Europe, reaching its highest development in the fourteenth century.
Gothic furniture was plain in form and architectural in character. Simple lines predominated, the decorative element being supplied by carving and pierced tracery. Much of it was built into the walls; the rest was cumbersome and heavy. In England, Germany, and the Low Countries oak was the principal wood employed; in France, chestnut; in Italy, walnut; in Spain, cypress.
The carving was of a conventional, geometric character, but satisfying in its rendition. There is an undeniable charm about the best of the Gothic carving. The chief motifs were the pointed arch, the trefoil and quatrefoil, the wheel, the rose, and the linen-fold.
The furniture was still simple and somewhat crude, but was gradually gaining in variety and mobility, The chest or coffer was a prominent article from the first, often being elaborately carved. Cupboards, cabinets, armoires, and buffets came into use, and the bedstead became a more important affair. Plain trestle-tables were followed by those that displayed some attempt at ornament. ^Chairs were still few, and were only used on state occasions. They were heavy and majestic. A noteworthy ex tant example is the coronation chair at Westminster Abbey, which is of carved oak and was built about 130. For the most part, stools, forms, and benches were used, some plain and some ornamented with carving. The common people continued content with the rudest kind of tables, chests, and stools, of no style at all.
In England during the fifteenth century, when the Renaissance movement had already begun in Italy, we find a transition or late Gothic style, characterized by too much ornament. The cinquefoil and tongue of flame were added to the decorative motifs. The furniture was rather extravagant in style—less worthy, in fact, than that of the previous century. Well-constructed presses and cupboards and ornate chairs and bedsteads are among the pieces that have been preserved. At last the spirit of the Renaissance touched England, having already inspired France and Spain, and the era of practical, movable furniture was inaugurated, in which there was manifest the effort to combine comfort and beauty.
The powerful influence of the Italian Renaissance, which affected the applied arts of all Europe sooner or later, made itself felt in France during the reigns of Charles VIII and Louis XII (1453-1515), and
French credence of the late fifteenth century, with fine Gothic tracery and linen-fold carving
A Flemish Renaissance cabinet of ebony with bone inlay. About 1600
formed the dominant note in French decorative styles, with some changes, up to the close of the reign of Louis XIII. This was the period of the French Renaissance. It has sometimes been divided into four epochs or sub-periods, as follows: transition, Charles VIII to Louis XII, 1453-1515; early Renaissance, François I, 1515-1547; decline, Henri II, to Henri IV, 1547-1610; later Renaissance, Louis XIII, 1610-1643.
The first of these four epochs witnessed the beginnings of the new awakening. A freely ornamented Gothic remained the predominant style. The reign of François I was a period of great artistic development in France, during which the Renaissance movement came into full flower. Architecture, furniture design, and interior decoration all felt this impulse. The king encouraged the adoption of the Italian styles and sent to Italy for such great artists and craftsmen as Leonardo da Vinci, Andrea del Sarto, Seralio, and Benvenuto Cellini. The Gobelins established their tapestry works about this time. François finished building Fontainebleau and commenced the Louvre, employing the services of da Vinci, del Sarto, and others. The French nobles followed their monarch's lead, building châteaux in the Italian style and supplying them with furniture constructed after Italian models—some of it of excellent workmanship.
In the main, the woodwork of François I was patterned after the Italian, but the ornamentation was lighter, the carving more open and less conservative. The French chairs were somewhat more graceful and lighter than those of Italy, with the same type of carving, but often with spiral or turned rungs, legs, and supports. Still, they were solid and of generous proportions. Oak was first used, then walnut. The X use of cushions was followed by upholstery and a I tendency toward greater comfort and luxury. The seats of the chairs were broad, the legs straight, and the backs not as high as those of Italy. Other pieces followed Italian models more or less closely. Chests and cabinets became less architectural in character and were sometimes furnished with drawers.
The reign of Henri II (1547-1559) was even more productive in the realm of the industrial arts —furniture, textiles, faience, and book-bindings. The furniture was distinguished by wonderful carving, the cabinets being especially notable. The strap and band, the pierced shield, arabesque, lozenge, and flat cartouche were introduced as design motifs.
