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Decorative Stles And Periods In The Home
Pompeian Decorative Styles And Periods
Gothic Decorative Styles And Periods
Decorative Styles And Periods In Italy
Decorative Styles And Periods In France
The Style Of Louis Quatorze
The Style Of Louis Quinze
The Style Of Lous Seize
Empire Decorative Styles And Periods
Elizabethan Or Tudor Styles Sixteenth Century
Chippendale Middle Of Eighteenth Century
The Adams Brother
Hepplewhite Book Issued 1789
Shearton - End Of The Eighteenth Century
English And American Empire
( Originally Published Early 1900's )
SOVEREIGNS, HENRY VIII, EDWARD, MARY, ELIZABETH
THE so-called Elizabethan styles in England - are they not the English reflection of the Renaissance?
We have seen the awakening in Italy, and followed the progress of the thrill as it agitated France. We have now to see its effect on English decorative art. Henry VIII was on the throne while Italy was intellectually and artistically active, and Elizabeth succeeded him. Tudor styles, therefore, might the product of that age be called, but with all chivalry they are named after the lady, although for that matter they began before her reign and lasted after it.
Elizabethan styles have been designated as a debased Renaissance; perhaps with some show of reason, but the term wounds the amour propre of those who love the old English, and who see in it not only good taste and satisfying elegance, but also a firmness of character which is not disassociable from the British nation and the British individual.
The English interpretation of the Renaissance may be called characteristic, but surely not debased. It is merely another one of those interesting illustrations of individuality that reward the student of applied arts. The character of a people as well as of the individuals must leave its impress on all its tangible productions. Set a sketch class before the same view, and one member will produce a gay canvas, one a serious, while another will conventionalise with pre-Raphaelite stiffness. And so the English in their way interpreted the art of the day according to temperament.
That it was an imported art is a matter of history, - very interesting history to the collector. No reproaches are to be cast at the nation who had to import her art. In the first place, she had already an art, a novelty from abroad was what she was importing, just as nations and people have ever imported them to please that fickle master, the eye, which is ever tiring of oft-repeated shapes. The famous Bayeux Tapestry surely is rich in artistic value as well as instruction, and if furniture previous to the Tudors is all gone to dust, at least in architecture are evidences of a beauty that had no need of superseding.
It is true that England did not wake divinely as did Italy, for the circumstances were all different. Italy was in the very centre of art. Travelling was difficult and dangerous in days when hostility was the rule of nations and murder the amiable intent of a stranger's greeting. England was far away, and an island to boot, while Italy was set near the opulent East, near Byzantium, with its mixed art of Christian and Turk, and holding within its own peninsular the perfection of Greek and Roman remains. To the world of nowadays it seemed that she awoke as Venus arose from the sea, - radiant, perfect, vital, exquisite, - but in truth she had been long in preparation through the aid of unknown and unsung " early men," and by virtue of her own atmosphere, where Nature herself with sweet insistence demands that man shall understand her, and understanding, shall interpret.
And how was it in England? Wars and rumours of wars, conflicts without and within, preceded by feudal times so benumbing to all but the lords of the land that the people knew nothing and cared less of the useless matter called art, that they could neither eat nor be clothed with, nor did they find in it a refuge from a too rigorous climate.
That lusty Tudor, Henry VIII, we are apt to think of him as a man of wide waist, of slant-set velvet hat, and of implacable choler, whose sleeves were slashed with velvet and whose reign was slashed with the shrieks of his espoused. Perhaps the same desire for novelty that caused him to seek such frequent matrimonial change, caused his fretful eye to long for other lines of decoration than those which satisfied England at that time - for we must take this wife-murderer humorously, or be speedily a-crying for the poor young martyrs of London Tower.
However it was, the king wanted some of the tender beauties of the Continent brought to his island, and so invited certain artists from Italy and France to come and execute the royal pleasure. Today is the time of the people, par excellence, so that it is hard to think of an entire nation awaiting the move of its chief for a change in its decorative arts. But things were different when the bluff king could cry, " Off with his head! " as easily as to ask for his fiddlers three, and initiative was a dangerous plant nipped in the bud by the frost of tyranny.
So the glory of the importation and encouragement of the art of the Renaissance rests with the king, and we discover that the matter was not one of natural growth, but forced, an exotic deliberately transplanted from a foreign soil. And as grapes make wine according to the land in which they are planted, so the fruit of this Italian vine altered its flavour beyond the chalk cliffs.
Artists were for sale in those days at very high figures, for Henry VIII was far from being the only monarch envious of the inspired handicraft of Italy, and determined that his country should produce its equal. But opposition only determined the man, and he had his way.
The importance of this act of royalty cannot be over-estimated, for its influence was revolutionary and its results excite our wonder and delight today. Not all at once was the change effected, but from the early influence have developed the beautiful designs of later men. Who that has walked on the Strand has not turned riverward to contemplate the rich beauty of the stone water-gate erect on the embankment by Inigo Jones and Nicholas Stone? And who has not been led to feel the force and integrity of the English reflections of the Renaissance in Whitehall?
