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.
In his admirable summarisation of characteristics that dominated the style of Louis XIV, W. H. Ward (Architecture of the Renaissance in France) says, "No government, however powerful, and no monarch, however good his taste - and within certain limits that of Louis XIV was excellent - can create an art or a literature to order. Success was achieved in virtue of a coincidence in aim with the artistic tendencies of the century and a skillful choice of agents." To put the matter a little differently, one might say that the almost universal prevalence, at any one given period, of a great wave of popular taste or, in other words, the vogue of a particular style, may be likened to the on-sweeping epidemic of a contagious disease that few or none can wholly escape. One person, for instance, may have a light case of small-pox and be apparently little affected by the disorder; another may be severely ill with all the attendant symptoms fully developed. But the same influence has been at work in both cases. So is it in the matter of falling under a style of influence and so is it that the epidemic of a style merges into a clearly defined and crystallised fashion.
Thus was it also in the case of the Style Louis XIV. There were certain antecedents back of it whose presence, in the new style development, could not be ignored and from whose influence there could be no complete escape, no matter what fresh elements came into play, unless there was to be an absolute and drastic revolution in all conceptions and in all methods of style expression. And such a sweeping revolution it would have been exceedingly difficult to compass even had it been desirable or desired. As a matter of fact, it was not desired and the obvious solution, therefore, was a compromise with the infusion of a large and vigorous new element of ideals. The Style Louis XIV was just such a compromise. It was a full coordination of the elements that had gone to make up the Henri IV-Louis XIII style with something added - a very appreciable addition, indeed. In architecture, and to a very much greater extent in decoration, it was a compromise, and on the whole a sane and satisfying compromise, between Palladianism - the scholastic interpretation of Classicism as formulated during the late Italian Renaissance - and Baroque tendencies. The result was Baroque idealised, purged of its grossness and abnormal, swollen heaviness, presented in a tempering and restraining setting of Classicism (Plate 35), a rationalised style that incorporated what was best in the preceding episode and added positive elements of fresh provenance. Its physical affinities were Baroque, a chastened and reasoned Baroque; its spiritual affinities were Classic and Renaissance.
The foremost artists and craftsmen of the age - and it was a truly great age, despite certain defects - encouraged and assisted by the king, aided in making the Style Louis XIV one of the most sumptuous and impressive that the world has ever seen. Simon Vouet, Eugene Le Sueur, Nicholas Poussin, Charles Le Brun, Le Pautre, Marot, Francesco Romanelli, Berain, Jacques Sarrazin, Laurent Magnier, these are a few of the names of men who added lustre to the decorative work of the period, their association with the practice of their several metiers proving a guarantee of the excellence therein realised.
If the cartouche and all its satellite entourage of auxiliary motifs was the "trade-mark" of the Style Louis Xm, the rayed sun, the Gallic cock, along with the shaped panel (Plate 33, Figs. 1-5) and all its kindred variations, may be regarded as the badges of Louis XIV decorative expression. Other distinguishing traits were the impressive applied orders (Plates 34, 35 and 36 A), the general architectural composition of interiors (Plate 35), the full convex sections of mouldings (Plates 32, 34 and 35) and projecting members, often deeply undercut, the frequent use of the torus and of the cyma reversa, reticulated diaperwork (Plate 33, Fig. 7) in otherwise unoccupied spaces such as spandrels, and the striking use of shadow. It was, in short, an opulent, masculine and magnificent style.
Windows and doors were commonly square-headed (Plate 36 A) or round-arched (Plate 35), the former being far more numerous. The divisions of casements and panes were, as a rule, much the same as in the preceding style. Mouldings of door frames were full and often richly ornate, and above important doorways was generally an imposing architectural and decorative composition (Plate 34) in bold relief, subsidiary features of the decoration not infrequently extending to the floor on either side. The doors themselves were richly panelled (Plates 34, 35 and 36 A) and decorated in relief or colour or both.
Order and organised symmetry were two of the most characteristic traits of the style and the wall spaces, vast as many of them were, afforded opportunity for impressive architectural composition with the use of orders of pilasters and rich panelling between. The whole ensemble represented "symmetrical and careful scheme, distributed into large well-defined divisions, and these sometimes subdivided into smaller compartments." The tops of panels were commonly shaped (Plate 33, Figs. 1-5), or rounded, and angles were apt to be softened into quadrants.
Where orders of pilasters were not used, walls were, nevertheless, divided into compartments or broad rectangular panels (Plate 32), extending from floor or dado to cornice, with enriched borders, "the centre either plain or containing a tapestry, a picture, a relief, a carved or painted arabesque, or octagonal panel in the centre."
The motifs and "properties" most in evidence, besides those already mentioned, were the lion, eagle and griffin among animal forms, normal and robust human figures quite different from Bubens's specimens of unwholesome obesity; and, in the vegetable types, oak, laurel and olive in full, close-packed and be-ribboned wreaths, acanthus, heavy swags and drops of fruit and foliage. Shells and scrolls, cherubs and masques (Plate 33, Figs. 6 and 7), were used to break the centres of lintels or arches; while the cartouche, in conjunction With architectural mouldings and pediments, was reduced to "its original function of framing a shield or paneL" Architraves and kindred members forming "frames to panels and openings were broad and bold, and carved with close-packed foliage or other enrichments."
When tapestries were used, it was a common practice to stretch them in a fixed frame like a painting or to empanel them. Wall adornment also often consisted of modelled stucco (Plate 32), of paintings or frescoes (Plate 32), and of inlays or coatings of various and richly coloured marbles. Mirrors also began to be employed for wall panelling and for incorporation in chimney-pieces. The colour schemes were full and vigorous and gilding was freely called into service.
Fireplaces with their accompanying overmantel decorations were focal features in the composition of the room (Plates 35 and 36 B), although the chimney breast was now often disguised in the thickness of the wall and, instead of the fireplace and chimney-piece constituting an architectural projection, it became a massively detailed and impressive piece of applied decoration. The overmantel embellishment, whether a picture empanelled in an ornate and heavily moulded surround, or some other feature, usually extended to the cornice.
Cornices were distinctly architectural (Plates 34 and 35) in their interpretation. Ceilings, which were frequently plastered with a flat surface throughout their expanse, were commonly enriched with heavily moulded plaster or stucco ornamentation of an elaborate character to which the additional touches of colour and gilding were added. The larger panels of the ceilings were often the vehicles for gorgeous frescoes. At other times the beams were visible and coloured and gilt decoration was added to coffered panels and projections. Barrel vaulted (Plate 32), domed and coved (Plate 35) ceilings were used as well as flat. The floors were of various-coloured marbles, of tiles and of wood, plain or parquetted in patterns.