During the next four reigns (François II, Charles IX, Henri III, Henri IV) a sort of decline or wearying of the art impulse set in. Henri IV (15891610) endeavored to revive it, but for the time being its force seemed to have been spent, and the styles were marked by meaningless and illogical changes. The shell came into prominence as a detail of ornament, the forerunner of rococo (rocaille et coquille, rock and shell).
There followed a rise in the artistic curve during the reign of Louis XIII (1610-1643), when Cardinal Richelieu was prime minister and Simon Vouet a leader in the art world. Life became more luxurious and the demand for fine home furnishings more general. The styles of ornament became more varied, with much scroll and shell carving.
Vouet's furniture was of the Italian type, with much florid ornament—the heavily scrolled cartouche, fancy pilasters, ponderous garlands and swags of fruit and flowers, and fantastic shells. Other designers followed the Flemish school and displayed greater restraint.
An increasing variety of forms appeared; there were more kinds of furniture made for every-day use. Many forms of chairs and sofas became common, and the divan and console were products of this reign. 1 The chairs, as a rule, were more comfortable, and were more commonly used for ordinary domestic purposes. Sometimes they were made in sets, and were usually upholstered in velvet, brocade, tapestr.y, and needlework. Bedroom furniture became more luxurious. The walls were commonly decorated with ornamental friezes above paneled wainscots.
The styles of the German, Spanish, and Flemish Renaissance were all closely related. The movement gained strength in Holland and Flanders later than in France. Margaret of Austria became governor of the Netherlands in 1507, and introduced the Italian styles and Italian workmen, but the Flemish Renaissance was at its best after 1600. Before that Italian models were copied; afterward the Low Countries established a Renaissance style of their own, which was interpreted by talented designers and wonderful wood-workers. Remarkable carving was done, including figure work of a high order. At first oak was the only medium employed; later ebony and other woods were introduced.
Flemish furniture of the seventeenth century was excellent in design and workmanship, and exerted a powerful influence over England. For example, a chair that was adopted in both France and England, with high back, carved top and underbrace, and cane panels—the typical chair of the English Restoration period—was of purely Spanish-Flemish origin. Another characteristic article of the Flemish Renaissance was a massive wardrobe with handsomely carved doors.
During the seventeenth century Holland contributed a taste for fine marquetry. The patterns became freer, less severe, and the use of colored woods richer and more varied. Mother-of-pearl and ivory were added, after the Italian manner. Exquisite at first, this Dutch marquetry later became florid, gaudy, and fantastic. Meanwhile the rural districts were producing a simple form of painted furniture that was hardly less interesting.
Germany, under the leadership of Albrecht Diirer, reluctantly abandoned the Gothic during the sixteenth century and followed Flanders in a freer treatment of carving.
In Spain the Moorish feeling, based on the Saracenic, was stronger than the Gothic. During the sixteenth century artists were imported from France and Flanders, but the Moorish elements persisted, dwelling side by side with the Renaissance. During the seventeenth century, however, the Renaissance styles were predominant in furniture design. The nobles were rich, and the art industries were encouraged. Fine needlework and tooled leather were produced.
The lustrous Spanish chestnut became the chief furniture material, with some cedar, cypress, and pine. The art of inlaying with ebony, ivory, etc., was introduced from Flanders. Cabinets of chestnut were richly ornamented with repousse plaques of silver and later of tortoise-shell, ebony, and rare woods from the tropics. Elaborate desks and other pieces were manufactured. The Flemish form of high-backed chair was modified. It commonly had hoof feet and a solid back of dark-brown Cordova leather, stamped and studded with brass nails and mounts. This, like the original Flemish form, was imported into England about 1660.
The Renaissance movement, strictly speaking, was less marked in England than on the Continent, but there was a gradual development of styles during the Tudor period which parallels it. Roughly, English furniture may be divided into that of the age of oak, lasting until about 1660; the age of walnut, 1660 till about 1725; and the age of mahogany, to the beginning of the nineteenth century. That is the first broad division. Up to the close - of the Cromwellian period oak was the predominant wood in English furniture. The earliest furniture was crude and heavy and included only such articles as were essential to domestic life—chests, tables, benches, beds, and occasionally, chairs.