Because Henry was a doughty Protestant, the new art appealed to him as being entirely at variance with the vogue of the hated Papists, which was very naturally Gothic, that being the only sacred architecture in England before Martin Luther, the young monk, went on his famous errand to Rome and returned a vehement Protestant against the materialism he found rampant there. And as Protestantism had a bitter and relentless hatred then, perhaps the new arts flourished more quickly in England because of the king's desire to blot out the evidence of the opposing religion.
Of examples remaining there are but few, and these, alas, are only available to the traveller, for they cannot leave England. Almost every piece of furniture of the time of Bluff King Hal is snugly tucked away in museums, where it is no longer allowed to earn a right to exist by supporting the weight of man or his belongings, but is passing a conspicuous and honoured old age of indolence. But these rare examples give us a very fair idea of the kind of homes and the comforts in them which prevailed among the well-to-do in the days of the Renaissance in England.
As for comfort -perhaps the word is too strong considering all it means of springs and cushions to the modern. Even the sybarites among the people of those days knew less of comfort in the home than does our modern mechanic in his flat or cottage. It was a time when blankets were a luxury, when even queens' apartments were rushstrewn instead of carpeted, that the cold of wintry floors might be mitigated. And times were not much if any better when the fascinating widow of the French king, Francis II, came shivering to the hardships of Holyrood Castle to rule the Scots.
The English took quickly the idea of beauty, even though ease to the body seems to have had slight part in it - although if our bones ache for sympathy with these uncomfortable folk we can fancy that cushions which have long since been devoured by that grim guest, the moth-worm, then played a prolific part in furnishing. Surely such softening were needed for the asperities of high-relief carving on a straight wooden chair-back and a hard wooden seat. Coinfort must, however, have been known in the sumptuous bed of the time which towers with importance over all other furniture of England of that day. But with its four tall posts and tester, is it not a copy of the Italian fashion?
Until the time when the Stadtholder William introduced Dutch lines into English households, the Italian influence held, but its best expression was its earliest. The reason is patent. The artists and architects which Henry imported began the good work, made models, struck the note. But it was too high a strain for the English craftsmen of the time to keep. And so the change came, as when a teacher sets a copy in the writing book and the child copies it well at first, but as it grows more distant his imitation is more feeble, until at the end of the page he is but copying his own efforts. So with these designs; for this is the difference, whereas the Italian drew to express the art that was in him, his British followers were but learning a new trick. The spirit was not present, and so the manner failed.
Compare for proof of this difference the spontaneous foliage of the Italian with that of the English designer. The former artist dances ecstatically through his task with a rhythm that is the song of an inspired spirit. In his work is the grace of Nature, the nice perfection of Greece, all made vital with the sprightliness of the hour. Surely the gay god Pan must have laughed and piped in the artist's ear all the while he drew his exquisite shapes which we describe as foliated scrolls.
As we have seen, the Italian, who was in those days art-vitalised, set the copy for the Briton. He drew designs which were executed under his care, and these are (unflattering as is the reflection) the choicest examples of Tudor or Elizabethan work. Let us reflect, however, for the relief of those who dislike to have Italy set above Britain even in the matter of foliated scrolls, that the astonishing and prolific of the Cinque Cento turned for their inspiration to those perfect masters, the Greeks. The closer the Greek detail and motive was adhered to, the more exquisite the work of the Renaissance in Italy. Of course they played upon these motifs, infusing into them their own individuality as a musician makes variations on a theme, but the air was borrowed from the Greeks.
Having thus consoled ourselves with the thought that borrowing art is all in the way of progress, and that the best masters thus find inspiration, let us examine a little into the differences that began to appear in England after the Italians had returned to their sunny hills and left the island workmen to their own devices.
The result was the same as when a teacher leaves the schoolroom. The wits scattered because they were no longer co-ordinated. The method was forgotten, and the spirit had flown. The hand cramped with Gothic stiffness and conventionally was not free to originate spontaneous lines of grace. It fell naturally again into conventionality, for its cunning had never been developed. The carving which sparkles with a bright atmosphere of its own creating, it was not theirs to produce. At the bottom of it all lay the fact that it was not their natural expression. And so it died, or rather it altered into something else which better suited the English craftsman.
And thus there came about the style which is known as Jacobean. And this, too, is the logic (for nothing in the world is more logical than the history of furniture and decoration) of what might cause wonder, the superiority of the earlier style. The symmetry of the form in early work, the harmony of each panelled wall or piece of furniture, is missed in the later work.
As an illustration, take the beautiful use of columns, pilasters and arches on work of the early English Renaissance. They are as inspiring as the doorway to a temple-and not unlike them in miniature. The lines are bold and true, the relief is high. The same idea grows flat in the Jacobean days which succeeded; it is still beautiful, for an arch thrown over columns can scarce be murdered, but it loses the architectural feeling which adds so much of dignity to panelling and to furniture forms, and becomes a mere flat plaything of the chaser's tool, a surface on which to chip leaves or " repeats."
