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Furnishing the Home of Good Taste A Brief Sketch of the Period Styles in Interior Decoration with Suggestions as to Their Employment in the Homes of Today online

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decoration of the room, and curtains were not used in our modern
manner, but served only to keep out the draughts. In those days the
better the house the simpler the curtains. There were many kinds of
ceilings used, marble, carved wood, stucco, and painting. They were
elaborate and beautiful, and always gave the impression of being
perfectly supported on the well-proportioned cornice and walls. The
floors were usually of marble. Many of the houses kept to the plan of
mediæval exteriors, great expanses of plain walls with few openings on
the outsides, but as they were built around open courts, the interiors
with their colonnades and open spaces showed the change the Renaissance
had brought. The Riccardi Palace in Florence and the Palazzo della
Cancelleria in Rome, are examples of this early type. The second phase
was represented by the great Bramante, whose theory of restraining
decoration and emphasizing the structure of the building has had such
important influence. One of his successors was Andrea Palladio, whose
work made such a deep impression on Inigo Jones. The Library of St.
Mark's at Venice is a beautiful example of this part. The third phase
was entirely dominated by Michelangelo.

The furniture, to be in keeping with buildings of this kind, was large
and richly carved. Chairs, seats, chests, cabinets, tables, and beds,
were the chief pieces used, but they were not plentiful at all in our
sense of the word. The chairs and benches had cushions to soften the
hard wooden seats. The stuffs of the time were most beautiful Genoese
velvet, cloth of gold, tapestries, and wonderful embroideries, all
lending their color to the gorgeous picture. The carved marriage chest,
or cassone, is one of the pieces of Renaissance furniture which has most
often descended to our own day, for such chests formed a very important
part of the furnishing in every household, and being large and heavy,
were not so easily broken as chairs and tables. Beds were huge, and were
architectural in form, a base and roof supported on four columns. The
classical orders were used, touched with the spirit of the time, and the
fluted columns rose from acanthus leaves set in an urn supported on
lion's feet. The tester and cornice gave scope for carving and the
panels of the tester usually had the lovely scrolls so characteristic of
the period. The headboard was often carved with a coat-of-arms and the
curtains hung from inside the cornice.

Grotesques were largely used in ornament. The name is derived from
grottoes, as the Roman tombs being excavated at the time were called,
and were in imitation of the paintings found on their walls, and while
they were fantastic, the word then had no unkindly humorous meaning as
now. Scrolls, dolphins, birds, beasts, the human figure, flowers,
everything was called into use for carving and painting by genius of the
artisans of the Renaissance. They loved their work and felt the beauty
and meaning of every line they made, and so it came about that when, in
the course of years, they traveled to neighboring countries, they spread
the influence of this great period, and it is most interesting to see
how on the Italian foundation each country built her own distinctive

Like all great movements the Renaissance had its beginning, its splendid
climax, and its decline.

_The Development of Decoration in France._

When Caesar came to Gaul he did more than see and conquer; he absorbed
so thoroughly that we have almost no knowledge of how the Gauls lived,
so far as household effects were concerned. The character which
descended from this Gallo-Roman race to the later French nation was
optimistic and beauty-loving, with a strength which has carried it
through many dark days. It might be said to be responsible for the
French sense of proportion and their freedom of judgment which has
enabled them to hold their important place in the history of art and
decoration. They have always assimilated ideas freely but have worked
them over until they bore the stamp of their own individuality, often
gaining greatly in the process.

