|Antiques Digest||Browse Auctions||Appraisal||Home|
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 )
With appropriate humility and with profound apologies to the true artist, and to art's historians as well, do I introduce into a handbook of home furnishing the profound and inexhaustible subject of the Renaissance.
But even as the sun dominates the world, yet illumines its smallest corner, so the great light of the Renaissance is reflected in the many minor designs with which we are familiar, not, perhaps, knowing their origin.
Architecture and painting express the period, and sit enthroned as the great results of the great awakening; but the humbler and more intimate departments of art, the smaller productions that we hug to our hearts as being more human, these also reflect the time with fidelity. There is scarce a detail of a modern chair, nor a design on a tapestry that is not traceable to the great period. The smallest things of the home show it quite as much as the works great artists left behind them to vex and perplex the maturest counsel of the less talented.
It is then far from disrespectful for the home beautifier to consider that the Renaissance speaks also unto such as he. Once having rid ourselves of the fear of the company of gods, let us walk boldly among them and see what they have given us, that we may the better understand what is around us, recognise its beauty, and know the why.
In walking through the spring woods or between the autumn hedge-rows it is surely pleasant to be able to say to each flower in passing, " I know you, sweet friend, you are cousin to the pink; and you, a sister of the sweet-pea." But this is nothing to the joy that stirs the blood when the educated eye detects among antique furnishings a scroll, a shell, - a construction or detail that is traceable at once to the Renaissance.
It is this ability that has an unending charm, and the exercise of the same will carry its possessor on wilder hunts than ever followed the wild goose. No greater joy is known to any collector than that of saying to himself, and to a wondering friend, " This piece is Italian Renaissance; and this, its later English echo." Out of museums these things must be, of course, for to find your darlings tagged and labelled, set apart as curios of State or city, what is that? No better, forsooth, than to visit an arid deerpen in the park, where the daintiest animals that have bounded through the mossy shades of the ancient wood since fauns went out of fashion are set on dreary exhibition, with name and habitat duly posted for the man who runs to read.
See your dainty deer at feed among the lilies of a sapphire mountain lake, and know him from the tree-boles of his setting, if your heart is to beat faster at the sight; and find your ancient relic of men no longer ancient (because their works declare their living power), unlabelled, undistinguished. Then is it your joy to detect on carving or moulding or weaving the touch of the Renaissance, to know your man, so to speak; and knowing him to let the sympathetic spark leap from your eye, the smile of welcome curve your lip. If you do not taste this joy, this subtle fruitful way of knowing men who have refused to die with their bodies' surrender, then you miss the greatest happiness art can give.
In a far-off relation, just as a cat may look at that other product of the animal kingdom, a king, and in that way claim relationship, so does the furniture of a period partake recognisably of the feeling of its architecture. Perhaps this is discouraging, for it might impose upon the conscientious furniture-buyer the necessity of entering into the wide field of study that lies before the professional architect. Not at all unprofitable is a little judicious smattering of architecture, and so far from being irksome, it is a positive delight to dip into it with an irresponsible lightsome touch, skipping happily from what one is wont to consider as Bible times, to engraft an interesting detail on the Greek; to add to this, voluptuous lines of the Roman, symbols of Byzantium, wierd details of Romanesque, exquisite asceticism of the osseous Gothic, and finally to reach the great revival which was but (then) modern adaptations of the antique. From stones such as these may even the lightest, most inconsequent collector of antique beauty build a firm foundation for the taste that is in him, and with but little pains to himself and no pedantry to vex his friends.
A knowledge (just a harmless surface knowledge) of architecture is to the collector like a mooring to a boat, is like a measuring stick to the joiner; it is a key to the puzzle. Often and often a chair, a pictureframe, a table, saunters, so to speak, with a baffling swagger from some dusty corner with the old challenge which Rumpelstiltskin of Grimm's fairy tale flung at the queen, " Who am I ? " No one you have ever seen before, most assuredly - but hold, the tribal marks of the piece lie exposed. The construction shows the solidity of the bellicose Middle Ages, the detail is Greek. Early Renaissance proclaims the collector with a shout of triumph. And of what country? That too is revealed to the initiated who has dipped into architecture with no higher purpose than the better understanding of those smaller objects which architecture made possible for man to harbour.
From the Renaissance we date everything. As in Sunday-school days everything ethnological flew reliably and satisfactorily straight back to the Pair in the Garden, so now (barring the wonderful products of the unspeakable East) we turn back to the great period of revival for the inspiration or origin of everything produced after the Middle Ages, and this in all countries.
Why the art world was content to go to sleep after its Greek perfection, its Roman affluence, or its Christian symbolism, none knows, and some deny. The theory is not a little interesting that the cause of this was traceable to religion. Christianity prevailed through Europe, Christianity held that at the end of a thousand years after Christ the world was to come to an end. What a paralysing bug-a-boo to place before producers! Of what use to build, to improve in skill, to acquire renown or to be concerned with material things that were to serve in the end merely as food for flames. Surely a more effective blight could not have been put upon artistic ambition, or any other, for that matter, except the somewhat questionably selfish occupation of saving one's own soul.
