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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 )
And what has the Renaissance done to make beautiful our modern homes? Is the practical suggestion that follows the strong-and-bitter ale of history. The answer to that is found in a million things that gratify the eye, that thrill the touch, that fire the imagination.
The great awakening showed man the possibilities of beautifying life for himself as well as for the church, and private luxury became a master who ordered comforts with no niggardly compunctions. Comfort was indeed a new word, a new gratification in the way of house-furnishing, and as luxury is a habit more than easy to accept gracefully, the demand for better personal equipments grew apace.
And so artists, true artists, in those days could both design a church, and hammer a silver placque, without injury to reputation as an artist, so small wares received distinguished attention. And that is the secret of their charm and their worth, the reason why they have so long stood as models of beauty.
Straight back to the Greek these men went for their inspiration, as Brunelleschi with his architecture and Borgognone with his details. And that pure fount yielded living waters for the nourishment of the new school which was the Art Nouveau of the time.
But the object not being a slavish copy, designs varied according to the artistic fancy of the artist. And that wonderful element called temperament played its part as surely as Nature asserts herself. The Italian is not a Greek in feeling, the austerity of the Greek is not his, nor the asceticism. So when he had pored over old models and knew them as his alphabet, he took the old motif and let his temperament play upon it with infinite and sensuous variations until his fantasy and poetry saw itself in tangible form.
To know, to identify, the objects which come under his searching eye is the joy of the collector. Identification is simplified a hundred fold, and given an added fascination by using this key, the temperament of the nation or the temper of the age that produces. And so products of the Italian Renaissance can be distinguished from others by their poetic exuberance, their tendency to over-express, as though each man was surcharged with feeling. Yet until the decadence nothing offended of all this riot. It was history repeating itself, for centuries before, had not the Romans built their over-ornamented, bulky high-relief on the patterns of the conquered Greek? The best of the Italian Renaissance is also Greek. And this Greek revival occurs again three hundred years later, but that will be considered in its place.
The chest or coffer, bahut or cassone, whichever name best conveys meaning, as it already existed, was taken as a field of experiment in household fittings, and the rise and fall of the Renaissance can be traced in its form and decoration, the crudeness of the dawn, the chaste beauty of the early time, the over-ripe embellishment of the decay. Who would have difficulty in placing these pieces chronologically, with a little bit of history tucked comfortably away in the mind, as a jeweller keeps his test diamond?
These chests once of carved wood evolved into the gilded marriage coffers, rich with decoration, replete with detail, and formed as ever an important piece in the household.
Chairs of the Renaissance are not impossible to find, although it is safe to assume that most of them are in museums. Chairs were rare in those days compared to now, and antiques are not impossible to manufacture by hands eager for coins. Yet one of these sixteenth century Italian chairs was discovered ten years ago, when the last attic had not been invaded, in York, Maine, the family legend being that an ancestral captain on one of those picturesque voyages of the past, bought it in Italy as a doge's chair. It may not have been the latter, but Italian Renaissance it certainly is, and with its rich wood, faint lines of inlay and scrolls full of poetic feeling, it exceeds in richness some of those in the National Museum at Florence.
Venice abounded in the cross-chair, a curving letter X which formed a comfortable arm-chair; at least it was more of a sleepy-hollow to the weary than a perch on a high straight chair or a backless stool. A strap across the back and a cushion in the seat covered with one of the wonderful stuffs or tapestries from the handlooms of the times, made of this carved or inlaid piece a luxury for the well-todo. The shape is common enough now, and has been, from earliest history to the time when a folding camp-chair filled a long-felt rustic want.
Even through the drastic Middle Ages the bed was a usual article of furniture, although it is probable that many a bed was of the moment's making when wayfarers slept in the open and peasants huddled on straw. Gothic beds took on the look of sacerdotal severity which could scarce have contributed to the peace of mind of any unhappy wight who went to bed unshrived. There was accusation in their very chasteness.
