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For some years past, so lively an interest has been manifested in Italian
furniture of the Renaissance, and also of the periods subsequent thereto, that
the publication of this book needs no apology.

Two books hitherto, George Leland Hunter's Italian Furniture and Inter-
iors and William M. Odom's History of Italian Furniture from the Fourteenth
to the Early Nineteenth Centuries, have ministered to the general desire for
information upon this topic. Various magazines, especially House and Garden
and Good Furniture, have published sundry well illustrated articles upon the
subject. The museums in different parts of the country have made praisewor-
thy efforts to acquire and to display appropriately the best specimens of Italian
mobiliary art tbey could obtain. Architects and decorators have extensively em-
ployed Italian pieces in equipping houses with whose furnishing they were
commissioned, and in numerous other ways a taste for Italian furniture has
been so stimulated that furniture manufacturers are producing tables, chairs,
chests, and other objects of domestic appointment from designs admittedly
inspired by Italian models, while industrial art schools are paying more or less
attention in their courses to the work of Renaissance Italian cabinet-makers.

On the one hand, in many cases where the design of houses has been per-
ceptibly influenced by Italian ideas, there is naturally provided a background
either suitable for the use of furniture of kindred provenance, or indeed actu-
ally requiring it. On the other hand, not a few interiors of composite and
eclectic inspiration are so constituted architecturally that they supply a kindly
foil and invite the employment of just such movables as Italian Renaissance
design affords.

In either case a sound knowledge of the forms and methods practised by
the Italian craftsmen is an essential desideratum not only for the architect, the
interior decorator, the furniture designer, and the student of industrial art, but
also for the layman of cultivated tastes and a catholic sense of appreciation.
Such a volume as this cannot fail, therefore, to be a welcome addition to the
literature upon the subject — a literature that is none too large — and it will sub-
stantially contribute to foster understanding of a rich field of decorative art
whence we may draw both pleasure and many a profitable lesson.

Study of the plates and the accompanying data will reveal not only a con-
siderable diversity of decorative processes, used either singly or in combina-
tion, but also the workings of a marvellously fertile invention in the marshall-
ing and adaptation of a wealth of decorative motifs. Each part of Italy was
so strongly individual in its manifestations of the decorative arts, no less than
in the developments of painting, sculpture, and architecture, that it is not sur-
prising to find these local individualities plainly reflected in the furniture pro-
duced, although, of course, there is unmistakably present the bond of an in-
forming spirit of design common throughout the whole country at any given



The plates in the ensuing pages are so arranged that it is possible to trace
both the local differences and the general underlying similarity. The reader
may examine Tuscan types in one place, Ligurian in another, Umbrian in a third
division, and so on through Lombard, Venetian, Roman, and all other local man-
ifestations. This arrangement of the book, in a manner conducive to conven-
ient comparison and analysis, will be found one of its most valuable features.

Italian interiors of the period when the pieces illustrated were made, and
for the appointment of which those pieces were intended, may be broadly classi-
fied as being severely restrained. Interiors of the former category were elabor-
ate in the composition of their fixed decorations and displayed all the wealth
of polychrome treatment that could be devised in the way of either frescoes or
diapered patterns for the walls; not infrequently there was the added embellish-
ment of panelling composed of carved and inlaid wood, or of colored marbles;
and the ceilings, whether plastered and painted with glowing designs, or beamed
with carved corbels and polychrome enrichment, correspond in splendor with
the walls.

Interiors of the second category were simple in scheme, often to the extent
of austerity, and depended for their distinction upon the emphasis of enrich-
ment concentrated at one or more points where it would prove most effective.
The concentrated enrichment might consist of the painted and gilt corbels,
beams, and panels of the ceiling; of polychrome doors; or of an elaborately
wrought fireplace. For the enhancement of the spots of color or carving, the
plain walls served as admirable foils.

In either case it was necessary to the best results that the furniture be rich
in quality. For the ornate interior, rich workmanship was essential to render
the furniture in keeping with its highly organized background. On the other
hand, richly wrought furniture in a room of austere character ensured the val-
uable element of contrast.

