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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

Decorative Styles And Periods In France

( Originally Published Early 1900's )



In a decorative way, the time of the French Renaissance extends from Louis XII to Louis XIII, including the styles known arbitrarily as Franqois Premier and Henri Deux.

When Italy, with her five successful States, held the palm for art, for intellectual development, for self-indulgence too, the rest of Europe looked on and envied, after the manner of man since Cain's day. And envy begat quarrels and later invasions and captures, -all made easier by Italy's division into duchy, republic, and kingdom.

And the usual thing happened, - after successful invasion the conquerors gradually assimilated the art of the conquered. The student, dispassionate and scholarly, tells us that nations should be content to languish, even to disappear, in giving to " outside barbarians " their own perfection, - too altruistic a thought for any but a scholar to enjoy. But Italy was forced to it in the sixteenth century, just as was Rome in earlier times.

And so it happened that when Louis XII of France wrested the duchy of Milan from the Sforza who had patronised the arts so liberally, those arts went with him back to France, even to the matter of dress. In this connection it was Isabella d'Este, with her magnificent and varied raiment, whose modes were eagerly copied, and, her ducal residence being in Mantua, the ladies' tailors of the day sought custom as mantua-makers, the familiar name still honoured in England as well as in some parts of the United States.

The new styles of design and decoration spread over France under the ambitious care of Franqois I, remodelling architecture, interiors and the lesser products of handicraft, uniting at first with the old French Gothic, then with freer hand, wholly sweeping exquisite curves after the Italian manner, yet with the difference that never fails to interest, - the difference that comes from national character.

Previous to FranCois I we need not investigate, for relics of the kind we are considering are so few as to be unattainable even for copying.

FranCois I enjoys the hatred of many chroniclers. Under the ruling of the modern fashion of accepting nothing by legend, but of robbing thrones of their romance, he has lost much in magnificence of character. Indeed, in that regard he seems to have diminished into a schoolgirl's hero of debonair manner and rakish ways, one who underneath his exaggerated courtesy and flippancy was but vacillating and self-indulgent. But for our purpose it matters not that he wore a silly smile, and a cap on one side of his head, or that he promised falsely to get himself out of a Spanish prison. We are enormously grateful to him for his most liberal adoption of the art which he imported and fostered, and which, grafted onto the French stock, bore sumptuous and satisfying fruit.

Perhaps on account of it he took to himself easy airs of self-satisfaction, but who might not who accomplished such obviously charming results. Before him France had been a -bitter place to* live in, where nobility huddled in bare, massive, feudal castles, and the peasants were brutalised by poverty and oppression. To Franqois it was given to deck life more luxuriously, to live it more graciously, and as he saw the improvements grow apace under his fostering eye, we must not throw sly hints of the over-prevalence of the salamander, of the ubiquity of the symbolic little beast vivaciously posing among the flames, and whose other name was FranCois I.

The Italians were called upon by France to set the note in things artistic, and must have done so amicably notwithstanding the bellicose relations of the powers, for artists of note established themselves as masters to train the French hand and alter the French ideals. Being so far ahead in development, and in intellectual progress and, alas, in self-indulgence, they had much to teach their foreign pupils.

Guilio Romano, Raphael's brilliant pupil, left his work to help establish the Italian school in France, and Le Primatice also. It was under the latter that Fontainebleau was built, and Chambord, and the gentle Azay-le-Rideau courting affectionate regard among the flowers of the riverside in Touraine.

Of native designs there were many, and these were not without honour in their own country. Salaman de Brosse came along a little later, making his mark with grace and permanency, and after him, when Louis XIII was throned, a whole horde of famous men grew and prospered, and were favoured of royalty, for now was the time when gentler arts than those of murder on the field and "on the straw" occupied the attention. The soldier was obliged to share his honours with another claimant, the man who made of life not a contest but a luxury, and the only prominent names are, therefore, not those of warriors. It was the time of the astute Richelieu, inhabitant of the Palais Royal, the time when the Luxembourg was built, when talent was developed by Jacques Lemercier, Nicolas Poussin, and Claude Lorraine.

If we seek the reason of the introduction of the Renaissance into France, it is found in history, and it rests on the predatory instinct of man, and if we would know the reason for its specific development, that, too, is found in history, but of a more restricted district, in the lives of individuals. Strangely enough, religion plays a large part in it, and the reason is logical, as the progress or decay of art always seems to be. The Renaissance meant, to the North more than to the South, an awakening of religion. The Italians, in turning to antiquity for artistic inspiration after the formalism of Christian art, were not content to take mere beauty, but with it joyously cast off the sad and sanguinary tenets of the Christian faith, and embraced with ardour the happy horde of deities whose physical perfection parades eternally through art, telling man that life is a perfect and a joyous thing. Christianity as monasticism had taught it, ascetic, self-flagellant, regarding life as discipline, was thrown off by a certain cultivated class, as a released schoolboy throws away his books. A line of new gods came into fashion, and it became the mode to worship Venus, Jove, and all the self-indulgent cohort, for by so doing the devotee indulged himself. In other words, moral laxity accompanied the Italian Renaissance, even to the heads of the church. That it produced its ultimate decay is only an ever-repeated law of nature.