But the bed of Italy in the marvellous Cinque Cento and the century which followed, that was a rest around which the idealised poetry of dreams is draped in rich stuffs, a temple of man's most exquisite conceit. Here, sleep, and more especially the sweet illusionary time preceding, and the rosy hour which bounds it at the farther end, are coaxed into yet greater value by beauty's intimate contact. Today's prosaic going to bed on a sanitary gridiron - however concealed by brass St. Lawrence would recognise and avoid it -can bring no such tender close to the day as is wrought by finding refuge in the shelter of the carved Italian temple of sleep. Here the plucking fingers of the day's pettiness cease their distraction, and care falls back ashamed. Who enters here leaves care behind, and moreover finds in its stead a sweet sinking into lethean atmosphere, while the body melts into a luxurious surrender.
Its form is architectural, a base and a roof supported on four orders. Nothing could be simpler, also nothing could be more imposing. The columns are carved to combine the revived classic detail with the spirit of the time. Fluted columns set in acanthus leaves supported by a wide urn, all terminating in a colossal foot, show the combination spirited and elegant which expressed the designer's fancy. The tester with its long panels gave opportunity for the fine carving of low relief in floral scrolls that were a feature of this period, and gave to a bed not only the look of a temple, but brought to the eyes that lay under it the shadow of cosy retreat, and to the mind a delicious sense of fate's impotence to harm one so happily protected. Happy eyes might smile briefly on its broad surface, and wide wakeful eyes of sadness might gaze in the night-watches and be comforted. When we go to bed, we are but bundles laid too frankly in the open of the room, but in that fair time folk sought seclusion for their hours of rest or hours of woe.
To find such beds now, one cannot, outside museums, but if the style suits -and surely it must if the room be large - a well-made copy, with the caress of the carver's hand visible on his work, is a piece to make enviable its possessor. Beware of beds, says the humourist, they are dangerous, more people have died in them than in any other place. But in such beds one might well have a heart for any fate, and lie down happily to long dreams as well as brief.
To the practical and conscientious seeker after the beautiful, the Italian Renaissance is the key to much that follows not only in Italy, but in all other countries. A knowledge of the art of that time is a necessary protection against those whose profit lies in misleading. I have in mind a young couple who brought home in triumph and ignorance from Italy, a silver placque in hammered relief by Benvenuto Cellini, for which the fledglings had paid thirty dollars on the spoken guarantee of the seller that it was genuine. The museums of Italy smile serenely at such, knowing themselves possessed of all Cellini's silver that has escaped destruction - a, little fact which the young collectors had not met.
But all the joy of knowledge is not of the selfprotective kind. The selection of objects to buy, more than of those to reject, brings thrills of pleasure.
A little study is the price of skill in placing design. The study need not be irksome, quite the reverse, and if called by some other name may even appear seductive. Library work, even that bloodless kind of excavating can be given a rosy charm. I have in mind a collector who went to a library to fit herself for her fascinating pastime, sought the art department and stood before its chief who naturally enquired her desire. " I am on a search for the beautiful," was the reply, which the librarian was skilful enough to meet in the same spirit; and the necessary researches were transformed into a delight merely by the attitude of mind.
Long hours in reference libraries may not be necesf,ary for the intelligent purchase of a silver spoon or an antique carving, but I would dwell always on the delight of the knowledge which enables one to be independent in the matter of diagnosis - to use a doctor's word. And this knowledge must be gained in part by a little dip into the most romantic parts of history, by a study of detailed drawings - it is by their details you shall know them -and most delectable of all, by being brought face to face with the real objects.
Unhappily these last are few. Comparative anatomy - to use another medical term - may best be followed by means of our friends, the books who point the way in text and drawing. The dealer in antiques is usually ready to instruct, but as a rule he knows many things wrong, or will pervert the truth for his own end, which is always and ever a matter of making a living - a most praiseworthy end, but one which interests the collector far less than the truth about a reputed della Robbia, for example.
