland ? Let not the student stagger under these complications of English styles, for although there are yet more reasons for the shapes and ornament of furniture in England during the seventeenth century they are all bright with incidents of kings and courts.
Tudor monarchs stop in 1603 at Elizabeth's death, but Tudor styles were not at once outgrown, rather they linger along far into the seventeenth century, heavily and elegantly regarding the newly throned Stuarts and their bewitching manners. The Tudor table, for instance, was a serious piece of furniture, put together as squarely and solidly as a house. Its enduring qualities are proved by the number of these tables still extant which, as refectory tables, are the smart thing for the dining-room of to-day. Bulbous legs with Italian carving, heavy square stretchers low on the ground, and draw-tops, are the distinguishing features. It is even suggested by the erudite that these tables are the last flicker of the style left by the Romans during their occupation of England, so like are they to pictured tables of Rome at that time.
To fix in the mind certain important motifs used in early Jacobean carving, a pause may be made before the fine oak bed pictured in Plate 3, that we may discuss them. It is dated 1593, ten years before James I, but, although Tudor, it has certain decora-
Plate VI—OAK CHEST WITH DRAWERS Thi» is carved with all the characteristic motifs of early Jacobean work—the arch, the guillochc. the S curve ir. pairs
Plate VII—OAK STAND AND MARQUETRY CABINET Here are combined the Jacobean robust strength and Spanish Moresque detail tive features, the development of which was left to the Jacobean styles of the seventeenth century. Note especially among these the characteristic round arch savouring of the Norman, of which two are shown on the bed's head. These arches frame a rough inlay which appears also on the square blocks of the tester. Holly and bog oak were the favourite woods for this inlay on oak, woods obdurate enough to make the labour difficult. The half-circle repeat is used freely as a moulding on the headboard, and this develops in later furniture into an important motif. The general construction of this bed is noble in its proportions, and in all changes of fashion must it stand with the dignity of a temple.
As pictures on a screen melt one into another, so styles merge. Plate 6 shows a chest full of Jacobean promise yet retaining Tudor feeling. The fact that it has drawers under the coffer pronounces it as a novelty of the early seventeenth century, and therefore Jacobean.
It especially well illustrates the pattern for carving that occupied workers through the reign of James I. There is the Norman arch, low and wide, set on short supports which have now lost their architectural look of a column. The arches at the ends have as ornament the guilloche, that line of circles that sinuously proceeds through all that time. The carving just under the lid shows the characteristic S curve in one of its many varieties, and the line of decoration just above the drawers indicates the development of the half-circle. Thus are shown in this one early piece the principal motifs of the carvers who were coaxing the models of a past Renaissance into an expression that was entirely British.
The small oak cupboard on Plate n is another transition piece, being in feeling both Tudor and Jacobean. Here the guilloche is enlarged to form a panel ornament, and the acanthus becomes a long fern frond to ornament the uprights. One hardly feels, however, that this piece was ever the accompaniment of elegant living, although much antiquity gives its present distinction.
Continuing with the low round arch as an ornament in the low-relief carving of James' time, an example of its use is given in the folding gate-legged table which is the property of the author (Plate 8). The turned legs finished with squares, top and bottom, are characteristic of the first quarter of the century. The arch is here used as an apron to give elegance, and above is a drawer carved with leaves. In construction this table presents three sides to the front, as does the cabinet just considered, and its Italian inspiration is evident. Like all old oak of the time, it is put together with wooden pegs, and bears the marvellous patine of time.
Had the chairs of early Stuart time not been heavily made and squarely constructed we would not have had so many examples with which to gladden
Plate VIII—GATE LEG TABLE. FORMING CONSOLE WITH GATE CLOSED
The turned legs with square bases and tons indicate date as early as 1610. The deep apron carved with fretted arch is an unusual feature
Plate IX—OAK CHAIRS Early XVII Century Italian Inspiration the eye. Almost without exception they are variants of the Italian, originality having not then appeared possible to chair makers. Three of the four chairs in the plates illustrate this so well that it is worth while to make a comparison with old Italian chairs.
The chair on Plate 9 with a screscent-shaped carving on the back had its first inspiration in Venice, that great port getting the idea from the wares of Constantinople which the merchant ships brought to her with prodigality. All of these chairs are of the square construction that endures, and all have baluster legs but of different styles of turning. All are understayed with honest stretchers, but one has the front stretcher close to the floor, indicating a little earlier mode. The colonnade of arches forming the back is nearer its Italian origin where a column supports the arch rather than a bulbous spindle.
One more feature to note on these chairs, that is common to both late Tudor and early Jacobean styles, is the decoration of split spindles or pendants applied to a flat surface. This decoration is a favourite for wood panelling, for chests of drawers and all large pieces about the middle of the century.
We have but to call to mind the costume of Henrietta Maria, the queen of Charles I, to realise why these armless chairs were the most popular of the time; the voluminous skirts of the ladies of the court —whom others imitated—could not have been squeezed into an arm chair with courtly grace.
The sort of room ;n which this furniture was set— how happy we of to-day would be to have their panelling! Occasionally an entire room is taken from some old English home and set up n one of our American dwellings, such as the rooms now owned by Mr. Frederick Pratt and Mr W. R. Hearst. And thus we know what beauty surrounded the English family three hundred years ago. Panelling in squares covered the walls from floor to ceiling or to a high level, above w hich hung tapestries or embroideries. And as the architect of the house composed the panelling it was drawn with such skill as to miss either hap hazard or monotony.
The linen fold panel of Gothic and early Tudor popularity was no longer repeated. The true Jacobean panel is small and square with carving on the pilasters and cornice ;n rooms of elegance. To this day no more home-like way of treating the walls of large rooms has been devised than this wood panelling, which gives a sense of seclusion and of richness that is never so well ;mparted except by the use of tapestry—and the combination of the two nearly approaches perfection
Jacobean styles, so-called, extend through the greater part of the century, but each succeeding Stuart marked his special progress on them. The styles of the first kings, James I and his son Charles I, lifted the family movables from heaviness to comparative lightness, and grew away from the Renais-
Plate XI—EARI.Y JACOBEAN CABINET
Carved and put together with wooden pe*s. A guilloche carving ornaments each panel sance in truly original ways. On this fact rests much of its interest. The other great fact for us is that these years of the first Stuart kings were the years of the first American colonisation.
Was this article helpful?