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.
Not dissimilar to it in general appearance was the writing cabinet, of which examples occurred at an early date, with doors in the lower part and a falling front in the upper which, when let down, provided a place to write. A related piece of writing furniture was the cabinet with falling front which stood upon a table or stand. There were also various wider and larger cabinets and presses, either divided in two by lower and upper sections or with full length doors, in the latter case being virtually wardrobes, as we understand the term. Chests of drawers, very like in disposition to the analogous article of the eighteenth century, were by no means unknown.
Bedsteads, as was the wont of the period, were oftentimes ponderous affairs; others, again, were not of cumbrous proportions. The larger bedsteads were frequently raised a pace or two above the floor on a dais (Plate 15 B) and were both of the post and canopy (Plate 21B) or tester type and also of the sort that had headboard and lower footboard but no canopy. Another piece of wall furniture that was not seldom elevated on a dais to give it greater state was the cassa panca, a kind of ceremonial bench (Plate 15 B) that was invariably given a position of prominence and seems to have been the forerunner of the drawing-room sofa of a later date as regarded certain points of etiquette in seating honoured guests. The cassa panca was really a long chest with high, solid, massive arms and back, the seat, which was hinged at the back, being the lid. Occasionally there was an high, throne-like back and sometimes the arms were wanting. The former type, however, was the more usual. A specimen in the Metropolitan Museum is eight feet, ten inches in length, twenty-one inches in depth, has a back and arms rising nineteen inches from the seat and stands on a dais nine and a half feet long and five inches high.
From both their structure and design it is quite obvious that not a few of the banconi or tables with drawers were intended to stand against the wall and many of the long tables, analogous to the English refectory tables, were likewise so placed and are, therefore, under sundry circumstances to be reckoned as wall furniture. Clothes hangers and mirror frames were objects of careful design and workmanship and are not to be overlooked in an enumeration of wall pieces. The mirror frames were small as only small mirrors were available at all and these were scarce. Great care, nevertheless, was bestowed upon the frames and they possessed considerable decorative importance.
Besides the long tables, already alluded to, and the smaller wall or writing tables with drawers in them, there was the greatest variety in shapes and sizes, as might be expected in an age of exuberant invention, and all the occasional requirements in the matter of tables were well supplied. (For a detailed discussion of the sundry varieties of sixteenth and seventeenth century Italian tables and other pieces of furniture v. "The Practical Book of Italian, Spanish and Portuguese Furniture," Eberlein and McClure; now in preparation.) Chairs, settees, stools and benches were of numerous types, bat all were dignified and impressive and well calculated to furnishing ideals in which dignity, as well as grace, was an indispensable requirement.
The actual movable furniture in a sixteenth or seventeenth century Italian salon did not by any means comprise all the furnishing of the apartment. The walls and ceilings, as mentioned before, might be gloriously chromatic with frescoes or mosaic and, in addition to many-hued and rioh-toned pigments, there would be the glow of gilding bestowed in appropriate places. In case the walls and ceilings were not so adorned with fixed decorations on the surface, there was the universal delight in tapestries (Plate 13) and other large hangings of needlework which were prized doubly on account of the pleasure and satisfaction to be derived from the devices thereon depicted and likewise because of their wealth of mellow colour. Besides tapestries as suitable enrichments for plain walls, there was always the resource of pictures. Then, furthermore, there were the polychrome maiolica mural ornaments and mural ornaments consisting of wood carvings (Plate 15 A) painted and gilt. This wooden mural sculpture was an highly developed art and justly prized. Another decorative resource lay in the pieces of marble sculpture, always dear to the heart of an Italian, and in various pieces of pottery of agreeable shape and colour. Nor must we forget the carved, painted and gilt wooden candlesticks (Plate 19) and candelabra, some of them of great height; nor the iron candelabra (Plate 15 A), gracefully wrought and likewise coloured and gilt in their embellishment.
Equally effective in the matter of lending interest to the composition were the fixed decorative accessories such as the paintings upon the doors themselves, paintings in the tympana above doorways, paintings upon the wooden inside shutters or paintings upon the beams of the ceilings and the corbels that supported those beams. On the doors and shutters the painting and gilding might be only partial, to enhance the tone of the wood, or it might be in a continuous diaper pattern or, again, some mythological, historical or religious subject might be fully depicted. The painting of the ceiling beams was done in a purely conventional manner and was meant merely to give the relief and warmth of colour and gilding.
Oftentimes, when not much colour appeared on doors or shutters, interest was centred there by devices executed either in studding of iron nails (Plate 13) or by wrought iron, sometimes parcel coloured and gilt, applied in a rich and delicate decorative pattern. The sixteenth and seventeenth century Italian smiths were masters in their craft and their decorative creations are among some of the most treasured relics they have left us.
Last, but by no means least, as an item in the composition of the sixteenth and seventeenth century Italian interior was the carved mantel and likewise the carved chimney piece that so often accompanied it. These were wrought in stone and in marble with the utmost finesse and displayed all the characteristic decorative motifs of the period, including foliage, fruits, flowers, arabesques, grotesques, masques, amorini and the human figure. The carving was usually in high and bold relief.