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Decorative Periods:
Decorative Stles And Periods In The Home
General Antiquity
Pompeian Decorative Styles And Periods
Gothic Decorative Styles And Periods
The Renaissance
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
Jacobean Period
Queen Anne
Chippendale Middle Of Eighteenth Century
The Adams Brother
Hepplewhite Book Issued 1789
Shearton - End Of The Eighteenth Century
English And American Empire
Art Nouveau

Gothic Decorative Styles And Periods

( Originally Published Early 1900's )

Europe left us no special style adaptable to modern domestic use previous to the period just preceding the Renaissance, but to architects the time was full of riches, and to historians full of interest.

Rome fell, and Christianity arose. That is the historical fact; the result to art was the loss of the Roman influence and the development of the Christian. The Roman Emperor Constantine, conqueror of the Greeks, saw a cross in the sky, and became a zealot in the new religion which had the cross as its symbol. He transferred the capital from Rome to Byzantium, and there brought artists of Greece and Rome to blend the symbolism of the new religion with the old forms, and on these he grafted an art hitherto buried, the Christian art of the Catacombs. Moulding all these styles together he breathed into them the ardent breath of the inspired, the man who has had revealed to him the wondrous Spirit of God, - and lo, the style we call Byzantine, followed with the Romanesque, styles which in the South developed into the Gothic or pointed style.

The styles of Europe previous to the thirteenth century, while rich in architecture, furnish but little suggestion in the way of interior fittings for the modern home. Look for explanation to the manner of life at that time, when every man's house was his fortress, and, being often the scene of sharp defense, was appropriately massive in wall, generous in size, and sparse in furniture. The enormous hall was the important room of the mediaeval castle, the room which was the scene for all the brutal romance of the Middle Ages. How was it fitted up for the many and changing events which surged against its grim, enclosing walls? It was got ready for those hearty, feasting crowds with which Mr. Maurice Hewlett makes us sympathetically familiar, - crowds whose indulgences would revolt the palate and all other senses of the people of today. Cleaned of the rabble, the hall served as a scene for romances between long-haired corseleted ladies and their velvet-cloaked suitors; and again it was filled with a clanking mass of soldiers in armour waiting the arrival of a foe, whose coming was known by the dust upon the road espied by eager eyes in the watch-towers above. As the foe came nearer, and steel clashed steel, the hall became an actual battle ground, from whence fled the lord's whole family to shelter in rooms above.

With what manner of furniture could such a home conveniently be fitted? Naturally with those things which are portable and which serve many purposes. When pages in the second act of " Lohengrin " fall to decorating for Elsa's wedding, they are but historically correct. A few, a very few bits of furniture are placed, and the effect of warmth and luxury is given only as these little pages trip about, arranging hangings over the stone-work of the building.

Very much like a stage was the hall in these old castles of the Middle Ages, -the stage of a travelling company which economises its properties. If the play dealt with knights and ladies, falconing parties or feasts, the big coffers were set, plank-tops were laid on frames to make tables, and the arras were hung over the forbidding stone walls, innocent of plaster or panel.

But if the play was one of conflict, thrust of sword, clash of steel and flow of blood, the arras were torn from the wall, thrust within the yawning coffers and whisked up stone stairs with the disappearing heel of the last flying maid or paling page.

And sometimes expediency or adventure, or restlessness ordered that the whole castleful be off to some other of my lord's possessions, and needs must that the household be accompanied with its goods, for none were where the company was migrating, neither would any be found on returning. To supply furniture for one house only was to live up to the standard of the time, and to leave furniture in an empty house was to give it to the first who rode that way.

So the people of those times have left us the riches of the architecture that sheltered them at home and at worship, but no great store of furniture to descend to reverent and delighted worshippers of the antique. But those they have left, -the occasional chair, the more frequent and varied coffer, and the adorable arras, - these we approach in worshipful spirit and pay reverence to Time, the finishing artist.

Like the Byzantine the Gothic was the expression of such religious fervour as the modern world knows of only by record. In an endeavour to serve religion, and to express it, through art, symbolism so abounded that signs of the Trinity and of the Evangelists are not disassociable from Gothic designs, the trefoil and quatrefoil form being an integral part of nearly every detail, and so proclaiming faith to the world through the mute evidence of stone and wood.