One of the first authentic pieces of furniture is a _bahut_ or chest
dating from sometime in the twelfth century and belonging to the Church
of Obazine. It shows how furniture followed the lines of architecture,
and also shows that there was no carving used on it. Large spaces were
probably covered with painted canvas, glued on. Later, when panels
became smaller and the furniture designs were modified, moldings, etc.,
began to be used. These _bahuts_ or _huches_, from which the term
_huchiers_ came (meaning the Corporation of Carpenters), were nothing
more than chests standing on four feet. From all sources of information
on the subject it has been decided that they were probably the chief
pieces of furniture the people had. They served as a seat by day and,
with cushions spread upon them, as a bed by night. They were also used
as tables with large pieces of silver _dressé_ or arranged upon them in
the daytime. From this comes our word "dresser" for the kitchen shelves.
In those days of brigands and wars and sudden death, the household
belongings were as few as possible so that the trouble of speedy
transportation would be small, and everything was packed into the
chests. As the idea of comfort grew a little stronger, the number of
chests grew, and when a traveling party arrived at a stopping-place, out
came the tapestries and hangings and cushions and silver dishes, which
were arranged to make the rooms seem as cheerful as possible. The germ
of the home ideal was there, at least, but it was hard work for the
arras and the "ciel" to keep out the cold and cover the bare walls. When
life became a little more secure and people learned something of the
beauty of proportion, the rooms showed more harmony in regard to the
relation of open spaces and walls, and became a decoration in
themselves, with the tapestries and hangings enhancing their beauty of
line. It was not until some time in the fifteenth century that the
habit of traveling with all one's belongings ceased.

The year 1000 was looked forward to with abject terror, for it was
firmly believed by all that the world was then coming to an end. It cast
a gloom over all the people and paralyzed all ambition. When, however,
the fatal year was safely passed, there was a great religious
thanksgiving and everyone joined in the praise of a merciful God. The
semi-circular arch of the Romanesque style gave way to the pointed arch
of the Gothic, and wonderful cathedrals slowly lifted their beautiful
spires to the sky. The ideal was to build for the glory of God and not
only for the eyes of man, so that exquisite carving was lavished upon
all parts of the work. This deeply reverent feeling lasted through the
best period of Gothic architecture, and while household furniture was at
a standstill church furniture became more and more beautiful, for in the
midst of the religious fervor nothing seemed too much to do for the
Church. Slowly it died out, and a secular attitude crept into
decoration. One finds grotesque carvings appearing on the choir stalls
and other parts of churches and cathedrals and the standard of
excellence was lowered.

The chest, table, wooden arm-chair, bed, and bench, were as far as the
imagination had gone in domestic furniture, and although we read of
wonderful tapestries and leather hangings and clothes embroidered in
gold and jewels, there was no comfort in our sense of the word, and
those brave knights and fair ladies had need to be strong to stand the
hardships of life. Glitter and show was the ideal and it was many more
years before the standard of comfort and refinement gained a firm

Gothic architecture and decoration declined from the perfection of the
thirteenth and fourteenth centuries to the over-decorated, flamboyant
Gothic of the fifteenth century, and it was in the latter period that
the transition began between the Gothic and the Renaissance epochs.

The Renaissance was at its height in Italy in the fifteenth century, and
its influence began to make itself felt a little in France at that time.

When the French under Louis XII seized Milan, the magnificence of the
court of Ludovico Sforza, the great duke of Milan, made such an
impression on them that they could not rest content with the old order,
and took home many beautiful things. Italian artisans were also
imported, and as France was ready for the change, their lessons were
learned and the French Renaissance came slowly into existence. This
transition is well shown by the Chateau de Gaillon, built by Cardinal
d'Amboise. Gothic and Renaissance decoration were placed side by side in
panels and furniture, and we also find some pure Gothic decoration as
late as the early part of the sixteenth century, but they were in parts
of France where tradition changed slowly. Styles overlap in every
transition period, so it is often difficult to place the exact date on a
piece of furniture; but the old dies out at last and gives way to the

With the accession of Frances I in 1515 the Renaissance came into its
own in France. He was a great patron of art and letters, and under his
fostering care the people knew new luxuries, new beauties, and new
comforts. He invited Andrea del Sarto and Leonardo da Vinci to come to
France. The word Renaissance means simply revival and it is not
correctly used when we mean a distinct style led or inspired by one
person. It was a great epoch, with individuality as its leading spirit,
led by the inspiration of the Italian artists brought from Italy and
molded by the genius of France. This renewal of classic feeling came at
the psychological moment, for the true spirit of the great Gothic period
had died. The Renaissance movements in Italy, France, England and
Germany all drew their inspiration from the same source, but in each
case the national characteristics entered into the treatment. The
Italians and Germans both used the grotesque a great deal, but the
Germans used it in a coarser and heavier way than the Italians, who used
it esthetically. The French used more especially conventional and
beautiful floral forms, and the inborn French sense of the fitness of
things gave the treatment a wonderful charm and beauty. If one studies
the French chateaux one will feel the true beauty and spirit of the
times - Blois with its history of many centuries, and then some of the
purely Renaissance chateaux, like Chambord. Although great numbers of
Italian artists came to France, one must not think they did all the
beautiful work of the time. The French learned quickly and adapted what
they learned to their own needs, so that the delicate and graceful
decorations brought from Italy became more and more individualized until
in the reign of Henry II the Renaissance reached its high-water mark.

