Introduction

Sixteenth century England will ever ha endued with a glamour all its own in the eyes of those over whom history exerts a fascinating hold or in whose mental background a strong sense of love and reverence for- our Mother Country and a just pride in our great heritage of English blood and traditions count as potent factors. The vigour, freshness and naivete of the period, added to the full-blooded stability of English characteristics and traditions, combine to cast a subtle spell over the imagination. Even the misdoings of that old reprobate and rapacious spendthrift, Henry VHI, seem to fade into a half-pardoned state of unreality and grow less reprehensible in the enshrouding haze of glowing splendour that radiates from the Field of the Cloth of Gold, and when we think of the marvellous delights of Nonesuch or of the 2600 tapestries that adorned the walls of his palaces we are all too apt to forget whence came the funds to cofcnpass the building of the former and that many of the latter he either stole from the monasteries he so ruthlessly pillaged or filched from the possessions of Cardinal Wolsey.

Notwithstanding all this bravery of gorgeous display, there was comparatively little upon which, for our present purpose, we may profitably centre our attention until we come to the days of Queen Elizabeth. During her reign the building of country houses advanced by strides and gave scope for the art of furnishing to develop to a truly national extent. In all this work, which progressed continuously during the rule of Elizabeth and her Stuart successors, the spirit of the Renaissance was the controlling influence, but that influence arrived in England through various channels and manifested itself under varying forms, as we shall presently see, so that it is necessary to divide the epoch embracing the last half of the sixteenth century and the whole of the seventeenth into three phases - the first covering decoration in the time of Queen Elizabeth and during the reigns of King James and King Charles I, a period of consistent, logical and uninterrupted development; the second covering the dour years of the Commonwealth; the third covering the Restoration period, with all its influx of fresh and divers tendencies, and terminating in the medley of Baroque and Oriental fashions that flourished vigorously all through the reign of William and Mary.

In the Elizabethan period the chiefest part of the architectural and mobUiary Renaissance inspiration came into England through Flemish channels. While a powerful Renaissance influence had taken deep root in Flanders and wrought abundant results, nevertheless the Flemings, like the French, had retained a large measure of late Gothic tradition and their interpretation of Renaissance principles was strongly tinged and modified by this residuary leaven of an earlier mode so that the composite result was unmistakably local and individual in character. This body of Flemish forms, upon its transition to England, was grafted upon a stock of British growth and precedent and the pure Italian Renaissance element in it was still further diluted by British conceptions and methods of execution on the part of craftsmen who, then as now, were conservative and retentive of the manner of technique and forms of decorative expression instilled by early training. In spite, however, of the dominating Flemish bias imparted to the Renaissance mode in England, distinct traces of a subsidiary but unadulterated source of Italian inspiration recur again and again in the work of the period, showing that the direct connexion with Italian cultural influence was far stronger and more intimate than is generally supposed. We may the more readily credit the existence and potency of this bond when we look into the literary history of the age and find that between the accession and death of the. Virgin Queen there were published in England no fewer than 394 translations from the Italian into English and 72 texts in Italian and Latin. When Italian literature found such a receptive audience as these figures prove, when we remember how closely the arts were interrelated in England, when we study the evidence of trade and imports, and when we consider the presence of not a few able Italian craftsmen, whose continued residence and activity in England are matters of historical record, we may be very sure that Englishmen were not insensible to the enlivening impetus of direct contact with Latin sources in matters of decoration.

We also see in this condition a further link in the powerful chain of evidence showing a wide internationalism in art, an internationalism that we are altogether too prone to ignore in the past and assume as a development of modern times.

Under the Commonwealth we find a period of comparative stagnation and arrested growth in matters of English decoration. Certain Baroque tendencies, it is true, came more into evidence than at an earlier date, but, for the most part, it was an era of drab monotony; the minority who still cherished taste and refinement were in too great trouble or weighed down by disabilities too heavy to permit them to give much encouragement to any form of art, and the greater part of the nation, under the impulse of that strange mania that impelled the rue-faced Roundhead ranters and gloomy Puritan religionists to contemplate in fascinated dread the flaming terrors of hell and to prophesy with savage satisfaction the unalterable damnation of all their kin and neighbours, was much too engrossed in the orgy of morbid introspection to pay much heed to the amenities of architecture or decoration. A few wealthy "worldlings " did indulge in "wicked and unedifying extravagances," but their example did not produce an appreciable effect.

At the Restoration, the pendulum swung to the other extremity of its arc and the arts of architecture and interior decoration gained all the impetus that usually attends long pent up energy suddenly let loose in a congenial and hitherto forbidden field of activity. The impetus was further intensified in London by the necessity of replacing the ruin wrought by the Great Fire. The large numbers of refugees returning from exile on the Continent in the train of the King brought with them not only a fresh set of polite tastes, requirements and broadened conceptions but also a very considerable quantity of household furnishings and luxurious garniture. Court circles and the people of the country at large alike welcomed all the new and newly invigorated influences - French, Italian, Flemish, Dutch, Spanish, Portuguese and Oriental - that successively made their way into England as a result partly of political alliances, partly of expanded trade relations, partly through the immigration of foreign artificers, and partly, though by no means in the least measure, through a new cosmopolitanism that was gradually spreading throughout the country and supplanting the old insularity that had received a mortal wound when King Charles the Martyr was beheaded and got its coup de grace when King Charles the Scapegrace, as the Merry Monarch might well have been called, came back from overseas to "enjoy his own again."

The architecture of this complex Restoration period was catholic enough to employ inspiration derived from French, Flemish and Italian interpretations of the Renaissance spirit and also to incorporate Baroque elements when there was occasion. In the field of interior decoration we find an opulent medley of Renaissance, Flemish, Baroque, East Indian and Chinese influences that combined to diversify the mobiliary manifestations of the period to an hitherto unwonted degree.