From great religious movements to furniture and household trappings seems a far cry, but it was not so in the days when the best designers and workers were employed, first of all on the construction of buildings and moveables for religious uses. Temples to the Unknown, whether in Egypt or in Europe, are the best extant remains of man's handiwork in ancient days. Fancy the apprentices of the Gothic period in all of the trades associated with building, getting their first instruction from masters whose best work was ever and always ecclesiastic. The church stood for all that was skilful in construction, all that was beautiful in detail, all that was symbolic in design. Add to this the personal religious fervour of each worker which was one of the features of the age, and we can readily see how art was but the necessary evidence of an ardour that clamoured for expression. The best talent, the most skilful labour was secured for the work, while the people stinted themselves to provide the pay.

It is this very stinting that has caused such a scarcity of relics for home use. The church was all, the home was nothing - speaking broadly - in the Gothic days. It. was very largely a time of strife as well, a rude period where only the physically fit survived, and these had little inclination to cultivate the gentle luxuries of peace.

Where are all the pieces of furniture with which they lived? The Gothic period was not so long ago that we could not have something left; so where are the great sideboards on which the boar's hide must have rested, the desk at which fair ladies wrote frail vows to gentlemen in armour? Of such there were none. In our days of complicated necessities it is hard to imagine a lady happy in the privations of the home of the moyenage. In fancying these lovely ladies with banded brow and braided hair falling far over the jewelled girdle, all idea of conveniences and luxuries must be eliminated, however difficult the task. We, the poorest of us, have furniture undreamed of in that time, and are luxurious beyond the dreams of then existing royalty. And so it happens that while Gothic architecture is rich in wondrous cathedrals, relics of articles for home use are rare. Their characteristics are the same as those shown in church architecture, for the reason mentioned before; all artists and workers were trained in the service of the church; to meet its material requirements was their sole aim, and knowing no other methods they applied them to the home.

The result is that a chair looks strongly like a choir stall, and a chest is not unlike an altar; while taller pieces bring out the ecclesiastic qualities more strongly. And never does one get far from architectural features. The feeling is that the man who constructed and carved the piece of furniture set about it with the cathedral motif established in his mind. Ribs and groins were as much a part of a bed as of a transept, and the detail of carving was rich with symbolism of threes and fours and circles. A piece of furniture was made to look like a miniature of the whole or a perfected bit of ornament detached from place.

But it is a happy feature of the exquisite art of that time that its lines and details intoxicate the senses with their loveliness equally in both miniature and grandeur. The thrill felt in the cathedral aisle is not entirely absent in the presence of some of the exquisite pieces of Gothic furniture at the Louvre and the Musee de Cluny. The richness of the wood colour, its mellow depth of tone, its suggestion of soft and sympathetic texture, -these gifts of Time enhance the beauty of man's wondrous craft and inventions, and we wonder why man ever wandered away from the Gothic.

It was a time when the chest still formed the most important single article of furniture, and on its broad surfaces most wondrous patterns were worked out with a devotion to art that one can scarcely understand in a people whose lives were filled with fierce stress of war and of struggle against remorseless enemies.

These chests had come down from pre-historic times, had been at first made as the savage fashions his crude canoe, by hollowing a log, then had become a rectangular box, and at last were made beautiful. Even at the Gothic period they served many uses, -so many that probably no household was without one or more. Primarily a chest is a receptacle, but it makes also a comfortable seat, and might at the same time serve as table. Doubtless many a tired soldier has lain down on one, thankful for its services as a bed. They have a history, these chests of the Middle Ages, - one in which glory increases with the years, until the full height is reached in the wonderful Italian marriage coffers of the Renaissance.

We are grateful possessors of what the Gothic period has left us of these cases, and an occasional armoire and chair, a study of which is a liberal education on what was once considered a new art, but which may now be accounted a lost one.

Side by side with the Gothic was the Romanesque, fantastic as the former in its bulbous perversion of the acanthus leaf, in its complex combination of human and animal forms with the arboreal and vegetable, but in construction as different as are the people of the South from people of the North, for in the two districts did the two styles flourish. But the Romanesque is for the student of architecture, and with such we leave it.

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