The furniture of the time did not show much change or become more varied
or comfortable. It was large and solid and the chairs had the
satisfactory effect of good proportion, while the general squareness of
outline added to the feeling of solidity. Oak was used, and later
walnut. The chair legs were straight, and often elaborately turned, and
usually had strainers or under framing. Cushions were simply tied on at
first, but the knowledge of upholstering was gaining ground, and by the
time of Louis XIII was well understood. Cabinets had an architectural
effect in their design. The style of the decorative motive changed, but
it is chiefly in architecture and the decorative treatment of it that
one sees the true spirit of the Renaissance. Two men who had great
influence on the style of furniture of the time were Androuet du Cerceau
and Hugues Sambin. They published books of plates that were eagerly
copied in all parts of France. Sambin's influence can be traced in the
later style of Louis XIV.

[Illustration: Louis XIII chair now in the Cluny Museum showing the
Flemish influence.]

[Illustration: A typical Louis XIII chair, many of which were covered
with velvet or tapestry.]

[Illustration: _By courtesy of the Metropolitan Museum of Art_

This Gothic chair of the 16th century shows the beautiful linen-fold
design in the carving on the lower panels, and also the keyhole which
made the chest safe when traveling.]

The marriage of Henry II and Catherine de Medici naturally continued the
strong Italian influence. The portion of the Renaissance called after
Henry II lasted about seventy-five years, and corresponds with the
Elizabethan period in England.

During the regency of Marie de Medici, Flemish influence became very
strong, as she invited Rubens to Paris to decorate the Luxembourg. There
were also many Italians called to do the work, and as Rubens had studied
in Italy, Italian influence was not lacking.

Degeneracy began during the reign of Henry IV, as ornament became
meaningless and consistency of decoration was lost in a maze of
superfluous design.

It was in the reign of Louis XIII that furniture for the first time
became really comfortable, and if one examines the engravings of Abraham
Bosse one will see that the rooms have an air of homelikeness as well as
richness. The characteristic chair of the period was short in the back
and square in shape - it was usually covered with leather or tapestry,
fastened to the chair with large brass nails, and the back and seat
often had a fringe. A set of chairs usually consisted of arm-chairs,
plain chairs, folding stools and a _lit-de-repos_. Many of the
arm-chairs were entirely covered with velvet or tapestry, or, if the
woodwork showed, it was stained to harmonize with the covering on the
seat and back.

The twisted columns used in chairs, bedposts, etc., were borrowed from
Italy and were very popular. Another shape often used for chair legs was
the X that shows Flemish influence. The _lit-de-repos_, or
_chaise-longue_, was a seat about six feet long, sometimes with arms and
sometimes not, and with a mattress and bolster. The beds were very
elaborate and very important in the scheme of decoration, as the ladies
of the time held receptions in their bedrooms and the king and nobles
gave audiences to their subjects while in bed. These latter were
therefore necessarily furnished with splendor. The woodwork was usually
covered with the same material as the curtains, or stained to harmonize.
The canopy never reached to the ceiling but was, from floor to top,
about 7 ft. 3 in. high, and the bed was 6-1/2 ft. square. The curtains
were arranged on rods and pulleys, and when closed this "_lit en
housse_" looked like a huge square box. The counterpane, or "_coverture
de parade_," was of the curtain material. The four corners of the canopy
were decorated with bunches of plumes or panache, or with a carved
wooden ornament called pomme, or with a "_bouquet_" of silk. The beds
were covered with rich stuffs, like tapestry, silk, satin, velvet,
cloth-of-gold and silver, etc., all of which were embroidered or trimmed
with gold or silver lace. One of the features of a Louis XIII room was
the tapestry and hangings. A certain look of dignity was given to the
rooms by the general square and heavy outlines of the furniture and the
huge chimney-pieces.

