Furniture And Decoration

During the sixteenth century, Renaissance forms of furniture completely ousted any remaining traces of Gothic design. Gothic influence, however, persisted for a time in the high-backed, stall-like seigneurial chairs of state. Oak and walnut were the staple cabinet woods and yielded a ready medium for the interpretation of Renaissance ideals, especially the latter, which was much more responsive to the carver's efforts.

The chief articles of furniture (v. illustrations, Part III) were chests and cabinets, a few chairs of state - the use of a chair was still a mark of distinction and rank - and tables, either of the draw or refectory variety. Contours were bold and structure heavy, although the lines were graceful, for French artisans had proved apt pupils and shown themselves alert to grasp the new ideas of style and oftentimes to improve upon them. Upholstery, more as a bit of elegance than for comfort, was introduced fairly early in the century, but it was not until the latter part of the century that it figured to any appreciable extent. Carving was the chief decorative resource and the motifs used by the carver, as well as the structural contour of the objects, closely reflected contemporary architectural features.

From about the beginning of the seventeenth century, the progress of French mobiliary art made rapid strides. The variety of articles in use increased, structure became lighter, contours more graceful, decorative processes more diversified, and altogether the characteristics of a politer age, or at least a more luxurious age, were unmistakable. Indeed, the French cabinet-makers and carvers of the end of the sixteenth century and the beginning of the seventeenth quite equalled in skill and taste their Italian preceptors and, in addition to other excellences, they succeeded in imparting a very distinct touch of national individuality to their handiwork. By this time Baroque influence had perceptibly affected French mobiliary design and we find curvilinear structural elements, such as scrolled legs, arms and stretchers, profusion of ornament, and detail in vigorous relief, in distinction to the rectilinear, flatter and more reticent qualities that marked the earlier styles.

Under the lavish patronage of Louis XIV, the making of furniture attained a degree of finish and perfection hitherto unprecedented in any country. Furniture, likewise, branched out into various new phases. Besides employing the staple oak and walnut, rare woods of divers colours and ornamental grains were freely drawn upon for veneer, inlay and marque-terie. One of the most significant developments was the introduction of the wonderful Boule inlay of tortoise-shell and brass. To set off properly this extraordinarily rich combination, elaborate ormolu mounts and metal appliques, cast, chiselled and engraved, were profusely resorted to. Painting, gilding, lacquering, and carving also played their respective parts, but there were so many decorative processes now available that carving lost its paramount position. Although Baroque scrolls and curves had long since established themselves, structural lines, especially in cabinet work, were mainly rectilinear. Cabinets and armoires were among some of the most resplendent examples of this resplendent age.

Other Decorative Accessories And Movable Decorations

Throughout the sixteenth century there poured into France choice products of craftsmanship from Italy and the East - ivories, intarsias, goldsmiths' work, maiolicas, small mirrors from Venice curiously set, and divers objects of like nature - which, however, came more in the capacity of curios and cherished personal possessions than as accessories to decoration. Apart from the wrought-iron or brass candelabra and sconces (Plate 32), and the banners, arms and trophies of the chase, the chief decorative accessories were such as have already been noted in connexion with the fixed background.

In the seventeenth century the story was quite different. Besides the tapestries, hangings and pictures whose presence was mentioned in discussing the fixed decorations, foreign trade had brought porcelains and bronzes from the Orient, zeal for classic research had stimulated the use of sculpture in marble and bronze, and lacquer from the East was beginning to count as an appreciable item. The brass founders and the smiths were contributing chandeliers and sconces of admirable design and these were employed to the full extent of their decorative as well as utilitarian capacity.

During the reign of Louis XIV all of the aforementioned accessories were multiplied in number and the recently started manufacture, in France, of mirrors of greater size than heretofore contributed another item of effective decoration, while the metal workers excelled their past performances in the fashioning of lamps, candelabra and sconces, which performed a more conspicuous function in the decorative schemes than ever before. Glass and crystal lustres for chandeliers and sconces also helped to create brilliant results.

Materials And Colour

The materials of furniture and the fixed decorations have been noted in preceding paragraphs. The fabrics employed during this period, besides embroideries and tapestries, numbered silks, satins, brocades, damasks, brocatelles, velvets plain and figured, and printed linens. Copious importations from Italy were later supplemented by the excellent products of the French looms. Throughout the period the colours were rich, full and varied, and the patterns were, for the most part, vigorous and large.

Arrangement - During much of the sixteenth century the arrangement of furniture was determined more by considerations of convenience than by notions of symmetrical composition or systematic grouping. By the end of the century principles of formal balance were beginning to be heeded and by the middle of the seventeenth century, in the reign of Louis XIV, conceptions of formalism and symmetry in arrangement had reached their full fruition and pairs of objects were symmetrically disposed where.they would produce the most impressive effect.