This section is from the book "Your Home And Its Decoration", by The Sherwin-Williams Company. See also: Nell Hill's Feather Your Nest: It's All in the Details.
YEARS of study and an intimate knowledge of architecture are essential to a thorough acquaintance with the true meaning of the ornament and decoration characteristic of the various periods. Therefore, in this chapter, under a general heading, while we can touch but lightly on the subject, we desire to embody such information as will enable the amateur to recognize and classify some, at least, of the ornaments and architectural detail which are representative of these varied styles.
Where it is intended to embody in a residence rooms representative of these periods, the architect should act as mentor and guide, since the architectural design of the house in which these details will appear is of first importance.
To the layman who has given this matter some study, the term "Period Decoration," as applied to the time of the Louis', suggests at once delicately paneled and satin-covered walls with overlying decoration of wreaths and garlands of applied stucco, against which is placed in formal arrangement the gilded and tapestried furniture of the period. The form and general style of the cartouche or panel as representative of the different reigns mean little to him, while they are really of the utmost importance in characterizing the shades of difference shown in the architecture of the times.
When he considers the Jacobean or Italian Renaissance, elaborate marble mantels in strong contrast with richly dark and carven oak in grills and screens and furniture come to his mind, together with walls hung with dull-toned, heroic-figured tapestries. Or if his thoughts turned to the time of the Empire, a suggestion of early Greek and Roman decoration as a setting for mahogany and marble furniture, with applique of brass in torch and acanthus wreath, ram's head, and golden bee, seems adequate to him.
While these ideas are, in a measure, correct, it is largely the proportion of the panels, and their placing and surroundings which are essential to characteristic development and detail as well as the ornament. Many, indeed, are the pitfalls and incongruities which beset the way of the layman, and when he attempts such decoration, one is impressed with the fact that a little knowledge is a dangerous thing.
We feel no better explanatory introduction to this subject can be found than an excerpt from the work, by Thomas Arthur Strange, on "Furniture, Decoration, Woodwork, and Allied Arts of the Seventeenth and Eighteenth Centuries."
"But some of my readers may ask (and this book is mainly written for those who cannot be expected to understand architectural terms) what is the meaning of the word Renaissance as applied to architecture. I will endeavor, as briefly as possible, to explain.
"Nearly every one knows that in ancient Greece civilization and refinement were carried to a very high state of perfection. This was especially so as regards the Fine Arts - the great period of Greek Art - during the fifth century, B. C.
Plate XCIV. The chairs and table will be readily recognized as of the period of Louis XIV., 1643 - 1715, as found at Versailles. The frames are of gilded wood. The covers of Venetian brocade are trimmed with a narrow gold braid and large-headed nails. The chandelier is of cut glass; it is Venetian in character.
Plate XCV. These sketches of paneling give some idea of the richness of this florid period. The skillful carving of tendril, bud, petal, shell, and flower reveal keen love of whimsical shapes and homage of a great nation to the charm and beauty of Nature in her many moods. Louis XVI. Lily of France eloquently recalling the stern simplicity and directness of the original emblem. Like the rest of the paneling at Versailles, the wainscoting is painted white. The mirror frame is gilded.
"After the conquest of Greece by the Romans, the latter imported to Rome Greek artists to build their temples, etc., and thus considerably developed the Greek style. This lasted until about the middle of the third century, A. D. The period embraced during these centuries is known as the Classic Period of Antique Art, and has been classified into the Five Orders: the Doric, Ionic, Corinthian, Tuscan, and Composite; the first three are Greek, the other two are Roman Orders. The style which followed this period was called Byzantine, and was a sort of debased classic style influenced by Eastern Art. Mediaeval or Gothic style followed this, reaching its greatest perfection during the thirteenth and fourteenth centuries, but mostly in churches and palaces (the only places where it could sufficiently develop in those lawless times). Domestic Gothic architecture developed during the fifteenth century, and about the end of the fifteenth century in Italy what is called the Renaissance (meaning new birth or revival), that is, the student of those times both in literature and in the arts, began to study the remains of the Old Roman and Greek or Classic times; architects of this time not only imitating the ancient buildings, but further developing the style. (It must not be forgotten that in architecture the revival in Italy was mainly based on the old Roman ruins.) This was done, not only in architecture, but in furniture, etc., some of the best artists of those days working thereon, and in their enthu-siam for the old style making their carved chests in the form of Roman Sarcophagi and giving them the general outline and architectural character. In South Kensington museums are to be seen many examples of these periods of Italian Art."