The taste for cabinets kept up and the cabinets and presses were large,
sometimes divided into two parts, sometimes with doors, sometimes with
open frame underneath. The tables were richly carved and gilded, often
ornamented with bronze and copper. The cartouche was used a great deal
in decoration, with a curved surface. This rounded form appears in the
posts used in various kinds of furniture. When rectangles were used they
were always broader than high. The garlands of fruit were heavy, the
cornucopias were slender, with an astonishing amount of fruit pouring
from them, and the work was done in rather low relief. Carved and gilded
mirrors were introduced by the Italians as were also sconces and glass
chandeliers. It was a time of great magnificence, and shadowed forth the
coming glory of Louis XIV. It seems a style well suited to large
dining-rooms and libraries in modern houses of importance.

_Louis XIV_

It is often a really difficult matter to decide the exact boundary lines
between one period and another, for the new style shows its beginnings
before the old one is passed, and the old style still appears during the
early years of the new one. It is an overlapping process and the years
of transition are ones of great interest. As one period follows another
it usually shows a reaction from the previous one; a somber period is
followed by a gay one; the excess of ornament in one is followed by
restraint in the next. It is the same law that makes us want cake when
we have had too much bread and butter.

The world has changed so much since the seventeenth and eighteenth
centuries that it seems almost impossible that we should ever again have
great periods of decoration like those of Louis XIV, Louis XV and Louis
XVI. Then the monarch was supreme. "_L'état c'est moi_," said Louis XIV,
and it was true. He established the great Gobelin works on a basis that
made France the authority of the world and firmly imposed his taste and
his will on the country. Now that this absolute power of one man is a
thing of the past, we have the influence of many men forming and molding
something that may turn into a beautiful epoch of decoration, one that
will have in it some of the feeling that brought the French Renaissance
to its height, though not like it, for we have the same respect for
individuality working within the laws of beauty that they had.

The style that takes its name from Louis XIV was one of great
magnificence and beauty with dignity and a certain solidity in its
splendor. It was really the foundation of the styles that followed, and
a great many people look upon the periods of Louis XIV, the Regency,
Louis XV and Louis XVI as one great period with variations, or ups and
downs - the complete swing and return of the pendulum.

Louis XIV was a man with a will of iron and made it absolute law during
his long reign of seventy-two years. His ideal was splendor, and he
encouraged great men in the intellectual and artistic world to do their
work, and shed their glory on the time. Condé, Turenne, Colbert,
Molière, Corneille, La Fontaine, Racine, Fénélon, Boulle, Le Brun, are a
few among the long and wonderful list. He was indeed Louis the
Magnificent, the Sun King.

One of the great elements toward achieving the stupendous results of
this reign was the establishment of the "Manufacture des Meubles de la
Couronne," or, as it is usually called, "Manufacture des Gobelins."
Artists of all kinds were gathered together and given apartments in the
Louvre and the wonderfully gifted and versatile Le Brun was put at the
head. Tapestry, goldsmiths' work, furniture, jewelry, etc., were made,
and with the royal protection and interest France rose to the position
of world-wide supremacy in the arts. Le Brun had the same taste and love
of magnificence as Louis, and had also extraordinary executive ability
and an almost unlimited capacity for work, combined with the power of
gathering about him the most eminent artists of the time. André Charles
Boulle was one, and his beautiful cabinets, commodes, tables, clocks,
etc., are now almost priceless. He carried the inlay of metals,
tortoise-shell, ivory and beautiful woods to its highest expression, and
the mingling of colors with the exquisite workmanship gave most
wonderful effects. Sheets of white metal or brass were glued together
and the pattern was then cut out. When taken apart the brass scrolls
could be fitted exactly into the shell background, and the shell scrolls
into the brass background, thus making two decorations. The shell
background was the more highly prized. The designs usually had a
Renaissance feeling. The metal was softened in outline by engraving, and
then ormolu mounts were added. Ormolu or gilt bronze mounts, formed one
of the great decorations of furniture. The most exquisite workmanship
was lavished on them, and after they had been cast they were cut and
carved and polished until they became worthy ornaments for beautiful
inlaid tables and cabinets. The taste for elaborately carved and gilded
frames to chairs, tables, mirrors, etc., developed rapidly. Mirrors
were made by the Gobelins works and were much less expensive than the
Venetian ones of the previous reign. Walls were painted and covered with
gold with a lavish hand. Tapestries were truly magnificent with gold and
silver threads adding richness to their beauty of color, and were used
purely as a decoration as well as in the old utilitarian way of keeping
out the cold. The Gobelins works made at this time some of the most
beautiful tapestries the world has known. The massive chimney-pieces
were superseded by the "_petite-cheminée_" and had great mirrors over
them or elaborate over-mantels. The whole air of furnishing and
decoration changed to one of greater lightness and brilliancy. The ideal
was that everything, no matter how small, must be beautiful, and we find
the most exquisite workmanship lavished on window-locks and door-knobs.

