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 decorative devices used as motifs in the application of the foregoing decorative processes were numerous and widely varied but seemed to enjoy periods of special favour and follow each other in cycles of fashion. Very early in the century we find a predilection for the fine-leaved foliated scroll inlay, somewhat analogous to the seaweed marqueterie of the late William and Mary epoch in England, but derived from precedents of Venetian provenance. There were also Baroque scrolls, cockleshells and cartouches which afforded fruitful opportunities for adaptation. Early in the century, also, about the time when "the Chinese taste" was exerting a powerful influence upon popular fancy, we find the decorators having recourse to tea houses, bridges, pagodas, mandarins, coolies and ladies of Cathay adopted bodily without other alteration than was inevitable from an Occidental touch in the process of execution, and, still more did the Italian decorators levy upon the motifs taken from Chinese vases in the shape of light panels, reserved on a deeper ground of another colour, and an infinity of small polychrome flowers. These small flowers of obviously Chinese inspiration were also plentifully supplemented by small flowers and leaves of a more naturalistic European source in drawing and colour. Many of these floral decorations were minute in scale and, abundantly spread over the surface to be decorated, gave the effect of a powdered design. The Venetians, even late in the century, manifested a marked fondness for this type of embellishment.
The Italians have always evinced an attachment to stripes and chequerings, and stripes and chequerings, ingeniously and effectively disposed and often with the greatest delicacy, recur again and again, very frequently along with herring bone borders of alternating colours, throughout the period. Foliations of various sorts, guilloche bands, rosettes and sundry forms of acanthus had an almost uninterrupted vogue, especially in carved work.
With the return of a strong Classic impetus about the middle of the century there was naturally a reversion to Classic motifs. From this time onward we find concurrently employed not only the devices drawn directly from the pure well-spring of Greek and Roman antiquity but also the more mixed devices of the Renaissance - arabesques, grotesques, masques, amorini, chimaeras and the like along with acanthus and other foliated forms. Late in the century we come to the vogue for griffin and military attributes that marked the Directoire and Empire phases. During the whole period landscapes of one sort or another were in continuous use, from the pastoral subjects of the mid century, in emulation of Watteau, to the strangely diversified paper applique creations that remind one of decalcomanias.
Decorative Accessories and Movable Decorations - In this fully furnished century, so amply provided with all other items of movable equipment, the sundry accessories of furnishing are correspondingly numerous and divers. In their tale are to be reckoned carpets and rugs, pictures, the most elaborate and varied sconces, mirrors and girandoles, hangings not only such as tapestries, embroideries and decorative applique on fabrics of rich colour and texture but also the hangings of silks, brocades and velvets along with embroidered and applique valances, all of which belonged more definitely in the realm of upholstery; sculptures in the shape of statuary and beautifully modelled urns and vases, Chinese porcelain jars and vases, multi-coloured mai-olica plaques and bright-hued jars of large size, candelabra, standards and other objects of deftly wrought ironwork enriched with parcel colouring and gilt, and ornate chandeliers which in the eighteenth century had begun to assume an importance and popularity in decorative schemes far beyond the wont of earlier periods. Surely a goodly array of resources to aid the interior decorator!
The materials called into service for furnishings included woods of many varieties and colours along with bone, mosaic and marbles for inlay and the metal mounts employed; ironwork in sundry forms; marble for the stately benches and other monumental and exceedingly formal articles of furniture used in halls and also the marble used in sculpture and for table and console tops; the costly textures for tapestries, hangings and carpets; and an almost endless list of silks, velvets, brocades, satins, brocatelles and other fabrics used for upholstery and hangings.
Among the woods walnut seems always to have retained its ascendency, although mahogany enjoyed a vogue by no means inconsiderable. In addition to these we find a frequent recourse to sycamore, rosewood, lemon wood and a long list of other woods of more or less rarity which were in demand for their striking eolour or beautiful grain. For the painted furniture, cypress, pine and similar so-called "meaner woods" were used, although it is by no means an uncommon thing to find decorations painted over a ground of walnut or mahogany.
Among the textures in use, apart from the tapestries, probably the most striking and the most indicative of the spirit of the century were the Aubusson oar-pets, while the fabrics for upholstery from the looms of Genoa, Milan and Venice ranged through every possibility of colour and pattern which one could imagine.
In the matter of the use and distribution of colour, it is to be noted that while full, rich and vivid colouring was in favour at the beginning of the century, a taste for lighter, paler, more subdued colours and less vigorous contrasts became apparent as the century progressed, although the Italian colour taste, even at its most restrained period, cannot be said to have been at all anaemic The same phenomenon was to be witnessed in the decoration of painted furniture, much of which at an early date exhibited a body colour of vigorous tone, while the later pieces almost invariably displayed a ground of lighter hue, there being observable a marked preference for pale greens, lavender, whitish yellow, pale blue or bluish white against which the designs stood out in strong relief. It may be noted also that the Venetians showed a partiality for the lighter toned furniture, while painted furniture of Roman or Tuscan origin often showed an heavier and deeper ground colour.
Considering all the wealth of resources at hand, the temptation to forsake early principles and the practice of restraint can at least be understood if not sympathised with. Though overdressing was not an invariable fault of the eighteenth century, and especially late eighteenth century, Italian rooms, it must be admitted that they often contained an unfortunate surplus of fitments and that popular taste too often seemed to revel in the satisfactions afforded by individual pieces rather than in the qualities of the composition as an whole. The foregoing criticism is not to be taken as an unqualified condemnation of all the methods of the period or even of a majority of the decorative practice. There was frequently exhibited a genuine sense of restraint, a distinct appreciation of simplicity and a due reverence for symmetrical arrangements and there were many admirable examples of good taste and judgment furnished, but it is unfortunately necessary to admit that the eighteenth century, despite all its marvellous excellence, saw the beginning of the inclination to condone tawdriness which has spoiled so many really admirable Italian things of subsequent date.