Italian rooms of the Renaissance period were sparsely furnished according
to the notions of many people at the present day. In a country like Italy, where
it is not only possible but inviting to live in the open for so great a part of the
year, and where so much use is made of the gardens, there is no occasion for
houses to be so fully furnished as in more northern latitudes where a far greater
proportion of the time must inevitably be spent within doors.

When the domestic habits of the period, and other conditions also, dictated
the employment of a relatively small number of pieces, it was possible, and in-
deed natural, in accordance with the ideal of quality rather than quantity, to
make each item of furniture a finished work of art, complete in itself and not
dependent upon adjacent pieces to give it its value. Even when cassoni were
made in pairs, to give symmetry of contour in certain places, the decorations
often displayed not a little variation. The masters of the time understood har-
mony without stupid iteration, and the pernicious idea of iresome "tweedle-dum
and tweedle-dee" repetition in so-called suites was left to a less inventive age
to exploit.

Another element that contributed to strong individualism exhibited by sep-

arate pieces was the fact that eminent artists in that age of manifold activities
often "deemed it worthy of their best efforts to design a single piece of furni-
ture and execute it with their own hands." When Botticelli or Andrea del Sar-
to, and the ablest of their pupils, painted cassone panels, or when Donatello or
Bernardino Ferrante wrought the carving of a chest, a table, or a cassa panca,
we may well understand why each object possessed so much character.

With some preliminary conception of the rooms themselves, and of the na-
ture of the furniture that went into them, the student of Renaissance decor-
ative art may go on to an intelligent appreciation of the pieces illustrated in this
book. One fact, however, must be borne in mind. The compiler chose for illus-
tration chiefly examples of what are usually called "museum pieces." Within
the compass of a small book, where it is impossible adequately to illustrate the
entire mobiliary development of an age, it is quite defensible to select the finest
pieces of their several kinds for presentation. But we must remember that
much of the simpler furniture of the period, while not possessing the sumptuous
carved or painted enrichment of the master-pieces, nevertheless had a goodly
share of grace of form and dignity of ornament.

Those minded to pursue the subject further will finr 4 admirable collections
accessible for study in the museums of the Italian cities, in the South Kensing-
ton Museum in London, and in the different American museums — especially in
Boston, Philadelphia, New York, Brooklyn and Chicago — where new acquisi-
tions are continually being made and where every facility is placed at the dis-
posal of the student.


The invitation to work upon a second edition of the Manual of Italian
Furniture of the Renaissance came to me from the House that published it in
1902, with an accompanying question regarding translations. This gave me
agreeable proof of consideration for my efforts to bring together the widely
distributed, and tor the most part neglected, material, which I have endeavored
to place in its order with reference to the period and the school to which it be-
longed. I know that it was only an attempt, and that it is on the whole, the
first, so in many respects it needs completion and rectification. Although the
value ot their art handicraft is well understood in Italy, the authorities, until
now, have fur the most part hindered any consideration of it, on account of
their anxiety to keep their pictures and works of art in the country. Unfortu-
nately, in the meantime the ever-diminishing stock of old furniure will be so
thoroughly ransacked by the art dealer that, later, what has been neglected can
never be recovered. Italy is indebted to several art inspired collectors and deal-
ers that there are at present in Italian museums the beginnings, at least after
some correction, of a number of excellent collections. Ahead of all the rest are
those of the Marchese d'Azeglio, in the Museo Civico at Turin and in his castle
in the hills of Piedmont; ot Cav. Poldi Pezzoli in Milan, whose museum is the
foremost art foundation of Italy; of the brothers Bagatti-Valsecchi in Milan:
of the Frenchman, A. Carrand, who in his collection of small works of art and
in the art craft work of the National Museum of Florence, has left behind him
a priceless gift; of the dealer in antiques, Elia Volpi, who in fitting up his ad-
mirably restored Davanzati-Davizzi palace in Florence, has given a wonderful
example of Italian furniture and its placement. Since a satisfactorily complete
assemblage of these things is no longer possible, it is the more important that
those scattered about in the museums and found in the collections of other
countries should be intelligently sifted and the results compiled. In order, how-
ever, gradually to arrive at a trustworthy representation of the house furnish-
ings of the different parts of Italy, it should be the special task of our Italian
colleagues to bring together as completely as possible, the material concerning
them to be found in contemporary pictures, documents, and writings; a task
which I, unfortunately, on account of my age as well as my infirmity, cannot