Emerging from the crudities and limitations of the Gothic period, English furniture yet retained the Gothic traditions of sturdiness and virility for many years, until Continental influences, which at first refined it, led it at length into the extravagance of the French rococo.
First, to summarize the dates: The Norman and Gothic periods covered, roughly, the years 1066 to 1485. The Tudor period included the reigns of Henry VII (1485-1509), Henry VIII, contemporary with the Renaissance movement (1509-1547), Edward VI (1547-1553), Mary (1553-1558), and Elizabeth (1558-1603). This last half century is sometimes referred to as the Elizabethan period.
Henry VIII, who was an anti-Papist, desired a change from the Gothic styles which he associated with Catholic ecclesiastical architecure. He brought John of Padua from Italy and installed him as court architect. John was doubtless full of the spirit of the Italian Renaissance, but the king's attitude was negative, rather than positive—anti-Gothic, rather than pro-Renaissance—and the Renaissance movement was. of slow growth in England. Holbein, who lived in England from 1526 to 1543, was responsible for the introduction of Flemish Renaissance ideas, such as florid and graceful carving and inlay of scroll-work with elegant leafage and figures.
The styles of the early Tudor period (1509-1558) show a mixture of Gothic survivals, with Italian, Flemish, and French importations, all more or less modified. It was a less plastic, less imaginative style than that of Italy. It was a sort of emasculated Renaissance. Henry VIII and his followers appear to have caught something of the decorative idea, but not the idea of comfort, and England was only half-awake to the art impulse of the Renaissance.
The familiar linen-fold motif, a substitute for perpendicular Gothic lines, was introduced into England, probably from France or Flanders, as early as the fifteenth century, and is found on Gothic work. It now appeared with Tudor details on chests, choir-stalls, footboards of beds, etc. The acanthus was introduced from Italy, and also the cartouche and the guillouche, a strap ornament forming a succession of circles. There were also Italian furniture forms and terminal shapes.
After 1536 the coarser German and Flemish features became more common than the Italian. There
Knghsn oak court cupboard, with carved bulb-form supports. About IS7S-1600
English oak wainscot chair, carved with the Tudor rose. Sixteenth century
A Louis XIV armchair of the middle period, with curved legs and curved underbraces. Gilded wood and tapestry
A Louis XIV armchair with seat and back of cane, which was less common than upholstery was a greater variety of formal strap-work, more turned work, diamond shapes superimposed on square panels, and panel work made up of mouldings. Other details were the Tudor rose, the dolphin, the lion's head, round portrait medallions, series of round-headed arches, and a semi-circular or fan pattern.
These details were employed largely in church interiors, as well as on wall panels and movable furniture. The cabinet was a prominent piece of furniture. There is a remarkable example in the South Kensington Museum in the form of a Roman triumphal arch, like some of the Italian cabinets. It is chiefly of pear wood, enriched with carving and inlay of the German type in a profusion of detail. The tables were plain trestle affairs, often covered with an embroidered cloth or carpet. x Chairs were rare, and were used only by the master and mistress of the house, other persons using more or less crude settles, benches, forms, and stools, usually of oak, occasionally of ebony. The chairs were heavy and solid, with straight backs and flat, wooden seats, sometimes furnished with cushions of embroidered velvet or other stuffs. There were also huge, elaborate beds and wonderfully carved oaken chests. The main room of the private house was usually furnished with a dressoir, or service-cupboard for drinking-vessels, etc., a chair or two, some stools and benches, and a board on trestles.
Jt_ was duringthe prosperous reign of Elizabeth that something like a Renaissance movement developed. It was an era marked by a revival of interest in learning and jthe arts, by literary production, and by social, political, and commercial progress. The_ furniture styles took on a more distinctive character. There was less.of the Gothic feeling,"more-attempt" at originality. Occasionally pure Italian or French Renaissance work give evidence of the presence of imported craftsmen, but there was actually less of the Italian feeling than formerly; the style was becoming more distinctly British. Both Flemish and English carvers were widely employed; the material was chiefly oak, the carving being in rather high relief.