Among the many great architects of the Renaissance in Italy were Bramante, Barbaro, Sansovino, Sangalla, Michael Angelo, Raphael, but above all, the great Palladio.
Therefore, it will be recognized that the acanthus, lily, palm, and all the classic forms which are so often repeated with shields, garlands of fruit and flowers, bow knots, and waving ribbons, were taken from the Greek.
To distinguish French, German, and Italian Renaissance one must be familiar with the national characteristics of their art. An authority has stated, "That in the Italian there is suggested poetry and luxury, and in the French beauty and vivacity; in the German, a round, easygoing curl to the constantly twisting leaves with their fleshy, round ends, which suggests no great originality, but easy good nature."
Plate XCVI. This view of the Music-room in the Petit Trianon at Versailles is perhaps one of the best examples of the restraint and balance which characterizes the work of Le Brun in the days of Louis XVI.
During the reign of Francis I. certain characteristic decorations were developed by the French architects. Some of these are easily recognized, as the paneled pilasters intersected by the rosette or diamond, the use of a pattern as the background, or the enrichment of a surface, perforated carvings, carved tracery in railings, irregular quoins at corners, the shell, and, most important, the salamander, which was Francis's own symbol. Cherub heads and satyrs all were distinctive of this period, many beautiful examples of which are stillextant. The interest in the arts and architecture continued to flourish during the reign of Henry II., the son of Francis I. In many of the carvings of that period the crescent appears, attributed to Diana of Poitiers. Also the intertwining of D and H are frequently seen. The cartouche or panel of this school was used most frequently in a formal manner, and all ornament had a hard and classic line rather than any delicacy. It was, however, usually in excellent scale, one piece being in good proportion to another.
There was much interesting work done also during the reign of the Henries, but where one wishes to distinguish the work of these succeeding periods, very careful study and research is necessary.
The Renaissance was taken up in Flanders with enthusiasm, where there were many great masters of design. This work much resembles the Elizabethan, but shows a greater delicacy and refinement of lines and curves. During the reign of Elizabeth and that of James I. there was an adaptation of other schools of ornament rather than original ornament. Much of stiffness and formality is felt in what is known as Elizabethan style of architecture and decoration.
Plate XCVII. The bed, wall covering, cabinet, table, and vase are of the period of the First Empire. The severity and rigidity of this style is said to reflect the hardening under the pressure of dogmatic ideas and showy - perhaps sordid - splendor of the Court in the time of Napoleon. The sketch is from a room in Versailles of an earlier date.
Jacobean architecture and ornamentation developed in England toward the latter end of Elizabeth's reign and during the reign of James I. John of Padua and other Italian architects and designers were responsible for this change, and were influenced by Torregiano, who went to England in 1503. From this time on the Italian Renaissance, as interpreted by Palladio, held full sway. Later, by foreign travel, such men as Inigo Jones, Christopher Wren, James Gibbs, and others, were also schooled and inspired by the beauties of the Italian masters. Inigo Jones departed from the old customs during Elizabeth's time, and, instead of leaving details to the master masons and carvers, made his own drawings and saw that they were properly executed.
The characteristics of English Renaissance ornament are, therefore, those of the time of Palladio as transformed by English hands, and Grindling Gibbons, undoubtedly, was the most potent English interpreter. In his carvings and decorations, encarpa of flowers and fruit, panels of game and shell, and other ornaments, Italian imitations predominate. About 1760, the Adam Brothers began to influence English architecture and ornament decidedly. This later was evidenced in our own Colonial designs as evolved from the Georgian.