The tall and elaborately ornamented chimney piece, reaching from the mantel to the ceiling or nearly to the ceiling, gradually disappeared as an inseparable structurally incorporated factor of the permanent background and was succeeded by lower mantels and fireplace surrounds reflecting in their decoration the successive Baroque, Bococo and Classic modes of the period that held sway in the procession of fashions already enumerated. These mantels were made of carved stone, carved wood and carved and inlaid marble, the latter sometimes displaying an exquisite combination of colours in conjunction with the most delicate intaglio work. Above the mantels were set carved wooden panelling, paintings, hangings or elaborately framed mirrors.

Carved, panelled or inlaid doors still formed important parts of the fixed decorative background, but the methods of carving, panelling and inlaying all refleeted the successively prevailing stylistic phases of the age. The doors were often divided into many panels of different sizes and each panel contained a different subject. Sometimes the doors were wholly without panels on one side and painted with a continuous polychrome landscape, while the obverse displayed numerous panels each one of which exhibited a landscape with an architectural feature or else, in the very small panels, a decorative repeat. The obverse of these interesting and characteristic doors is also a valuable study in mouldings. Again, there might be several large panels of Rococo outline enclosing polychrome and gilt decorative motifs. Doors of this description often bear eloquent evidence to the all-prevalent popularity of Chinoiserie during a certain epoch of Italian interior decoration. On the gold background are painted Chinese figures and sundry other Oriental motifs, but, curiously enough, the connecting arabesques are of unmistakably Renaissance provenance and betray the peculiarly local Italian touch of interpretation. No matter what method of ornamentation might be employed for the embellishment of doors, the Italian decorators were fully alive to the importance of the door as an effective means of enrichment and they failed not to make the most of their opportunities in this direction, a practice that we in our day are only beginning to appreciate.

Along with the decoration of the door, and closely related to it, was the use of the overdoor panel wrought with some painted motif or else the employment of some sculptured overdoor embellishment in wood or stone or marble. The painted overdoor panels showed much the same kind of treatment as was to be seen on the painted doors themselves or on the painted panels inserted in the walls and surrounded with mouldings.

Daring the eighteenth century vastly more attention was paid to carefully draped and hung door and window hangings than had formerly been the case. As a suitable capping to these hangings, carefully designed lambrequins and valances were often used and lent an additional touch of elegance.

Furniture And Decoration

As furniture design is always more sensitive to stylistic changes than is architecture, and registers them much more promptly, we are prepared to find the eighteenth century Italian mo-biliary record showing all the characteristic indications of the age (v. illustrations in Part HI), which have already been noted in the introductory section at the beginning of the chapter. The femininity of the period manifested in a variety of forms that were obviously designed to win the approval of feminine patronage; the urbanity, subtlety and opulence of contour as contrasted with the strength of line, boldness and dignity of aspect, proceeding from vigorous conception, observable in the former centuries of heroic ability and originality; the plenitude of decoration and the diversity of decorative processes utilised - all these peculiarities figured prominently in the mobiliary ensemble of the era. While furniture proportions ranged all the way from studied elegance to downright dumpy stodginess reminiscent of the physique of some of the contadim, it must be conceded that even the frequent stoutness of dimensions was generally coupled with great suavity, grace and subtlety of line. In almost all cases, the furniture of the day possessed the admirable quality of domesticity along with the amiable, sunny urbanity of its genial makers. And just because of its pliability of character and its easy domesticity it lends itself with peculiar readiness to modern uses in manifold environments where the architectural background la not insistently rigid in its emphasis.

If we miss the well-nigh heroic qualities and vigour of so much of the earlier work, yet we are to some degree compensated by an ingenuous and companionable informality, a measure of adaptability not there before, a frequent dash of refreshing playfulness and a facile decorative value. Whether eighteenth century Italian furniture was daintily elegant or most informally domestic, it was always polite. The table manners of the sixteenth and seventeenth centuries were vigorous and effective, but not pretty nor pleasant; lacking what we nowadays consider the indispensables of table appointment, people fell back upon first principles, used their fingers freely, got greasy chins and even picked their teeth at the table. In the eighteenth century table refinements had very appreciably advanced and, though folk somewhat came short of the straightforward creative virility of an earlier day, their manners were vastly more elegant and agreeable. Furniture has always faithfully reflected the social life of the period. Eighteenth century Italian furniture was no exception to the rule and, though it may be accused of occasional artificiality and the lack of marked originality of design, it invariably exhibited that urbanity of aspect that was suited to the politer habits of the generation that used it.

At the very beginning of the eighteenth century, the last traces of old Italian vigour and individuality were observable in the lines of furniture that closely corre-. sponded with a well-known contemporary William and Mary type in England - the type presenting straight, tapered legs, square, octagonal or round, and shaped stretchers - an heritage from the Baroque school of influence. This type was soon succeeded by forms of conspicuously curvilinear dominance (Plate 22 A) corresponding pretty closely with the Queen Anne and early Georgian manifestations in England. The mellowness of contour in much of this furniture is singularly commendable and engaging.