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The William And Mary Period

Historical Background.  At the death of his brother Charles II, James II became king, but he was so much disliked that he abdicated and fled to France. His daughter Mary, and her husband William, Prince of Orange in Holland, accepted the invitation to the throne of England. As they brought with them shiploads of furniture and many workmen, the Dutch influence became an important element in the design of English furniture for some time. The Dutch influence changed the entire attitude of the English people toward home furnishings, as the object of the Dutch was to obtain a comfortable, convenient, private home life. The Elizabethan ideal had been to obtain splendid though crude effects; the Cromwellian, to endure harsh discomfort for the sake of the soul. The Carolean ideal of extravagance and useless display had only irritated the English people. The domestic attitude of the Dutch made a great appeal to the English, who adopted it and changed it to fit their needs.

The Oriental influence too was important at this time because accessories, lacquered furniture, and wall paper were imported, mostly from China.

Furniture. The style of furniture that we know as William and Mary was transitional, for it was a step between the rectangular Renaissance furniture and the curvilinear Baroque and Rococo. This furniture was particularly good in its structural design. It was lighter in weight and more comfortable than earlier furniture. Walnut was utilized chiefly, although some furniture was made of oak. The Flemish scroll, Spanish foot, and French square leg were used. In contrast with the preceding furniture, it was decorated with marquetry rather than carving. Hardware was simple to conform with the furniture, teardrop and ball handles and simple pierced shields being most popular.

Some typical pieces of this period were the flat-top cabinets or highboys with cornices. They had six or eight legs, which had inverted bell, cup, or trumpet turning ending with bun or ball feet. Their flat, curved, and tied or crossed stretchers were close to the floor. The aprons were sometimes shaped in the ogee form. The lowboy was identical with the lower part of a highboy; it was used as a desk or a dressing table. Desks came into common use at this time; they were often beautifully decorated with intricate seaweed patterns in marquetry. The high rectangular chair of Italian style with elaborate crest and front stretcher, the wing chair, the love seat, and the sofa were used. Tables of all sizes and shapes were common. Beds were similar to preceding ones except that the posts were higher and the hangings were often of printed cotton or linen.

Textiles. Shortly before this period, the Edict of Nantes, which had given religious liberty to Protestants, was revoked by Louis XIV. As a result, forty thousand families emigrated to England, among them many skilful Huguenot weavers. Brightcolored silk, velvet, brocade, damask, and printed linen and cotton were made at the factories. Queen Mary set the fashion for doing needlework, and women worked long hours at it.

Modern Use of the William and Mary Style. Since this style is transitional it is often used with the preceding or the succeeding styles. Its scale and its degree of elegance are the determining factors of its eligibility in a scheme of either type. It can be used in almost any home that is not definitely formal.

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