It were unjust to the many enthusiasts who have helped and delighted me, to leave this subject without adding a tribute to the dealer in antiques. I have in mind several who are so charmed with their business, that all mercenary motives are forgotten at the least sign of encouragement, and they will enter with fine enthusiasm upon the field of art, history and romance, as exemplified by the objects around them. The shop becomes then its owner's private collection, each object in it speaking his taste and his heart, the walls enclosing an atmosphere rich with the stories of the ages. From one gem to another this rare salesman will turn, dilating on its beauty, pointing out its distinguishing marks, passing a loving hand tenderly over its surface that the sense of touch may have its feast as well as the sight, telling, too, the thrilling story of the finding and securing of the piece. For such tradesmen as these let the seeker after the beautiful be truly grateful, for their price is far above commerce. They are of no one country, but may be found in all, in Italy as well as in America.
Now that I think of it perhaps he whom we are apt to look upon as the rapacious Italian is the most altruistic educator of them all, and will give you of his artistic temperament until the tears rush to his inspired eyes, though he knows you only for an idler and not a buyer. Under the shadow of St. Mark's in Venice is a blond keeper of a shop of rare fascination, who goes so far as to say-and he proves it too - that he prefers the customers (if such they can be called) who do not buy, for to them he may talk without embarrassment of the beauties of his wares, he may show them his rarest laces hidden since the doges' time, his wondrous pietra dura and crystals, his bits of an altar piece which are decidedly of the early Renaissance, although the great Siennese and Umbrians may never have seen them. He may expatiate intelligently, rapturously, on all these things to the limit of your time and his, and not once bring on himself the hateful and degrading suspicion that he has a motive other than to commune with a kindred spirit. This is why he likes those who do not buy.
Let this digression from the topic be taken as characteristic of the happy erratic manner of the collector, for the pursuit is delightfully far from being an exact science. The study of styles, however, must be imbued with the spirit of conscientiousness, for familiarity with detail is the first necessity. Three chairs may be placed before you as appropriate models for your dining-room. All are made of richly time-stained wood, all are carved, all are built on the same lines of construction. They are all of the Renaissance; how distinguish the Italian from the English and the Flemish? There is the place for skill, - the skill that comes from a careful noting of detail. Once this skill is acquired there is no need to take to heart what any callow clerk or mistaken proprietor may assert, for you have the divining rod always with you.
The detail, the hall-marks of the Italian Renaissance, where shall we find them? The wonderful works of the Cinque Cento (that sweet phrase is more like honey on the lips than is our fifteenth century), their inspiration was the Greek, and the Roman as refined by Greek. This fact must lie like a foundation down at the bottom of all our investigation if we are to read unerringly.
The wonderful gift called temperament was then thrown into the work, and it altered, adapted, and evolved the designs surpassing all others in tenderness of feeling. The classic Greek was as Galatea before the ardent soul of Pygmalion breathed into the marble the tenderness of human passions. In the revival the chasteness remains an appreciable quality, but added to it are the possibilities of pleasure, of an abandon of joy, of a riot of happy fantasies.
To be entirely practical, let us examine intelligently the bed on the plate, which has wandered from its moorings, so to speak, and is a captive in the Louvre. It is Italian of the Renaissance. But how give the reason for this announcement, not to a challenging outsider but to the other , half of your own mind, which is more thorough perhaps than the enthusiastic half which has leapt out and made a decision through instinct.
The most striking feature is the corner posts. The manner of their construction illustrates as well as anything could the happy play of Italian temperament on classic motif. The fluted column is the same as has delighted the eye of man for a sufficient time, to say loosely, thousands of years. Coming lower, what do we find in place of the usual base, but a dignified, elegant combination of curve and line, rich and consistent, yet a baffler to the puzzling query in the game of twenty questions concerning which kingdom claims it, animal, vegetable, or mineral, - all three being represented. A ponderous lion's foot stands firmly on the floor, convincing in its strength and its ability to support the superimposed weight. It is the foot of the king of beasts that has served for the Egyptian, the Roman, and the Greek, and will serve as long as man makes furniture. The workers of the Cinque Cento knew its decorative value and its practicality, with also an eye to man's love of subduing to his own uses the powers that defy him, and from the antique they drew forth the lion's paw.
As if to show still further the domestication of the animal furthest removed from gentle intent, the artist enwraps the leg in the affectionate curves of an acanthus fresh from the garden. To build the column still higher, a Roman vase rests on a simple rounded standard, this in turn giving reasonable excuse if one were needed, for an upturned acanthus which holds to its heart the fluted shaft.