It is odd to think of Martin Luther as a factor in the direction of art. But if he had not made his famed visit to Rome during the time when the popes were saturated by the immorality of the hour, an immorality which art had indirectly brought about, the character of the Northern art would have been different. It is this in a nutshell, the Reformation marched hand in hand with the Renaissance, and, being a moral movement, a protest against corruption of all sorts, it had its chastening effect on the art of the times. If an Italian parallel period is sought it might be found, but not later than the time when Giotto and his followers knew no other inspiration than Christianity, the time when demure stiff little madonnas and saints expressed religion and art.

Later on came the laxity and decay, the over-ornamentation that bespeaks the lessening of vigor, but that we have not to consider. We are no further on than the time when kings and princes were ceasing to build strongholds, domestic forts, to live in, and were erecting, and decorating, and furnishing the first real palaces, which were homes and not armories. The chateaux of Touraine show this change in all its beauty.

But these affairs of architecture are too large a matter for this little book, which should keep within its province, the study of those smaller affairs which are added after the architect has finished. Yet those who neglect to make their own the origin and the reason for the styles of architecture, miss half the pleasure of the study of old furnishings, for the connection between the two is very close. In its last analysis it is the study of man, which as Pope says, is mankind's most interesting research.

Perhaps it is a handicap in these early styles not to have a knowledge of their architectural details, for these extended within doors after the same manner, only in miniature. As evidence of this, there are the framed chimney pieces in the Chateau of Blois, in the wing of Franqois I, than which nothing more exquisite could be produced. The style is far from being Italian, yet is well away from the Gothic, and illustrates the individuality of the French hand despite its Italian training:

Of furniture in general it may be said that it is reassuringly solid, and is generous in proportion.

Chairs are evidently made for long deliberate conversations, and not to perch on for one of a dozen five-minute calls. " How shall I know the difference between French, and English, and Flemish chairs? " asked a perplexed buyer of a collector; he laughed, stroked the wood and tapestry of his oldest French piece, and said ambiguously, " You must know the difference."

Without associating with original pieces, perhaps it is impossible to know this difference. Indeed, I feel myself embarrassed to set it down on paper. The atmosphere of antiquity which is its charm is impossible to describe - it must be felt. By reading you may know its history, by studying you may know its detail, but only by contact you feel its full charm.

The old chair was made by men who studied the rules of proportion as religiously as they learned the catechism, and who prepared for this by steeping their minds in the five orders of architecture. Each chair was turned out complete by one worker, often by him who designed it. Therein lies the reason for the perfection of the old. A piece of furniture was a composition, the expression of a man's own taste and erudition.

When we look upon a squat simple chair of the early French work, without carving, other than a twist, it is not easy to know just why it has character, just why it has atmosphere. But the secret is found in the subtle matter of proportion. After that, and ~ supplementary to it, is the mellowness gained by the touch of countless human hands. And this is impos sible for the most cunning art to reproduce. Models may be copied, line for line (although unfortunately they rarely are), and artificial worm-holes may be bored into the wood to simulate the ravages of time, but no quick process can ever reproduce the effect given by long association with man as he lives his daily life.

That this atmosphere peculiarly appertains to the old is known to the initiated. Said a lady, " I want to buy a chair of the French Renaissance and to have it copied to make a set for a dining-room." " You cannot do it, madame," was the reiterated and unalterable reply of the dealer who loved his goods. And he was right. The old chair is eloquent, the new is mute for very shame.

Oak was used for the earliest chairs, and walnut after, both strong and submitting to the carver's tools -the latter the best, of course, with its finer grain. In general the seats were large, the backs low, except in armchairs, but always with a suggestion of ease. Legs were invariably straight in construction, although often elaborately turned, and usually were under-framed. The styles of this underframing depended upon the chair, the simpler ones having scroll curves, the chair of spirals employing the same. Squareness of construction was adhered to, which gave a look of solidity without in any way injuring an effect of lightness.

The earliest chairs knew but one form of upholstery, the simple expedient of thin cushions tied to seat and back. These softened the asperities of wooden seats and cane, and made comfort possible to a weary spine. By the time of Louis XIII upholstery was an established science, but even before that it was used. This brought in the use of tapestry as a covering and the wondrous Genoese velvets which flourish so magnificently their plumy foliage. Leather, too, supplied the back and seat of many a chair, often forming the seat alone, without a softening spring below it.