With this as the accepted theory man's ambition and man's hands were both stopped. And thus, they say, came about that long period of non-productiveness of which the tenth century formed the deadest, the epitome. The dread year came and went. Even the men who insisted on a different count, as men were known to wrangle at the birth of the enlightened century in which we live, even those early disputants saw their appointed dates pass, and the world go stolidly on her way, non-committingly following her accustomed routine of warm sun and blossom, cold rain and fallen leaf. Perhaps they et-en thought they had miscounted an entire century. However it was, folk began to take heart of hope after the years had proved the happy falsity of man's prophecy, and in the twelfth and thirteenth centuries thought it worth while after all to live for the morrow, and to endeavour to make that morrow more gracious by the cultivation of the gentler arts.
The church, always the church, was the patron of art. It has remained for our own times, our own cities, to subjugate architecture to the uses of trade and finance, so that the stranger is shown, not the artist's inspired design for the worship of the Unknown, but the latest bank, the most classically perfect business building. If it was due to the superstitions and legends of religion that the world was expected to end in the thousandth year of Christianity, so also was it in the church and her institutions that the art of the Middle Ages hid trembling and fearsome.
The monk bending over his missals in the haven of his cell did his share in supporting the slight bridge from darkness to the Renaissance. And when the great revival came it was animate with the soul of religion. To express the faith that was in him was the primary desire of the artist, and in religious fervour he approached his work. What was Giotto but the spirit of religion making itself manifest through the soul-guided hand of man. Could his art have burst the bands of Byzantine convention to express pure spirituality unless the man himself had been but a vessel filled from that inspired fount? We speak of the earlier men, be it understood, for the high Renaissance led men more towards the expression of intellectuality, just as the late Renaissance led through materialism to decadence.
The best of every man's best then went as naturally to the church as rivers to the ocean; but after that the increase of luxury and self-indulgence deflected the stream to the homes of the mighty. And as artists were not then specialists of one expression only, but were craftsmen of all versatility, so the time became rich in every department of beauty. Those who could paint could also work in metals or in wood, and the fingers that held brushes thought it not incompatible with the fine arts to practise the craft of the artisan. And this is one reason why inspiration for any sort of work can be found in those wondrous two centuries.
Very little do we find previous to this at all available for use in our homes, - always excepting the pure Greek as exemplified by Pompeii, - and yet this casual tracing of the history of art is necessary to even the lightest appreciation of what we see about us every day. And as history goes hand in hand with art, or rather as art is its enduring reflection and exponent, so must we ever bear it in mind as the reason why. History is a matter of masses and publicity, but we in our romantic search seek the indi vidual. We follow man to his home and learn there to know his real and more amenable self. Yet as it is one and the same man who plays both parts, the warrior and the gentleman, so we must know his history as well as his home life.
Again, if the Renaissance had been solely an affair of the country which cradled it, it would have remained peculiarly an Italian development; but it spread to all important countries of Europe, in each place taking on local colour. It is almost like a burst ing of bonds. It is as though all the countries of the Continent had lain like Samson bound, until Italy awoke and proved her strength, and lo, one after another the captives followed her example and gave expression to art.
But even as one race differs from another, so also each country expressed itself with a difference, and therein lie the delectable pleasures of the connoisseur - in the detection of these differences. And without the smattering of history we cannot have this skill, - so, to understand (and understanding is love), you cannot entirely enjoy the antique chest, the church embroidery, the ancient cross, - that rest in the chamber they enrich with their enchanting atmosphere.
It began in Italy, and there reached its highest. Are not even the Italians of to-day jealous of their own Renaissance? And greater praise than this can no man give. And where else but in Italy, the land of forcing and caressing sun, the land of inspired dreams, could art so wondrously grow and flower. But alas, by the same natural regrettable process that Shakespeare attributed to man, " From year to year we ripe and ripe, and then from year to year we rot and rot," so the Italian decadence set in. But of that later.
Simultaneousness was not accomplished among the nations then as now. France was still in the moyenage of art, while Italy was rejoicing in the surpassing beauty of her own development. The travellers of the time were the most fascinating of all fanatics, the combination of warrior, brigand, and devotee, the Crusaders. Like travellers with less saintly motives they returned with strange and beautiful products of foreign lands, hangings of Eastern stuffs, wrought metals, chests of strange design which held their trophies, - and all these served as inspiration to the artistic workers at home. But France's wars with Italy circulated hundreds of men between the two countries where the Crusaders numbered tens, and by means of this penetration (belligerent though it was), into the garden of art, men were enabled to transplant some of the beauties into their own country. This, with the aid of imported artists, established the Renaissance in France under Francis I.
Flanders had an awakening away up in the North with the Van Eycks and Memling to the fore; Spain came closely following, and England imported the seeds of her Renaissance, flowering directly from Italy through Italian proteges of Henry VIII. In the North Germany awoke, and so the whole of Christendom bloomed, each garden-patch producing according to its climate and its soil, all alike, yet all different.