Note, too, the form of the bowl, for its bulging sides are favourites with designers of the times. Many services can this vase perform, as a finial, as a section in a column, or as a base. In the wondrous brocades of the time it plays a happy part as the starting-point for the fabulous vines which hang full of such flower and fruit as never was on sea or land.
Its peculiarities are few but marked, and are unforgetable, so it serves well as a part of one's stock of test-stones on design.
The building up of this column is full of the spirit of the time, the infusion of fresh hot blood from a riotously beating heart into the time-cold models of a past artistic perfection.
Even the thin flat leaves of the acanthus gain in richness under the handling of those ardent artists. Seen in a garden the plant seems not one to inspire. To those who know it only in its Renaissance interpretation, the first sight of the real acanthus is an actual disappointment, as its limp leaves, far too large in spread for their nerveless frame to support crisply, surround its tall stalk. One wonders how from this model grows the rich and sparkling foliage of the Renaissance. Yet in the hands of the artist we see this leaf gain in strength, in richness, and in grace, adapted to any surface or any decorative emergency.
On this one bed its value is amply illustrated, or, rather, the skill of the designer in adapting it. No other form could play so many parts to the perfection point. By its generous sweep, concealing and revealing, it covers the lion's leg to avoid all shock of passing too quickly from the beastie to the vase that rests above, and so carefully is this studied that this natural incongruity conveys only the idea of harmony, just as skilfully as the White Rabbit covered up the point of difference between Alice's real and her Wonderland.
Then above, the same matter is accomplished in a different way. A Corinthian shaft resting on a vase not being usual, the acanthus brings its fairy cloak and enwraps the upright, gayly assuming it to be a flower-stalk. The capital again employs the leaf in the way sanctioned by the Romans, but questioned by the erudite, who claim that capitals and columns should be united by logic as well as harmony, and that no reason is shown in the shortened leaves that grow from nothing. However correct the critic may be, the eye loves the arrangement, and so the Renaissance used it and so it endures. On the headboard is still another use of acanthus, where the surfaces of curves were too severe to accord with the other parts of the bed. The leaf is narrowed to fit the spaces and elongated as required, with its invariable effect of elegance and grace.
The carved panel of the tester is to be studied, that and panels of similar treatment elsewhere, as being essentially a product of the prolific time which has our attention. On the plain background one is made to feel the tool of the worker. The little unfinished marks have en masse a decorative value of their own which is felt even if not analysed. On this is trained the airily poetic design as dainty and as elusive in spirit as a girl in life's joyous springtime. Primarily a space is to be filled, - a space of arbitrary dimensions. As these cannot be altered the drawing must adapt itself; and this it does with such sweet grace, such lightsome meanderings as to convey the idea that the cornice is a mere subservient frame instead of a limitation. The delicate vine is held by the claws of a central wide-winged bird, and strays finely in sweeping curves and tender foliage, turned leaves catching high-lights with an effect of sunshine in the open.
So many examples are left of this consummate skill in dealing with panels of wood or stone, that no difficulty is found in studying them. If one can travel to see the choir stalls in Perugia and in other Tuscan churches, or that wondrous casket called the church of S. Maria dei Miracoli in Venice, and a world of similar wonders, well and good. If not, then books and museums will give a fair knowledge of this characteristic treatment of the Italian Renaissance, this panel of delicate low relief where nature and art melt together to please the senses of man.
Before we leave to its shadowy occupants this magnificent bed of a luxurious time, let the eye reject detail, and in one flash take a general impression. Can the impression thus received be other than that the piece represents architecture diminished, adapted for household use? This illustrates its perfect symmetry, and is a characteristic of the time, - a time when architects were accustomed to turn from great works to small, when Leonardo da Vinci turned from Mona Lisa to decorate a tourney.
