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Venetian Furniture

WHETHER used to add new interest and color to a foyer, to furnish completely a bedchamber or to grace a breakfast room, furniture known as Venetian is achieving a wide recognition. These brightly painted pieces, in ornate shapes and decorated with floral motifs, Renaissance scroll designs, plaques with groups of classic gods or lordly ladies and their gallants, and Chinoiseries, seem to fit particularly well into the modern interior.

One reason for the popularity of this type of furniture is its variety of forms, uses and schemes of decoration. Also Venetian furniture inclines toward the smaller and more intimate pieces that so easily fit in with the other furnishings of the room, and are so adaptable to the circumscribed areas of many modern homes. This style, while typically Italian, mingles in a congenial manner with Spanish furnishings and with painted furniture of France and England. The spirit of its decoration and the usefulness of its forms have also inspired some desks, cabinets and chairs by American designers that carry out in modern adaptations the quaint originalities and fantasies so often found in examples of this period.

While Venetian furniture derived from the rococo examples of Louis XV forms, it was not a direct copy but apparently grew out of the demand of the frivolous life of the time, which asked for color, gayety, above all for novelty. Not only in the French styles and the native Italian precedents, but also in divergent sources, such as the English Queen Anne and the Spanish baroque styles, was inspiration sought.

In some of the armchairs and side chairs the English influence is very obvious. Chair backs with rounded corners, a centre splat fantastically shaped, and cabriole legs with a curved stretcher suggest the chairs in walnut which we know as Queen Anne. But in the hands of the Venetian artisan the staid, dark-hued walnut was transformed by brilliant lacquer into vermilion or into the deep, rich green that is so characteristic of this furniture that it has become known as "Venetian green."

Cheerful floral motifs decorated the backs and other portions of the chair, and the carved parts, such as a shell motif on the top of the back, were richly gilded. This type is being reproduced today with all its original gayety, and in a foyer or as an addition to a bedroom it offers an interesting foil to darker-hued and more sombrely designed pieces.

The age out of which these ornate and almost playful examples of furniture craft emerged was, as William M. Odom so graphically discloses in his book, "Italian Furni ture," a period of frivolity and careless living. Clothed in gay silks, men and women idled through the day and night with balls and masques, garden parties, festivals, theatres, pageants and private theatricals in magnificent palaces. The great Venetian society was in its decadence, and even science and art became polite accomplishments rather than serious efforts.

Venetian furniture reflects all this blithe life which, in spite of its shallowness, possessed distinction and a light kind of artistry. The name Venetian that has been bestowed on the furnishings stamped with the frivolous touch of the eighteenth century in Venice, covers almost every type of decorative article used in a house of that period. In mirrors the extravagances of Chippendale are toned down to less fantastic forms although the mirrors are still highly ornate and especially characterized by the use of rich color and gilt. Commodes, richly decorated on the front and with pink or black and gold marble tops and marbleized bases, are also characteristic pieces.

It was from this decorative art that Angelica Kauffmann and her countrymen derived their inspiration for the decorations on the painted furniture that Adam developed to such a high degree of art in England near the close of the eighteenth century. But the Venetian type of decoration with similar motives of classical gods and goddesses, cupids and decorative scrolls and flower sprays is a less formal thing, revealing a more nonchalant spirit. Their designs in imitation of Chinese decoration, for example, are far removed from real Oriental art. Venetian designers, with a delightful carelessness, adapted what they liked from French and English decorations in this style and added their own inimitable touch.

In spite of the frivolous background of Venetian art a century or two ago, these cabinets, chairs, tables, mirrors and other forms fit into American homes with remarkable ease. Particularly effective as occasional pieces when combined with French or English furniture of the same century, they also make charming decorative ensembles for a bedchamber, or in a foyer may successfully form a complete setting. In a formal drawing room a piece of Venetian furniture holds its own with any decorative cabinet work, for even the less seriously executed pieces possess an air of individuality.

For those who prefer new pieces, with painted surfaces undulled by age, many interesting forms are to be found. Here, for example, are a chest of drawers with a curved bombe front, a cabinet with a complicated front of curves and straight lines and a marble top, with elaborate cornice and pilasters. The simple, straightforward forms of mahogany or walnut furniture of Georgian English or Colonial American traditions are replaced by the fantasies of form that reached their height in the days of Louis XV.

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