It is among the things to consider in the Elizabethan period that turning came so freely into vogue. Contrast a chair turned work with one of Gothic construction and it will be seen that a change so radical could not have occurred without outside influence. In one case the wood is used in decorated planks, with excessive heaviness as a result. In the other is all lightness in construction. And how did this come? In the same old way that I repeat as often as the funny man of opera bouffe repeats his catch word-from the Italian.
The ruler of riches was much the same in those days as now, that is, he was the enviable exception who had them, so for the ordinary household furniture less magnificent pieces had to be provided. Turned work filled the need. Under the English hand it grew more important and swelled into bulbous members of prodigious obesity- especially when the influence of the Netherlands rushed in like a tidal wave-but of that later. In the beginning the turning was a simple graceful twist easy to trace to its Saracenic source, but Northern fancy played on it as on a pipe of many frets.
The decoration called strap-work is too characteristic of this period to pass unnoticed. It is in design any graceful arrangement of line and scroll, but its peculiarity lies largely in the manner of cutting.
The pattern has a flat surface of equal height, from which the background is cut evenly away, very much as though straps of ribbon were arranged to form a design. It is one of the points to notice on Elizabethan work.
To gain an idea of the extreme elegance of English interiors of the Renaissance, wander some day when in London down to the sweetly pensive neighbourhood of the Charterhouse. Coax, command or buy any one who is near to leave you quite alone that your spirit may be in gentle receptive mood, and then from the quaint old courtyard enter the Hall where for hundreds of years the spirit of things has not changed. The marvellous old room is silent and subdued in its grey London light, its floor is bare, its benches and tables are frankly unsoftened by textiles, but over it all broods the great Elizabethan screen of scrolled black oak. Here indeed is a place to dream, a place in which to fancy men in rich doublets and hose, women sparkling in weight of elegance, a merry hearty crowd of ghosts which pass out and leave you alone-but for the gentle and more modern company of Colonel Newcome before he said his final " adsum."
What must have been the interior of a gentleman's house in those days of prodigal elegance, and what my lady's chamber? To make a mental picture of it, fancy a wall panelled to the top like the satisfying Renaissance work of Sizergh Castle, dark with age, reflecting with the polish which comes from the touch of many careful hands, making a background dignified and reposeful as the tormented modern could wish, " instinct with poetry of its own and a quiet charm which is the essence of decorative content."
Or, if you like, in this imaginary picture of an Elizabethan bedroom fancy the wall tapestry-hung, " for old tapestries are such stuff as dreams. are made of, and they are peopled with the forms that sweep the melancholy ways of sleep." This room is lighted from a lattice window in a deep embrasure, and holds furniture fit for its beauty, a carved armoire, a heavy table, but best of all a bed which is an enchanted castle of sleep, where one may give himself over to unconsciousness or the celestial irresponsibility of dreams - throughout all the enchanted dark to purple twilight - and wake to harmonious surroundings which breathe a benison on the waking day.
From imported architects and workers we turn with the alluring prejudices of race to the appreciation of Inigo Jones. He was the first English artist to reflect the classic in all its purity, and with our fondness for patronymic we have called him the father of the English classical revival in architecture. He was the first native artist to throw away every vestige of Gothic and produce something that spoke of the country's quick advance in the arts of peace.
It was not enough that he drew inspiration from the Italian in his country, although that was by no means meagre, for not only were the imported artists at work, but gentlemen were bringing over carved mantels and other details for the interiors of some of the famous English country houses. But Inigo Jones took the journey to Italy, a journey requiring much courage and resolution before steam motors. And having gone there he stayed, poring over the old Roman ruins, drinking in every line, every detail, becoming saturated with the art which we call classic. To have been born and educated with the eyes on Gothic designs, and then to open them on another world of art, the adapted art of Greece, was the wonderful stimulating experience of Inigo Jones.
Back he travelled to his country with prolific pencil and eager inspiration, and produced those fine departures from the art of the Middle Ages that make a sharp distinction between the old and the modern.
In architecture the classic may be called the universal language, true, rich, adaptable, capable of describing any thought whether individual or national. Inigo Jones made the classic interpret the English feeling. And thus the English Renaissance speaks in the language of Greek and Roman art, using it as the vehicle for her own peculiarities.
Inigo Jones left many examples of his work in celebrated palaces and houses. A study of them shows the Roman heaviness and rich ornamentation, especially in mantels and doors. The absence of large mirrors in over-mantels is accounted for by the inadequate methods of glass manufacture, but paintings, usually portraits, took their place and were majestically framed with carvings and topped with a heavy pediment. The variety of these pediments is infinite, but all unite in being massive.
The doorways of Inigo Jones invite, yet check advance. So elegant are they that one knows not whether to pass through them inspired by royal suggestion, or to stop and absorb their rich symmetry. They are like temple doors and suggest the presence of glorious things beyond. Flanked with fluted columns they uphold a pediment of Greek purity, and within this elegant frame is sunk the door and its carved over-panel.
The styles of the time were all heavy, could scarce have been otherwise when architects studied temples for inspiration, but the domestic architecture then produced is the joy of the modern traveller who is so fortunate as to see it in Chatsworth, in Greenwich, and in Whitehall. Columns abound, and where this is the case and the designer knows the alphabet of the " five orders," there is always grandeur and harmony.