Beds, tables, cupboards, chests were all treated more or less like miniature buildings, and so the column and pilaster played happy and symmetric part. The fronts of presses and cupboards were treated as the faqade of a palace or temple, and were thus full of the meaning that proceeds from logical construction. This is to be borne in mind, for it is a fact which helps in determining the age of furniture of other lands, as we shall see later on.
It is not to be supposed that the Italians of the fifteenth and sixteenth centuries could allow culture to languish lazily while the world of art was so fertile. Their intellects kept pace with the great revival, and education reached a standard which would inconvenience us of latter-day activity were we obliged to meet its requirements. To be scholarly was a requisite of both men and women. To patronise the arts liberally belonged to the position of gentlemen. And so it happened naturally that the small things which make the home luxurious expressed intellect as well as beauty. A conglomerate of meaningless lines and excrescences would not be accepted by one who knew the principles of art, and to whom symbolism was but another alphabet or, rather, a cyclopedia of history. Along with the revival of Greek and Roman drawing came a revival of those languages, for the better understanding of a past and superior period. Even women of the time were expected to know the two great dead languages. As a natural result ancient history and mythology were at the finger ends, so to speak, and sparkled through their playful conversations and adorned their grave.
The revival of learning was the firm foundation on which the revival of art rested, for it is always true that art is dependent for long continued development on the patronage of the laity. Unless the rich man is cultivated enough to encourage art by freely spending his money for its products, the artist starves. In this fruitful time the men who led the people in politics, and the women who led them in fashion, were fitted to the work by study as well as by wealth, and were able not only to patronise artists, but to direct them in producing many of the beauties of architecture and interiors that delight us now. And that education might be popular, great universities like that at Parma with its three thousand students were founded.
And as these people were intellectual, so also were they luxurious, passionate, cruel, imaginative; they were spendthrifts as well, with themselves, their time and their money. And all these things can be traced in the work of that day, so that the temperament which guided the hand of artist workmen may be read in their works. Thus, too, was exhibited the lack of restraint that led to the debasement of the decadence.
Three types of carving all essentially characteristic, yet all different, are exemplified in three old chests among the illustrations. Chests seem to have been a part of man's equipment since the beginning of history, but each age and each country has its own particular sort. The Italian calls his cassoni, and in general we adopt the name as being a short way of announcing its nationality.
The cassone, on opposite page, illustrates a manner of treatment so chaste that Greek art must have been its inspiration. The architectural idea is adhered to until interrupted by the necessary feet. The long front is broken into a happy division of three oblongs set between four squares, then, to soften the austerity the mouldings are carved and framed in carving of a minute design, a copy of a Greek meander. Of such detail, conscientiously executed, the eye never tires, nor does a maturing taste outstrip it. The heavy base swells in a rich curve covered with another classic motive, nulling, and the corners are held in the clasp of the ever cordial acanthus. Lions' feet support this cassone and give the zealous housewife a chance to clean the dust from beneath it.
It scarcely seems as though the same age of carvers and designs would have produced two such varying methods as that employed on the cassone just examined and the next one. With all the power of its voluptuous scrolls it speaks of Rome, the city of extreme luxury and a self-indulgence capable of any cruelty. The times in Italy just then were times of luxury, and the adamantine pursuit of public good which animated the ancient Roman, was a softer matter. So in this class of design we can read tolerably well the temper of those for whom it was made. Strong it is and rich with superabundant beauty, but the quality of self-restraint which is so valued by the Anglo Saxon is not here. In the hand of this designer the naturally ascetic acanthus swells into obese curves, becomes a plant heavy with rich sap and pulpy leaves, a regal, luxurious self-important factor in the world of art.
A noble house has its escutcheon in the centre of the design, but alack, it is guarded, in the midst of so much luxury, by cruel unearthly birds of prey, who certainly would discourage the attempt of any poverty-oppressed wight to ask for human pity. The cruelty of luxury, the approach of decay through over-indulgence, the unjust distribution of riches are the traits that are expressed in this wonderful relic of the Renaissance.