Among the decorative details introduced during this period were heraldic motifs in the carving, the diamond or lozenge on the backs of chairs and the panels of chests and cupboards, and designs embodying fruit, foliage, and flowers. There were occasionally Renaissance pedestals or terminals in the form of human busts, tapering down to a foot. The bulb, drum, or melon form, often carved with gad-
roon ornaments, frequently appeared on table-legs, bed-posts, and cupboard-supports. The linen-fold motif gave place generally to scroll- and strap-work, sometimes elaborately interlaced and carved in low relief. Turned work also became somewhat popular.
Interior decoration received increasing attention. The oak paneling of the walls was often elaborate and handsome, and there were highly ornamental and often massive chimneypieces. Tapestries were used more and more.
Chairs were not yet common, but there were some curule-shaped chairs of Italian derivation, wooden-seated armchairs with much turned work, and heavy, straight-backed, carved wainscot-'chairs. Joint stools and forms continued in use, bearing an increasing amount of turned and carved ornament.
The Tudor board-and-trestle table was followed in Elizabeth's time by a longer, narrower, more ornate style, with four heavy legs of an exaggerated baluster form, often with a bulbous carving halfway down. The legs were joined by heavy rails, or struts, near the floor.
Cupboards became more common, the styles verging upon the court and press cupboards of the Jacobean period. There were many forms of chests, and great, canopied, four-post bedsteads. Mirrors were introduced about this time.
The styles that followed were so much an outgrowth of these that some knowledge of the Renaissance period is necessary for a clear understanding of the rest. The later styles, however, are the ones which chiefly concern us, for it is upon them that our modern styles are based. Beginning, then, with the style of Louis XIV in France and the Jacobean period in England, we will proceed with a somewhat more detailed study.
IT is not an easy matter to epitomize briefly the salient characteristics of the French decorative periods, but we shall render our task a little less difficult if we omit the earlier periods which were sketchily touched upon in Chapter III. There is justification for this, for Americans have been mainly interested in four of the French periods— Louis XIV, Louis XV, Louis XVI, and the Empire —and these are the only ones that exert an influence on the furniture design of to-day. It would be well, however, for the student to know something of that source of great inspiration in the arts, the Renaissance, for the later styles are best understood when that background is kept in view.
The art impulse was reawakened during the reign of Louis XIII, and this paved the way for a sort of second French Renaissance that held sway during the reigns of Louis XIV, Louis XV, and Louis XVI, and exerted a powerful influence over the contemporary arts of England and the Low Countries.
During these three periods furniture was produced that was more readily adaptable to modern needs than any that had gone before and that reached a higher plane of artistic excellence. They are represented by three distinct styles marking a definite development. The Louis XIV style is marked by dignity, grandeur, bold effects, lavish but not excessive ornament, and faultless workmanship. In the decoration the conventionalized anthemion and acanthus were prominent, and the ornamental derails were symmetrical and balanced. The Louis XV period marked the culmination ot me rococo period of design, with the influence of Madame Pompadour paramount. Less attention was paid to proportion and form than to elaboration of detail. The anthemion and acanthus continued to be employed in ornament, but the details were generally unbalanced. Pastoral scenes by Watteau were used in decoration, and rococo details, natural flowers, festoons, baskets, and ribbon and lace effects. The Louis XVI style shows a return to simpler lines and more restrained and delicate ornament, under the influence of Marie Antoinette. Fine marquetry and painting were employed, and a lavish use of dainty florals. The legs of chairs and tables, generally curved in Louis XV's time, became slender, straight, and tapering.
So much for a general survey of this interesting and productive period.
Many historical changes took place during the seventy-two-years' reign of Louis XIV which had a direct effect on the art industries. The influence of the Queen Regent and Cardinal Mazarin during the years of Louis's minority was toward greater luxury, which always means ornateness in decoration. More powerful still was the constructive influence of Jean Baptiste Colbert, Minister of Finance, who became Prime Minister in 1661. Colbert fostered the growing art impulse among the French people and encouraged the art industries. He founded the Academy of Painters and Sculptors, organized the lace industry, and was instrumental in the government purchase of the Gobelin Tapestry Works, at the head of which he placed Charles Le Brun.
As royal works, the Gobelin factory became a powerful influence in the development of style. Le Brun became manager in 1660 and a dictator of style. In 1690 he was succeeded by Mignard. The Beauvais Tapestry Works were also established during this reign, with Louis Hyvart as manager. The tapestries produced by these two factories were typical of the tastes of the times, and were characterized by pomp and grandeur, with a preference for serious classic and martial subjects.