[Illustration: One of a set of three rare Louis XIV chairs, beautifully
carved and gilded, and said to have belonged to the great Louis himself.]

In the early style of Louis XIV, we find many trophies of war and
mythological subjects used in the decorative schemes. The second style
of this period was a softening and refining of the earlier one, becoming
more and more delicate until it merged into the time of the Regency. It
was during the reign of Louis XIV that the craze for Chinese decoration
first appeared. _La Chinoiserie_ it was called, and it has daintiness
and a curious fascination about it, but many inappropriate things were
done in its name. The furniture of the time was firmly placed upon the
ground, the arm-chairs had strong straining-rails, square or curved
backs, scroll arms carved and partly upholstered and stuffed seats
and backs. The legs of chairs were usually tapering in form and
ornamented with gilding, or marquetry, or richly carved, and later the
feet ended in a carved leaf design. Some of the straining-rails were in
the shape of the letter X, with an ornament at the intersection, and
often there was a wooden molding below the seat in place of fringe. Many
carved and gilded chairs had gold fringe and braid and were covered with
velvet, tapestry or damask.

[Illustration: _By courtesy of the Metropolitan Museum of Art_

Inlaid desk with beautifully chiselled ormolu mounts.]

[Illustration: Rare Louis XIV chair, showing the characteristic

There were many new and elaborate styles of beds that came into fashion
at this time. There was the _lit d'ange_, which had a canopy that did
not extend over the entire bed, and had no pillars at the foot, the
curtains were drawn back at the head and the counterpane went over the
foot of the bed. There was the _lit d'alcove_, the _lit de bout_, _lit
clos_, _lit de glace_, with a mirror framed in the ceiling, and many
others. A _lit de parade_ was like the great bed of Louis XIV at

Both the tall and bracket clocks showed this same love of ornament and
they were carved and gilded and enriched with chased brass and wonderful
inlay by Boulle. The dials also were beautifully designed. Consoles,
tables, cabinets, etc., were all treated in this elaborate way. Many of
the ceilings were painted by great artists, and those at Versailles,
painted by Le Brun and others, are good examples. There was always a
combination of the straight line and the curve, a strong feeling of
balance, and a profusion of ornament in the way of scrolls, garlands,
shells, the acanthus, anthemion, etc. The moldings were wide and
sometimes a torus of laurel leaves was used, but in spite of the great
amount of ornament lavished on everything, there is the feeling of
balance and symmetry and strength that gives dignity and beauty.

Louis was indeed fortunate in having the great Colbert for one of his
ministers. He was a man of gigantic intellect, capable of originating
and executing vast schemes. It was to his policy of state patronage,
wisely directed, and energetically and lavishly carried out, that we owe
the magnificent achievements of this period.

Everywhere the impression is given of brilliancy and splendor - gold on
the walls, gold on the furniture, rich velvets and damasks and
tapestries, marbles and marquetry and painting, furniture worth a king's
ransom. It all formed a beautiful and fitting background for the proud

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Online LibraryLucy Abbot ThroopFurnishing the Home of Good Taste A Brief Sketch of the Period Styles in Interior Decoration with Suggestions as to Their Employment in the Homes of Today → online text (page 2 of 12)