For help in my work I have particularly to thank the great Italian dealers
in antiques through whose hands, for the last ten years, the most and the best
ol Italian furniture has passed, and especially Messrs. Stefano Bardini, Elia
Volpi, and Lu ; gi Grassi, of Florence.



In the Middle Ages the Italian living-room was, according to our present
day conception, almost bare. As even now in the old Italian peasant's house
(those of the Province of Venetia yet show plainly the old Longobard type) the
hearth in the middle and the masonry about it form the natural abiding place of
the inhabitant in the cold and damp seasons, so the chimney-piece, usually of.
colossal form, was the most prominent feature and obviously the central point in
the room of a medieval palace. Around the walls were benches which, by open-,
ing the seat, could be used at the same time as chests and on these, at least in
certain rooms, great soft cushions made the seat more comfortable. A long table
(only in exceptional cases were there more) stood in front of the benches;
more often it was. set up before them when it was needed, being made up of
two trestles holding a heavy plank. Near by, and before the hearth, stood una-
dorned stools in braided straw. In a smaller room a low bed was constructed,
with high steps running around it that were used both as chests and as seats,
a row of unornamented stools and chairs being the only additional furniture.
To accommodate the necessary household utensils and vessels, where they did
not find a place in the chests, cupboards were built into the thick walls of the
rooms and chambers. These were seldom closed. This scanty furniture was
of a simple form and substantial build; it was handed down from one genera-
tion to another without much change or addition.

The new period — the Renaissance — did not at first cause any fundamental
change in this disposition of household effects; it found its task in this field in
the perfecting of church furnishings. The choir stalls, the bishop's throne, the
pulpit, the organ, the sacristy wardrobes and desks, the framing ot the altai
pictures, and the like, had, particularly in Florence, large monumental form,
and were enlivened not only by modest wood-carving and beautiful intarsia,
but occasional^ also by the finest coloring through painting. Moreover the
town halls, hospitals, libraries, and other public buildings, were fitted up with
similar furniture, at times even very splendidly.

First toward the middle of the XV century, outside Florence first in the
second half of the Quattrocento, with the urge of individualism and the more
pronounced cultivation of the ego, the demand for richer and more comfortable*
furnishings for the house became livelier and more general. In the time of
the great Medici and under their leadership the Florentine house acquired its
modern furnishings; new forms, even new combinations of furniture, answer-
ing to the modern demand for comfort, were found and perfected. In this de-
velopment the influence of church furniture betrays itself plainly in the severe
straight forms, in the frugal disposition of effective carving, as in the prefer-
ence for coloring by means of painting and gilding, and notably through the use

of different colored woods. The further development of Florentine cabinet
work is based on the forms that were found in this time. Michelangelo's
activities as sculptor and architect had, in the second and third decade of the
Cinquecento, even in this handicraft, a different significance. His ''cabinet ar-
chitecture," as Jakob Burckhardt in his "Michelangelos Innendekoration in der
Laurentiana" and in the "Gruft der Mediceer," indicates, brought to architec-
ture entirely new forms and concepts; it offered an abundance of motives for
cabinet work, capable of development. Thence came the characteristic Baroque
movement in form, and especially in the decoration, of the Florentine High Re-
naissance. The form with movement and ornament full of expression led to
abandoning the coloring of furniture, which was left in its natural hue, strength-
ened, to be sure, with color pigment and the well toned gilding of certain pro-
jecting ornaments. It was after the middle of the century that the forms be-
came simpler and more architectural, for that reason, however, more useful and
less picturesque.