Very like a section of a building's faqade is the front of the next cassone, with a pedestal, a cornice, and three supporting caryatides. A not uninteresting item to note is the substitution of an entire beast for a lion's foot as support from the floor. Where have we seen this creature before, is the thought which puzzles the mind. Thoughts of Nicolo Pisano jump at once from brain pigeon-hole, and the famous pulpits of Siena, Pisa, Ravello, as well as memories of the Alhambra. No, there is something else, insists an unappeased mind. Then it is we remember the dear little impossible beasties from China, in porcelain or in bronze, which have pleased our imaginations since baby days. But that takes us back into the art of the East, which grew and flowered centuries before the classic art which inspired the Renaissance. The thought of how much sooner the Mongolian became a creature of refinement than did the Aryan is one to cause wonder; but is it altogether flattering to us? No, so let us not take it up just now, but note instead the rectangular beauty of the panelling before us, as though we stood before the cassone in the royal villa where it rests.
The classic details are familiar, of course, but once more they show themselves to be entirely satisfying. In the present instance they are needed in opposition to the strange caryatid, who is a creature of that age. She leads us into the field of the grotesques of the Italian Renaissance. The fabled mermaid is her inspiration, but it is the pretty mermaid robbed of her fascination. Mermaids have a sportive, mischievous charm that may or may not be cruel in intent; but these fantastic creatures announce their viciousness by the snakelike vitality of the hair, their utter falsity by the irregularities of the scaly terminal, and their artfulness by the concealing of their armless shoulders with the ever accommodating acanthus drawn as demurely as ever a nice old lady protected herself by a knitted shawl.
Taking liberties with the human form divine, or leaving it off altogether and playing pranks with human heads, is a freak of imagination indulged in freely during the great revival. Perhaps it pleases you, perhaps not, but is worth your study as a character reader of the past, and as a means of identification. Others besides Italians used grotesques, and the difference in treatment is mainly the difference in the national temperament.
The idea of the grotesque was no novelty, for Gothic and Romanesque remains show us weird creatures with impossible elongations intertwining. It is the treatment that varies. Unhappily the form of woman seemed appropriate to blend with that of bird or fish or beast and was given drapery for arms and a single terminal of any tapering device. Heads were used like a button or a cartouche, or the central flower of a preposterous garland, or the curve of a sprouting scroll. And yet, notwithstanding all these absurdities, so artistically were the lines blended that the whole suggested merely a fantastic reflection of fairy-land. Taken seriously they are open to objections, but they were never meant to be taken seriously. They represent the thoughtless inconsequence of the idle hour, the lighter side of sun-warmed character. And no one can handle these decorative forms as could the Italians of that day.
Museums are the best places in which to study old textiles, for the Italians have a deep love for the rich fabrics of their own past, and guard them with proper care. Perhaps, however, that statement is not true of some of the hirelings in museums; for one day in feasting my eyes and feeding the imagination on the glorious raiment of cardinals and doges, I spied in their case a flock of silvery moths happily nesting on a cloak of scarlet cloth. Perhaps nothing makes the glory of Venice seem so real as an hour spent in the room with chairs from which doges ruled,-canopies which made them unmindful of the heavens, and gowns of sumptuous elegance in which they walked to their magnificent duties. A twentieth-century moth of malign intent, browsing with his wriggling family upon these inspiring relics, is an impudence to make the gorge to rise. But the buttoned and braided attendant merely says, " Yes, yes, a moth," with a sweet, lazy smile; and the doge continues to sacrifice his cloak, the cardinal his cape.
Has it ever occurred to any one to find the virtue of a moth? It is in his distaste for silk. Thanks to his fastidious appetite, and the fact that the work of his kinsman, the silk-worm, turns his stomach, we have left fine examples of Renaissance design in velvet and brocade. These are rare outside museums, but they can be found, and when found give exquisite sensations to the impressionable eye. That the designers of those times were masters we need no convincing. What manner of colourists they were is shown in brocaded silks and velvets, and also what manner of craftsmen were the workers. Such textiles have never been produced since, for the very souls of all concerned in the production seemed to be in the work. The fancy ran riot in gay foliage, in strange fruit that the palate fain would taste, in space-filling flowers that mere earth and sun could never cause to blow.
