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.
As to the great variety of contours to be met with throughout the century, it is well for the reader to remember that analogies in form between Italian furniture and contemporary types in England and France were sufficiently close to enable anyone with a fair knowledge of French and English mobiliary developments to classify Italian pieces chronologically and to understand their affinities and concomitant decorative phenomena. Whatever we find in English and French furniture - Queen Anne forms, evidences of "the Chinese taste," Chippendale elaborations, Adam, Hepple-white and Sheraton refinements, Louis Quinze frivolities, Louis Seize classicism, the pedantic literalnees of the Directoire or the pomp and occasional bombast of the Empire - that we are almost certain to find echoed also in the Italian furniture of the same date.
The least happy and prepossessing of all the eighteenth century Italian furniture manifestations were the adaptations of the Louis Quinze Rococo extravagances and exaggerations. The French prototypes, when once they escaped from the discreet and cunning hands of master designers, might descend - a fact we have all too often been obliged to witness - to shallow weakness, flippancy, or even positive imbecility. The Italian emulators of the less inspired Louis Quinze models might arrive at any of the faults just mentioned and, in addition, complete the debacle by achieving a result either grotesque or simperingly flaccid. The foregoing strictures, of course, do not apply to well-executed pieces patterned after worthy Louis Quinze models - and there were such, endowed with real beauty. Unfortu-nately, however, the ill-favoured kind were in the majority.
Of altogether different calibre was the type of furniture that succeeded when the revival of Classicism made itself felt about the middle of the century. Thence onward there was genuine and almost universal artistic merit in the handiwork of the Italian chair and cabinet makers. The square-backed seating furniture is worthy of special praise and either originals dating from this time or reproductions are among some of the best decorative assets to which the present generation has fallen heir. A great proportion of the contemporary cabinet work was not less lovely both in point of refined contour and in the matter of the decoration bestowed. The later Directoire and Empire manifestations likewise were dignified in contour and highly agreeable in their decoration.
It must be remembered that the eighteenth century Italians were an highly polished and cultured people, habitually accustomed to all the elegancies and refinements of life. In this respect they were second to none. It was at this period that the sons of the English gentry and nobility were customarily sent to take the " grand tour," after they had completed their course at the universities, as an indispensable crowning touch to their education. Their stay in Italy was regarded as peculiarly conducive to a humanising result and their intercourse with educated Italians was deemed a sine qua non to the broadening of their intellectual outlook. Under such conditions, then, it would be folly to imagine that the Italians should in any wise fall short of the most punctiliously complete sumptuary equipment. The eighteenth century, so often referred to in English history as the very heyday of fine furniture making and refinements of domestic art, was an age indeed when everything in the realm of furniture was highly specialised and when every requirement was satisfied by a piece of furniture especially designed to meet it. This condition, with which we are all more or less familiar in its English aspect, was quite as prevalent elsewhere and a fully itemised tale of all the furnishing accessories commonly made use of in the equipment of a well-appointed Italian household of the period would make a list far too long to give in this place. Nor is there any real need to do so. (For detailed information on this subject the reader is referred to "The Practical Book of Italian, Spanish and Portuguese Furniture" Eberlein and McClure, now in preparation.) It will suffice if we direct attention to some of the most characteristic pieces. Under the general classification of wall furniture, besides the standard complement of bedsteads, wardrobes, secretaries, bureau-bookcases, bookcases, chests of drawers, dressing stands, chests, cabinets and cupboards to be found in use in every country, especial heed should be paid to the numerous forms of corner cabinets, to the sundry types of bedside tables, to the credeme, console cabinets and consoles, to the prie-dieiis, to the writing tables and to the spinet cases. Under the head of seating furniture and tables we meet with an uncommonly rich diversity of chairs, sofas, window seats, stools, benches and a great variety of tables, many of them of exceedingly ingenious contrivance for occasional or special uses.
The quarter circle corner cabinets or cupboards, hanging or standing upon legs; the bombe front corner cabinet; the shaped front full length corner cupboards; the highly decorated wardrobes; the Venetian credenze; the large and small consoles and sets of consoles; the bedside tables and manifold other special small tables - all of these are fascinating in themselves and should be especially investigated because they impart a distinctly characteristic local note to eighteenth century Italian interior decoration and also because they will prove fruitful sources of inspiration by which we may profit in our own present-day decorative ventures. The decorative* processes commonly employed to enrich the furniture of the eighteenth century were inlay of woods in contrasting colours, inlay with mosaics and marbles, inlay of engraved bone - an heritage from Spanish precedents and also from Venetian practice based upon examples imported from the East - mar-queterie, lacquer, polychrome painting, gilding both in combination with the natural wood and in conjunction with painting, inlay in conjunction with traced and painted devices, sgraffito painting with gilding - a practice, which, however, had become almost obsolete - the application of printed and coloured paper devices upon a painted or lacquered ground, the application of panels painted on canvas to a painted ground and, finally, carving, the latter being one of the most important decorative resources, as was universally the case in all European countries. Nearly all of these processes were conducive to the production of brilliant chromatic effects and we are quite justified in regarding Italian furniture of the eighteenth century as one of the strongest and most facile exponents of the intense national sense and love of colour. In considering the mobiliary productions of the period a convenient division may be made of those pieces in which the natural colour and grain of the wood appear; and, secondly, of those in which the whole body is covered with an applied ground of colour. (Full details of all the aforementioned processes are contained in "The Practical Book of Italian, Spanish and Portuguese Furniture/' already mentioned.)