These things, culminating about 1667, gave direction to the popul ^r impulse and resulted in the crystallization of the Louis XIV style. In 1660 Louis adopted his title of Le Grand Monarque and became a powerful king. He aided Colbert in encouraging the art industries, and gave every opportunity for development to such artists and designers as Daniel Marot, De Espouy, Hardouin Mansart, Noel Coy-pel, and Le Pautre. Great furniture designers and cabinet-makers were encouraged and thrived, including J. Charles Berain and André Charles Boulle. Boulle was the chief of this group, and his work is stamped on the Louis XIV style in furniture. Le Brun is said to have drawn some of his designs, and Marot worked for him. His furniture is distinguished by wonderful workmanship and lavish ornament. He made use of ormolu and introduced an elaborate marquetry of tortoise-shell and brass which came to be known as Boulle or Buhl work. Shells, scrolls, the acanthus, and the ram's head were among his ornamental details.
Under royal patronage the palace was built at
made of ebony with gilt
A Louis XIV table and small cabinet in the style of Boulle and bronze mounts made of ebony with gilt
Versailles and gardens were laid out by André Le Nôtre. Great artists and designers were employed in the interior decorations and furnishings, and magnificence was the keynote. In some respects, however, the work done at Fontainebleau and the Trianon, and in certain châteaux and private mansions, where a simpler phase of the Louis XIV style is illustrated, forms a safer guide for modern students.
Louis XIV chairs were large and comfortable, being usually upholstered, back and seat, with tapestry, brocade of large pattern, or with ruby velvet enriched with gold galloon. During the first half of the reign the legs of chairs were straight, and turned or carved in a squarish effect, like pedestals. ^ They were furnished with decorative underframing, and were sometimes ornamented with acanthus carving^ In general, these chairs were similar to those introduced into England by Daniel Marot, and known to us as William and Mary chairs. Later the chair-legs became curved, similar to the cabriole, still somewhat massive but more graceful. Chair backs departed from the rectilinear and swept upward in a curve. After 1700 the legs became more slender, approaching those of the Louis XV period in style.
The tables had similar turned or pedestal feet, and later had curved legs. Small, round and oblong tables and consoles became common. Beds were designed chiefly with a view to supporting elaborate draperies. A couch, called lit a la duchesse, gilded, painted, and varnished, made its appearance. • Carved and inlaid panels were much used on chests and wardrobes, and there were many forms of chests and cabinets in vogue. One chest was shaped like a sarcophagus, after the Italian Renaissance manner, and was set on carved scroll legs, like a table, with drawers beneath. A common form of cabinet had a serpentine front and carved feet and panels, and was decorated with Buhl work. These are but a few of the numerous forms that appeared during the Louis XIV period.
The chief woods used in cabinet-making were oak, walnut, chestnut, and ebony, with ornamental portions frequently done in rosewood, sandal-wood, tulip-wood, and various exotic woods. There was much gilding, marquetry and carving, with mounts and inlay of onyx, porphyry, lapis-lazuli, ormolu, brass, and colored woods. Gobelin tapestry and Lyons velvet were the principal upholstery materials.
Toward the end of the reign the styles changed, developing toward that of the Louis XV period. The pedestal legs gave place to more slender, curved legs. Elaborate carving became an even more prominent feature, with a more graceful rococo and more scroll-work. In other respects very similar to the Louis XV style, however, this late Louis XIV work continued to show balanced details, while one of the distinguishing features of the succeeding reign is a balance of harmony, but not of detail.
Throughout the Louis XIV period the great designers continued in their effort to perpetuate the spirit of the Renaissance. It was a distinguished period in the development of French applied art and one worth studying for its own sake, as well as for the sake of a better understanding of the styles that followed.
The Louis XIV style has been somewhat neglected in the past by modern manufacturers of period furniture, who have found the styles of Louis XV and Louis XVI more to their liking. Of late, however, Louis XIV reproductions and adaptations have been placed on the market in increasing numbers, and today the style is enjoying something of a popular vogue, in common with the William and Mary style of England. Its dignity and distinction render it suitable to the more formal rooms in the modern home.
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