And all intermixed with these was the over-civilised bird of the Renaissance, which by his omnipresence showed his love for man and his works. He is found perching in well-matched pairs on floral sprays that branch from silken pots, or accommodatingly curving himself to fit any empty space, or again arranged as for a spit in order to fill a circle. He seems to pipe and trill, a little learnedly, it is true, all through the Renaissance in silk and wood and stone, and his song is ever on the beauty of line and curve. He deserves a chapter all to himself, and should have it but for the same matter that sometimes oppresses him on a panel - a lack of space.
In rooms where a happy hodge-podge of harmonious objects prevails instead of a strict adherence to one thought, a length of old stuff or embroidery helps wondrously with the walls in giving an effect of warmth and elegance. Let, therefore, the man who has such to sell, show you his wares even down to the very bottom of his pile of time-touched fabrics. But buy quickly, for a new factor is at work, and presently the market will be flooded with imitations. Let the man show you his embroideries -those of the museums you will scarcely find, for they are of too old a time. They are mostly of two varieties, those of stuffed gold-thread work covering all the surface except some small pictorial effect framed by them; else they are of an impossibly fine satin stitch, the embroidery used in place of paint or brush.
Easily obtainable are embroideries of the timehonoured flame motive which has no nationality, but which abounds in Italy. It is not the fresh, recently embroidered pieces of the " rag market " in Rome, but the delightfully toned and faded ones that give true joy to that fastidious despot, the trained eye. The loom of Assisi, which produces by machinery this honoured motive, may surround itself with the poetic atmosphere of legend; but it can scarcely produce a satisfying result, or anything more than a flagrant imitation which even the tyro must know as such. Old vestments which have been discarded by the church are offered without number; and among them are many choice bits of stuff and of embroidery, although it is doubtful if these are of any great antiquity except where, as sometimes happens, some church has consented to part with some of the " treasure " that is guarded in the vestry, and these are offered for sale. Chasubles are found rich with such inspired embroidery as only sisters of the church would have time and patience to execute. Applique and massing of chain-stitch on a velvet ground makes an effect that was surely the inspiration of the looms which wove the brocades of the Renaissance.
The old'stuffs that will tempt you are many, but the one which you will never even struggle to resist is that with a background stiff with the richness of gold or silver thread. On this soft glister are thrown pomegranates, bloom and fruit, strange roses, hibiscus, and the whole charming flora of wonderland, - all in melting shades of mauve and green, and all time's soft palette. The metal shines like a halo around each group with the light that beats on thrones, and the mind gallops off to pageants and tourneys where such stuffs played a part.
And well it may, for we hear much of their uses in the Cinque Cento. In Julia Cartwright's book on Beatrice d'Este and her times, which were just before the beginning of the sixteenth century, we read of stewards clad in silver brocade, a couch hung in mulberry color and gold, and a baby of the house of Sforza sleeping under pale blue silk and gold canopy, with a coverlid of cloth of gold. "The Duchess of Bari had a lovely vest of gold brocade, Duchess Isabelle wore gold brocade and green velvet, Madonna Anna's camora was of cloth of gold with crimson sleeves." And these were the materials worn at a christening at the time when Columbus left such splendours to sail to the savage new continent.
Cloth of gold was considered a sufficient and appropriate prize for the winner of a tourney, and a great lady was pleased to receive it as a present from her ducal son-in-law. Perhaps the original brightness of these metallic fabrics would be less pleasing to us than is the soft radiance with which they now cause the eye to glow. However that may be, if a good piece reasonably free from defects is offered take it lest you regret.
The velvets of those days, - inviting softness which compels the hand, sweet with straying lines or massed designs, - they are a wonder and delight. Since those days when the crafts were respected as tributaries to the great river of art none such have been made, although it must be noted that just now the looms are again set up after the olden manner. If the Italian of to-day is jealous of his own Renaissance, at least he is not refusing to copy where he cannot create. If velvet of that time reached absolute perfection, better far to reproduce than to flood the world with the ephemeral stuff of quick production.
