This section is from the book "The Practical Book Of Interior Decoration", by Harold Donaldson Eberlein, Abbot Mcclure, Edward Stratton Holloway. See also: The Victorian House Book: A Practical Guide to Home Repair and Decoration.
The story of interior decoration in France prior to the eighteenth century begins with a phase in which the body was Gothic and the clothes Renaissance; it ends with the full development of Baroque grandiosity and elaboration in what was known as the "Grand Manner" under the lavish patronage and control of Louis XIV, who evinced an extraordinary interest in decoration and regarded decorative pomp and magnificence as indispensable adjuncts of his court The military farings of Charles VIII into Italy, at the end of the fifteenth century, opened the door to a great influx of Italian Renaissance influences into France and fostered an appetite for the refinements of Classicism in decoration and architecture, a vivid recol-lection of which the returning expeditionaries brought back with them. The motives of the expedition were military; the chief results were cultural. Further expeditions into Italy on the part of the French kings who succeeded Charles had the same outcome. Kings, nobles, and soldiery alike had gazed upon the fruits of the Italian Renaissance only to become enamoured of them and imbued with a determination to emulate them in their own land and for their own behoof.
Besides the returning nobles and soldiery, other important factors that served to spread the Renaissance influence in France were the missions and embassies to Italian courts, Italian missions to the French court, and a growing influx of Italian bankers and merchants who brought in their train sundry articles of "goldsmiths' work, medals and cameos, books, pic-tares, furniture and intarsias, casts and bronze work, terra-cottas and maiolica," all of which "helped to accustom French, eyes to Renaissance forms." The sincere admiration of French travellers and ambassadors for what they saw in Italy is typically voiced in the words of Philippe de Comines who, in 1495, conducted a mission to Venice which he described as "the most triumphant citie that ever I sawe" and enthusiastically wrote of the Grand Canal, "Sure in my opinion, it is the goodliest streete in the world and the best built"
But even more important than the agencies just mentioned, in completing Italy's peaceful conquest of France, were the lessons French artists learnt in Italy and the things that Italian artists and artificers taught in France. During the fifteenth century there were comparatively few Italians in France; "but from its closing years onwards a continuous stream of architects and engineers, decorators and all manner of artificers poured across the Alps, beginning with Charles VIll's colonies at Amboise and Tours, and continued by that of Francis I at Paris and Fontainebleau.'
Generous royal patronage and, to some extent, the patronage of great and wealthy nobles played a significant part in the Renaissance development of the decorative arts in France. The colonies of Italian artificers established and maintained by Charles VIII and Francis I were only the first instances of this royal interest and support. Throughout the sixteenth and seventeenth centuries the crown, either directly or else indirectly through its ministers, gave substantial encouragement to decorative progress. This whole architectural and decorative development in France during the sixteenth and seventeenth centuries may be divided into five phases of style. The dates are to some degree approximate as there were necessarily overlappings and survivals.
The Style Louis XII, 1495-1515 (Charles VIII, 1483-1498; Louis XII, 1498-1515; contemporary rulers in England, Henry VII and Henry VIII) embraced the beginnings of Italian Renaissance influence - the decking of the Gothic body in Renaissance clothes - and marked the incorporation of a few of the delicate characteristics of the Tuscan school, a school marked by a "certain austerity... and a rather minute type of ornament, evolved by a race of architects of goldsmith training." The Style Louis XII was only a preliminary phase, a feeling of the way.
The second phase is known as the Style of Francis I, 1515-1545 (Francis I, 1515-1547: Henry VIII contemporary ruler in England) marked the complete fusion (Plate 26) of the native French elements and the Lombard Renaissance forms, the latter representing a style of eminent "charm and delicacy" exuberant with the devising of new features and impressive both from its wealth of ornament and the "beauty of its detail."
The Style Henry II, 1530-1590, the third stage of development (Henri II, 1547-1559; Francis n, 1559-1560; Charles IX, 1560-1574; Henri HI, 1574-1589; Henry VIII, Edward VI, Mary, and Elizabeth, contemporary rulers in England), which followed in close succession, saw the assimilation of the Roman phase of the Renaissance, that phase which took shape in Rome during the last quarter of the fifteenth century and continued dominant during the first quarter of the sixteenth. The mature Roman phase, inspired by a more systematic study of ancient monuments, and "pruned of earlier exuberances," "became bolder, surer, more balanced in its composition, gaining in calm monumen-tality and masculine strength what it lost in youthful vitality and variety of decorative motives."
The three foregoing phases belong wholly and purely to the Renaissance in all their characteristics of style except in so far as chance Gothic traits survived here and there. Of the two that follow, the former embodied the beginnings of Baroque influence and its commingling- with the ripe Renaissance conceptions; the latter comprised the full fruition of the Baroque mode and its complete ascendancy over the purer and more restrained forms of Renaissance provenance.
The Style Henri IV and Louis XIII, 1590-1660 (Henri IV, 1589-1610; Louis XIII, 1610-1643: Elizabeth, James I, and Charles I, contemporary rulers in England) was a phase of fusion when curvilinear forms and bolder, heavier detail began gradually to make their progress into popular favour.
The Style Louis XIV, 1640-1710 (Louis XIII, 1610-1643; Louis XIV, 1643-1715: Charles II, James II, William and Mary, and Queen Anne, contemporary rulers in England) marked the apotheosis of ponderous curves and scrolls, singly and in combination, of pomposity, redundance, oftentimes heaviness of detail and all that conceptions of superabundant splendour could devise to create the "Grand Manner." What was naturally imposing, the exponents of Baroque essayed to make more so and did not hesitate to create structure for the sole purpose of carrying their massive decorations which were, it is true, mightily imposing but could scarcely be called logical. The exaggerations of this period belong to the earlier portion (1610-1650). Directly the influence of Louis XIV began to make itself felt there was far more restraint and the style was perceptibly tempered by an infusion of Classicism and a more studied sobriety in composition.
During all this period of five phases there was a steady and rapid development in the technical mastery of decorative processes and resources which combined to make the sixteenth and seventeenth centuries in French decorative art one of the most resplendent epochs in history.
Throughout the sixteenth and seventeenth centuries the rooms of French chateaux and houses were commonly of large size. Indeed, they were often oppressively so, especially in the formal and grandiose days of Louis XIV. As was natural, and in fact necessary under the circumstances, the fixed or architectural background formed a vitally important part of the composition. The ceilings were lofty.