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The Stuart Period And The Dutch Influence

( Originally Published 1920 )



The Tudor period may justly be said to stand for the Renaissance in England, for the Stuart period (1603 to 1689) is the most distinctly national of any of the English periods. By the end of the Elizabethan period the Italian Renaissance influence had almost entirely disappeared. Such ideas and their forms as were still in use gave way rapidly under the new regime.

This period is sometimes styled the Jacobean, but the term is so broad because of the dissimilarity of the different parts in the period itself that it is unwise to think of it as describing any one particular phase of the three parts into which the period naturally divides itself. The reigns of James I and Charles I mark the first epoch, the Commonwealth the second, and the reigns of Charles II and James II the third. The names of these rulers are synonymous with certain ideals which are really the governing principles in the lives and activities of the time.

The sturdy, sordid James I brought from Scotland those monarchic and religious differences which opened the way for the Puritan development and the resultant Puritan expression. Instead of pageant, glamour, show, display and noise, the period became the expression of moderation, reserve, economic conservation and personal mortification. There was no longer a tendency to use more wood, more colour or more metal than were essential to express an idea. Both James I and Cromwell had other ways to spend the money at their command.

The people, particularly the Separatists, taught and practised the strictest self-restraint and decried loudly all symbolic, religious or social expression which in any way might lend colour to the so-called idolatrous practices of the time. Personal discomfort, a revolt against sensual beauty as sinful, and a crusade against unnecessary expenditure of money for personal gratification became the leading ideas of the time.

These tendencies culminated in the commonwealth, when all kinds of domestic objects became scant in their material and particularly uncomfortable in their construction. They were sparsely ornamented with the crudest kind of flat-faced carving and were, withal, calculated to satisfy only the absolute needs of man, disregarding entirely the aesthetic sense as well as bodily ease.

This period, marking the first and second expressions of the Jacobean style, furnished the foundation for the earliest Colonial forms in the United States. The people who fled to Holland and thence to Massachusetts retained the characteristics of the English of that time, as did also those who settled Jamestown and founded the Southern colonies during the seventeenth century. New England, more than any other part of the United States, expressed for years the frugal conservatism which so manifestly dominated the Jacobean period.

The rapid growth of the Separatist party brought to England many Flemish workers who were also Protestants in their religious views. These brought with them two structural ideas which were adopted, perhaps in part because they were economical and also because they were new. The first of these is twisted wood, which is the dominating characteristic of chair and table supports during the period of Charles I and Cromwell. This appeared also in the days of James I, and was found in frequent use until the advent of William and Mary, but during the days of Charles and Cromwell it dominated all other styles of furniture support. The other element is known as the Flemish scroll. This scroll, which is the same that was introduced into France and used so much in the days of Henry IV, Louis XIII and Louis XIV, was in reality an Italian device which the Flemish had seized and adopted as a national form.

The Italian pieces, too, which came to England in the last days of the Elizabethan period no doubt influenced somewhat the adoption of this scroll idea. The period is characterized by the use and abuse of the scroll in the backs of chairs, their understrapping, the arms and in other parts of furniture. Sometimes these are restrained, well carried out and structurally more or less appropriate. At other times they are wild in their choice and arrangement, heavy, badly spaced and ungainly, as well as inartistic in their proportions and in relationship to the article in which they are found. The chairs of the early period are high backed, very straight, with a small wooden seat, and are uncomfortable withal. During the reign of James they were upholstered in leather, later in velvet and, occasionally, in tapestry. During the reign of Charles they became low in back, rather cubical in shape and broad in seat. The seat and arms were upholstered in velvet and even damask, as the tendency to a luxurious court life made itself felt in opposition to the strictly economical ideas of the religious party.

The rule of Cromwell, however, produced a reaction, and a strict return to wood for discomfort's sake was the law of the day. Chests were legion. These were of oak, often entirely covered in a flat-faced carving with leafage and modified Renaissance forms. They were crude, stiff and ugly, but interesting and somewhat attractive as expressing permanence and a primitive quality as untouched by the Renaissance idea and uncontaminated by French influence.

This period had a distinct individuality up to the time of the accession of Charles II. Except for the Flemish influence it may be said to be strictly the expression of the middle-class English home. So possible is it of reproduction that all sorts of modifications are already in use in this country and the department stores are alive with Jacobean furniture, even to Jacobean rocking chairs, which, by the way, are the last article of human use that should be made in Jacobean form. Gate-legged tables are popular and seem to express the same qualities as those described in chairs and other articles of furniture.

The interior was, during this period, still oak panelled, though elaborate mouldings and Renaissance carvings were entirely out of place. Beamed ceilings not only made their appearance, but were the dominating feature of the Jacobean room as turned and twisted wood was of the furniture in it. The wood was mostly oak, dark and rich in colour. The textiles which were used, and those which ought to be, represented two types. Suffice it to say that the printed linens of the time, which were strongly contrasting in value, huge in pattern and scale, and scrawly in motion, though in some instances entirely out of feeling with the period, are the most characteristic of any textile. Velvets seemed too rich, except for the period of Charles II, leather too brutal and damasks out of the question. If either of the latter are used in an adaptation of this style, they should have inconspicuous patterns in rather small scale with fairly close values and a dull, unobtrusive finish.

The last part of this period, beginning with the reign of Charles II is, strictly speaking, though Jacobean, not an English art period. The sympathies of the monarch were French. He was French in ideal and practice as much as it was possible to be and maintain an apparent ascendancy over the English people. He adopted French manners and customs and was often in France, or had his workmen there, copying and adapting the ideas of Louis XIV. In a word, the period of Charles II may be said to be the Jacobean fused with the Louis XIV in a scale and colour combination and an ornament display that accorded with the intelligence and the practices of Charles II. The student of periods will find keen enjoyment in the history of Charles II and the development of interior art which was the expression of the demand of the day.

To see the Jacobean period as a whole or as the expression of one idea is quite impossible. It must be considered as three distinct periods, with at least two distinct ideas-one the domination of all those qualities which are summed up in the word Puritan; the other, the readaptation of the qualities of Puritanism to a profligate court life with a Louis XIV period as the well-spring from which to draw material for this expression.

The period of James II does not count, and the domination of the ideas of Charles ends in the abdication of James II and the recall of Mary from the Netherlands with William, who was by birth and inheritance a democratic Dutch ruler and not an English king.

To attempt to show the Palladian influence on England or the wonderful effects brought about by Inigo Jones would be the work of a volume. The omission is perhaps excusable since our aim is only to sense, if possible, the spirit of the time to such a degree that the use of objects will not be entirely the result of ignorant choice.



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