In Rome, in Venice, and perhaps otherwheres, men who are wise in the artistic tricks of the past are copying conscientiously the old fabrics which are of such value in beautifying the modern interior. Even plain velvet of other days had a quality of richness which modern velvet missed, and to produce the lost loveliness an effort is being made which is fairly successful.
There is a hard practicability, a self-satisfied rigidity about the usual velvet of commerce. It stands alone, - a grandmother's test of quality, - and to the eye shows deep shadows; but the response to the hand is harsh repulsion. But the velvet of the Renaissance! On that the eyes of its lover may gaze with rapture at its colour, - a ruby hid in morning mist, a sapphire hazy with dew; and then when fatigue presses, the face may be turned to its heavy pile, and sink into it as into woodland moss.
This velvet is made now; the looms are after the old fashion, worked entirely by hand, and each thread is carefully tended by the woman who throws the shuttle, lest a microscopic fault occur. Besides plain velvet is woven the marvellous brocades, with figures worked out in satin and in uncut velvet. All the old colours are copied, - those numberless shades, - and yet, for all their faithfulness in reproducing, the weavers cannot complete the work until Time has done the finishing.
And so, although we may hang the walls of our rooms with velvet like that used by the Medici, we alue most the time-softened length of brocade which actually existed at that time. One result of giving to the world with liberal hand these cleverly made reproductions of fabrics is a little distressing to contemplate. Will not the dealer in old stuffs soon be selling us the product of these just-built looms of ancient patterns? Not, of course, fresh from the hands of the worker, but soiled a bit with the dust of cities, and adroitly faded by the ardent caress of the Italian sun. A word to the wise collector suffices.
It was during the Renaissance that the rulers of the Italian States started tapestry factories. These benign dukes who fathered the arts were possibly ambitious of equalling Arras in fame, the place which gave its name to tapestries in Shakespeare's day and country. Flanders was before Italy in the matter of tapestry, as was but natural. When castle walls were as rugged inside as out, they must have given but cold comfort to the shivering northerner who invented a decorative hanging to please his eye and warm his body. So the early workmen came from Flanders; but Italy, with art feeling dripping from her finger-tips, held the brush that painted the designs. Raphael himself drew cartoons for this work.
Intarsia or inlay must have a word. The Italians carried it to a perfection that has since been an inspi ration to all countries. In the second half of the sixteenth century it came into vogue, and to it is sometimes given the name of certosan work, from the fact that it was a specialty of the brothers in the Cer= tosan monasteries. Ivory laid in ebony, delicately engraved and carved and mounted with statuettes made attractive the earliest work. This had undoubtedly its inspiration from the East. From this intarsia grew the later fashion of wood inlay in floral patterns, picked out with ivory and pearl, and lined with metal threads.
It is easy to see how this theme is taken up by France in her wood inlay of the seventeenth and eighteenth centuries, and by Holland in her marquetry, and played on by each country, according to its gifts.
The gay little dolphin which sportively flips into Italian designs of the Renaissance plays enough decorative pranks to have a chapter all to itself. Back to the ancients turned the Italians for their artistic inspiration, and there they found the fish that flashes in the Mediterranean held in so great esteem that it was honoured as the favourite of Apollo. That was enough to give it place in decoration, and its pliable, tapering form supplied the adaptability beloved by designers.
It will at command stand on its head, singly or in pairs, and will thus curve against an upright or intertwist with its companion. Or it will lie horizontally in graceful curves, nor refuse to support anything from a stone seat to a tripod. In grotesques it is invaluable, is willing to be a dainty creature of sparkling scales or a distorted monster, filling almost as many places as its rival, the acanthus. As a proof of its scope, Theobaldus Manutius twined it around an anchor for the sign in his wondrous book shop, and a province of France was named, for it, Dauphine, the heir apparent to the French throne thus getting his title of dauphin. It is so much used in modern hybrid Italian work that its presence is not a guarantee of age, alas, but often plays the part of a label purposely misplaced. Yet it cannot be on this account neglected by the chronicler.
To tell of all the riches of Italian design is impossible. After all, it is the eye which is to be educated, and a study of the plates, which have been carefully selected, will give an easy acquaintance with most of the decorative features of the Renaissance as it affects domestic furnishing.