What The Renaissance Was

IN taking up this first influence we may, very practically, ask: How did it manifest itself in the arts - in short, what was it?

The popular superstition is that when the great awakening took place in Italy the masters of the Renaissance period simply brought to life the art of the Greeks and Romans which was their heritage - a very convenient formula for those who do not think. The truth, briefly, is that during all the centuries which lay between the fall of Borne and the year 1400 the wide internationalism to which we have referred was quietly doing its work; treasures of Oriental art were continually finding their* way thither both direct and through the Copts and Spanish Moors. Renaissance architecture (and decoration) was never therefore the pure Classicism of Greece and Rome. It was the fusion of all three of the great artistic influences, the Gothic, the Oriental and the Classic, with the Classic for the time being as the inspiration and informing influence.

Modern Conditions

So practical is the aim of these chapters that no further will they go until they take into account a very prevalent circumstance of modern life.

The very term interior decoration is indicative of the fact that through all periods the interior architecture has had its share of attention and decoration. But a large proportion of tasteful people today live in rented apartments or houses, and few care to panel or decorate walls for the benefit of a landlord only too likely to seize the advantage given and increase the rental so soon as the lease expires. Even those of some considerable means and occupying their own houses may not, in these days of many uncertainties, care to go to the large expense involved in elaborate wall-decoration. What, then, shall be done if such persons wish to adopt the Eenaissance style of furnishing - or that of any succeeding age?

The answer must be that if period decoration is to continue in use, then it must show itself adapted to the changing conditions of modern life and circumstance; and that it is so adaptable is the very purpose of these chapters to demonstrate. Common sense teaches us that if we wish to surround ourselves with the beautiful objects produced by the genius of the past, or their reproductions, and yet that our walls must remain plain, the obvious course is frankly to combine the two conditions. And if any justification for such a procedure beyond the enlightened common sense, which must be the basis of all art and of all beauty, must be established, if a precedent must be found to back up all our proceedings, it is found right here - for, during the Italian Renaissance, one of the greatest art periods of the worlds history, where walls were not decorated, they were entirely plain (Plate 127).

Three Methods Of Treatment

It is at once evident, therefore, that we may adopt, according to circumstances, any one of three methods of treatment; and these apply to the subsequent epochs as well as to that we are now considering.

I. If the premises are of elaborate character and the means of the owner in accordance, the more elaborate phases of the epoch may be chosen and followed.

II. With both large and small premises the simpler but still decorative phases of any period may be adopted. Or, as in some periods these simpler forms have not been largely preserved and pictured for our guidance, simplifications may intelligently be made.

III. As first mentioned, we may use period furnishings with walls entirely plain but appropriate in colour and treatment to the period chosen.

We may also combine any two of these three - employing the more elaborate decoration for public rooms and the simpler for bedrooms, morning rooms and the less public parts of the house.

Elaborate Walls

In order that the statement of this method of International-Inter Period Decoration may be complete in itself and readily comprehended, it has been written independently of Part I. That Part, however, gives a complete digest of all particulars regarding the decoration of the various periods during the four great movements, and for full details regarding any epoch it should be carefully considered. Illustrations are there also given of the architectural backgrounds of all the countries.

It is only necessary, therefore, to epitomise the matter of Renaissance backgrounds by saying here that the small square or the rectangular panelling of oak was the typical style of Renaissance England; that, while such panelling was used to some extent in the northern section during early Renaissance times, it was not typical of Renaissance Italy, where the walls were plain, diapered, or highly decorated in colour and gilding; Spain, always influenced by Italy, largely followed the Italian ideals, but these were naturally modified by the powerful Moorish element prevailing in Spanish art; they were plain or plain on their upper portion, the lower being a dado of many coloured tiles or of painted canvas; in France, walls were sometimes at first in the small panelling, but they were more generally of stone or plaster, which might be painted or frescoed, somewhat in the Italian style. Hangings were largely employed with these walls. Later, these isolated hangings were less used and walls were panelled in larger panelling and often moulded and gilded. Or they might be frescoed or covered with tapestry or other hangings. In the various countries under Renaissance influence there were also, of course, constructional and stylistic differences in ceilings, windows, doors and mantels - all duly treated in Part I.