The two most significant and characteristic items of Spanish Renaissance furniture were the chest and the vargueno cabinet (v. illustration in Part III). There were chests of all varieties and shapes and contrived for all purposes. There were no less than seven distinct classifications into which they could be divided. Of these, the bride's chest was deemed an absolutely indispensable piece of household equipment - very much like a marriage certificate, in fact - whatever other chests might or might not be represented in an inventory of possessions.

In addition to the chests, which usually manifested conspicuous marks of national taste, there were the vargueno cabinets and the papeleras, both of which were set on stands. The vargueno cabinet had a drop front, hinged at the bottom, which could be used to write upon, and the inside contained tiers of small drawers. It was, in a word, the direct ancestor of the later drop front secretary. The inside of the vargueno was generally a splendid blaze of bone inlay, brilliant colour and gold. The papelera (Plate 140) was a cabinet of small drawers but had no drop front. It, likewise, was often decorated in a gorgeous and colourful manner.

Besides these, there were hanging cabinets or cupboards, massive walnut tables (Plate 24) of many varieties, settles, benches, stools and chairs. Some of the chests were covered with velvet strained tightly over the wood - bright green was a favourite colour - with gilded iron mounts and ornamental bauds or studding.

The characteristic contours and motifs of decoration indicated the gradual transition from Renaissance, or Renaissance mingled with Moorish, forms to Baroque conceptions. The dimensions and structure of the period were bold and substantial. Walnut was the staple and favourite material, although oak and chestnut were used also in cabinetwork and occasionally pine likewise.

The mounts and studdings, both of brass and of wrought iron, gilt or plain, were especially indicative of sixteenth and seventeenth century Spanish form conception and added a very appreciable share to the rich and striking effect of the interiors of the period.

Other Decorative Accessories And Movable Decorations

Tapestries and other hangings were discussed in the section dealing with fixed decoration because their function was permanent rather than otherwise. It is only necessary to add, with respect to hangings, that canopies of green or crimson velvet or brocade, fringed with gold, often played a conspicuous role when they were hung over seats or tables of state. Damask, velvet and lace for table covers, embroideries, Cuenca green cloth, Spanish carpets and Turkey oar-pets, as items in the inventory of fabrics afforded considerable resources of vivid colour.

Large pictures, both portraits and religious paintings, occupied a prominent place in decorative schemes. Porcelains came in through Portuguese trade with the Orient and were highly prized; maiolica pottery of admirable colour, design and shape, was made in considerable quantity in Spain as well as the glazed tiles; glass vessels of large size and good shape, cut, engraved and sometimes gilded, were also made in Spain and had distinct decorative value; finally, the Spanish smiths were unsurpassed in their manipulation of brass and iron, from which they fashioned candlesticks, candelabra, sconces, chandeliers (Plate 24), brasiers and a host of lesser accessories for various purposes, all of which, in both metals, were wrought with a fascinating invention.

Materials And Colour

The texture of materials, their contrast with their structural background, and the emphasis of their colour, were such essential parts of the ensemble in the composition of a sixteenth or seventeenth century Spanish interior that one can scarcely dissociate them from the actual architectural structure.

The velvets, plain and figured, the brocades and damasks, and the linens, imported from Italy were supplemented by Oriental fabrics brought by Portuguese traders from India and China, and by the gay-coloured cloths and carpets woven at Toledo, Cuenca or Alcaroz.

The colours were vivid and rich to the fullest degree. This applied to the leathers as well as to textiles. As to pattern, it should be noted that while the vigorous and somewhat large figures, so generally to be found in Italy, in France and in England, and which were quite consistent in scale with the colouring in which they were interpreted, were also approved in Spain, at the same time, the Moorish tradition for fine interlacing pattern and compact distribution and the Indian tendency toward attenuation with a certain openness of design, both disposed the Spaniard to an appreciation of refinement as well as vigour in pattern.


The one important lesson in arrangement to be learned from Spanish interiors is that their restraint in the number of objects employed, and the consequent necessity of wide open spaces for pieces to stand alone, contributed to dignity and served also to enhance the decorative balance of each object when there was nothing to detract from its individual effect.