One of the most interesting and at the same time the most important
pieces of Renaissance furniture is the chest, cassa, or cassone, which is of great
significance in the life of the Italian. Since the chests by the bed were consid-
ered the principal pieces in the outfit of a young married couple, the most im-
portant ones were designated bride, or wedding, chests. In the Middle Ages
chests were used also as portable furniture and because of the roving life led
by the richer classes, nobility as well as merchants, were transformed into trav-
elling baggage in many different ways. Before everything the chest carried,
with the clothing, money and jewels, that on account of the uncertain condi-
tions, could not safely be left at home. Serving this purpose gave to them, in
Italian as well as in French the name, cassa or coffret. It was necessary to put
into the "coffers" at the same time clothing, laundry, and all kinds of useful
things, even to beds, carpets, weapons, cooking utensils, and so on, to take with
them, as the inns, when there were any, for the most part offered nothing but
bare walls and a hearth or a fireplace. On that account they took care so to
arrange these cotters or chests, inside and out, that they could turn them into
seats or tables. People of rank took with them on their travels numerous large
and small coffers. So we find with the permanently fixed wall bench (Which
was, we have said, used to hold linen and clothing), also movable chests; these
stood around the sides of the room. In the fifteenth century and even until the
sixteenth, these (the wedding chests) were decidedly the most valued and the
most sumptuous pieces in the palace, particularly in Tuscany. Here there was
an independent guild of chest painters, among whom occasionally the foremost
artists undertook the decoration of chests and similar pieces, laying out on them
rich compositions with antique and allegorical motives. From the unusually
numerous pieces that have been preserved, Paul Schubring in his splendid work,
"Cassoni," has brought out a very complete group of Early Renaissance chests
and chest paintings. Their rich artistic embellishment seems notably to have
come out of the great hospitals, foundling asylums, and similar institutions, such
luxury indicating the possession of a considerable revenue. Among a number of

such chests that came, in 1880, into the dealers' hands from the storehouse of S.
Maria Nuova, were characteristic examples of such Florentine cassoni of the
3nd of the fifteenth and the beginning of the sixteenth centuries. They are
mostly high and have a rounded cover, so they could not have been used as
seats. On a painted ground a moulded decoration in color is applied; knights
and minnesingers, conventionalized animals and plants, or ornaments, bedecked
the different sides and the cover; between them were flat gaily painted iron
hoops. A pair of these chests, that had been preserved in their own place and
position, are now in the Museo Nazionale in Florence (111. 1). At the same time
(1400) essentially smaller and lighter chests for private use were produced
that were flat on the top, and on the front, toward the bottom, were arched,
and had a short foot-board beneath. These were painted with the arms and
emblems of the family (111. 2). Only these and similar light, plain chests could
be taken on journeys.

The Florentine chests of the fifteenth century have regular straight sides,
flat or slightly rounded covers, and strong simple bases with or without lion feet.
A frequent, very characteristic variety of these chests that originated in Tus-
cany in the Cinquecento, is decorated on the front with gilded low relief in ap-
plied forms of moulded plaster: plants (copied from contemporaneous patterns
for stuffs), animals, emblems and fabulous beasts, all done in a very conven-
tional, heraldic manner. Occasionally also there were sumptuous compositions,
notably of battles, the tasks of Hercules, allegorical or mythological figures or
scenes (111. 3 to 5), that were at times modelled by prominent artists, but they
also were, as a rule, treated very conventionally. These appear in Florence as
well as in Siena and the neighboring cities. The vaulted or curved top was cus-
tomarily gilded and had a simple decoration of carving or applied low relief:
on the ends were painted coats-of-arms or ornaments, and iron handles for
lifting the chest.

The partiality for inlaid woodwork in the Quottrocento led to the employ-
ment of intarsia also, in the ornamentation of the chests, that were then of un-
usually stately construction, with fine profile work, as well as consummately
beautiful design. A number of the most noted Florentine architects and sculp-
tors were from birth intarsia workers and kept their flourishing and remunera-
tive workshops near by, even when they were among the most sought after of
the architects. From these shops the stately chests went out that, as we see in
pictures, were also, on account of their height, turned into tables (111. page 7);
the decorations on the front of these showed putti with wreaths, or on each side '
of a coat-of-arms, city views, musical instruments, and the like; more rarely a
rich composition in intarsia is shown, while the moulding consists of
delicate ornament that is also done in woods (111. 8-11).

How cherished the chests of this time were, and how they were valued, is
best witnessed by the number of such cassoni that are decorated with paintings
by the hands of the foremost Florentine painters. Among famous chest painters
like Dello Delli, Marco del Buono. Apollonio di Giovanni and others, Pesellino,
Botticelli, Filippino. Paolo Uccelli, Signorelli, Piero di Cosimo and other re-

* nowned painters of the Quottrocento, in Florence as well as Siena, have decor-
ated chests. Even in the first decade of the Cinquecento we see prominent ar-
tists like Andrea del Sarto, Franciabigio, Granacci, Bacchiacca and Pontormc
engaged in the work. "Not only in the Medici Palace and in all old Medician
houses, but in ail the principal houses in Florence one finds such chests even
yet," Vasari relates. The painted sides of these chests decorate today, as paint-
ings, the largest museums.

The favorite subjects are tales borrowed from the Old Testament, the an-
cient sagas or the Italian novelle; the deeds of young David, the Trojan war,
the Labors of Hercules or the adventures of ^Eneas, the story of Esther, of Luc-
rezia, Judith, Virginia, Penelope, Griselda, and so on, including allegorical com-
positions with love and truth as themes. Occasionally also there were representa-
tions of the time, such as battles, hunts, tournaments, festivals of all kinds, and
other themes that expressed the sentiment of young married couples (111. 1).
This truly monumental piece of furniture, besides being a favorite wedding
present among the great families of the Quattrocento, held a prominent place
set up against the walls of the room, and was sometimes raised on detached, del-
icately executed supports, which at the same time protected it. Unfortunately,
hardly one of these most valuable chests has been preserved intact, for the paint-
ings have been taken out, they being the only parts that were valued, and that
the galleries wished to exhibit; the rest was regarded as worthless. Such a
chest, without doubt, was the stately Strozzi cassone, which was completed for
the wedding of a Strozzi with a Medici in the year 1513. It is now in the Berlin
Kunstgewerbe-Museum. The painted front has been taken out and replaced by
an older intarsia picture (111. 10). The same is true ol various similar large
chests, the form and decoration of which permit us to infer an embellishment of
painted sides. The majority of the painted chests were, however, adorned by
the merry representations of the chest painter or with ornamental decoration,
mostly of coats-of-arms and emblems that were simply and largely handled,
with strong tints on a colored background.

On the older chests of this kind, the inlaid as well as the painted ones, the
carving was mostly on the strongly accented corners and on the mountings, in
the form of modest ornament, confined to the egg and dart, the heart leaf, and
the like. The decoration of chests through rich pictorial carving is found
•C first in the time of the High Renaissance. As thereby the beauty of the woods
as such, and the artistic work of the carvers, gained appreciation, coloring,
through painting, intarsia, etc., was abandoned. Through strong profile work,

* high relief, and lively projection the artists achieved in this time as rich and
varied an effect as their predecessors had through color. At the corners we

* find vigorously formed masks, armorial bearings, putti, prisoners (borrowed
from Roman triumphs), or Sphinxes arising from rich plant ornament which
adorned the front, while in the middle, as a rule, was a cartouche with armorial
bearings or emblems. The cover is of diminished size on the top and has rich pro-
file work and carving (111. 12). The front is variously decorated in high relief
with representations from Roman history or ancient mythology, that are placed

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Online LibraryWilhelm von BodeItalian renaissance furniture → online text (page 1 of 7)