Among the early French developments we find the chair which is known in England as the Shakespeare chair. Proud it should be to bear the name, however inappropriately. France and Flanders, besides England, produced this chair, each marking it with its peculiarity of detail, yet retaining by one accord the narrow back which forms a panel in the sweep of a wide semicircle.

A chair of much dignity and moral rectitude is that which was entirely rectangular, with two sets of under-framing on the legs, and the back extended a little above the square of leather which supported the sitter. Large brass nails take the place of carving with excellent though threatening decorative effect. The legs were turned, round surfaces alternating with blocks, to give secure places for the under-framing, and the noticeable feature of proportion was the unusual height of the seat from the floor. This has been explained by the lack of luxurious floor-coverings in those days. We can well fancy that with a cold draught sweeping the half-covered floor of an ill-heated room, that many a pretty maid has drawn her dainty ankles snugly under petticoats and rested them on the convenient oaken rungs.

The two chairs of FranCois I with twisted shafts, give an idea of French expression of Italian taste. They show a delightful self-restraint, the refinement of culture, telling more by their purity of line than is expressed in that similar style of this period which is elaborately ornate. This latter style is common to several countries, but the French handled it with less grace than might have been expected.

The drawings given are interesting, as showing the early departure from the straight line in legs, and the uprights in arms. Wood-workers were developing the art of curving supports without a sacrifice of strength. It was an art that marks some most important styles later on, so it is a pleasure to find it at its early source and to follow it through its development. What it became later bears slight resemblance to this early work, and in some ways this is the best. When the line of direction falls outside the line of base, or when there is no balance in a supporting upright, the principle of reason has been violated, even though the eye has been soothed into approval.

Luxuriousness played but little part in the chairs of the early French Renaissance, but before long the upholstered armchair of generous proportion made its appearance, and has never since been banished from the home of man. Nor has a more comfortable chair been invented for half ceremony, for on it one neither lights impatient to be off, nor lounges in fine company. It is in short the happy compromise between the side chair and the downy haven of the " sleepy hollow," which modern invention has made wherewith to soften the asperities of a world too hard.

The scroll leg is noticeable here, though far from invariable; and the curving arm. Modestly the acanthus leaf curls its many-pointed tongue around the terminals, encouraged perhaps by the Italian under-framing which we shall meet in the furniture of all the nations on which shone the life-imparting sun of the Renaissance.

Cabinets of this period were, as might have been expected, the reflection of Italian methods, but more than that, they were the forerunners of styles familiar to us in English and American work of the eighteenth century. We have long passed the time when a chest was the only receptacle for the accessories of nice living, but many of these early cabinets were but chests grown large and supported on a multiplicity of legs. They developed doors and drawers, and by grace of proportion and decoration were elegant and imposing. Some were crude and heavy, as though the worker's brain and hand were' slow to leave brutal methods, but in the most beautiful examples the Italian feeling in its ultimate refinement is portrayed.

Examples of this work are rare, museum pieces they might be called, but a cursory study of them brings delight to the collector even though, like the boy before the bakeshop window, he may look and long, but may not touch. The make-up of these pieces is what might be called architectural, for they follow in composition the faqade of temples in the time of the High Renaissance. Columns are used in as many designs as that prolific time produced, and the two divisions of the cabinet displayed each a different kind - in this regard following the architectural rule of a solid column at the base and a more ornate type above. A pediment, usually broken, finished the top, roof-like.

The influences that make a style being the clue to its true interpretation, it is impossible not to dwell still further on them. These influences are not only the large affairs of history where a game of chess is played with countries as chessmen, but they find their source in the lives of individuals - and thereby hang tales of undying interest. Reducing the matter to individuals gives its interest a vitality not possible otherwise.

It was the great Sforza, II Moro, whose perfect taste led him to put Leonardo da Vinci in charge of the exquisite monuments of art in Northern Italy, and it was Charles VIII of France, with whom he had dealings - amicable ones at first. Charles and his indomitable little Anne of Brittany were personally interested in the luxuries and beauties of the court of the Duchy of Milan, and as anxious to adopt these tempting and satisfying novelties into their own surroundings as the rest of the world has been to adopt the decorative things of France.

Charles VIII held the kingdom of Naples for two years at the close of the fifteenth century, and returning brought with him enough to gratify this craving for the new developments in art. Domenico de Cortona returned with him into the country which was uncomfortably feudal in its domestic garnishings, also Bernadino de Brescia, and others. So it is not hard to see how the Renaissance came in.

Then FranCois I, with his eye and his senses ever keen to discover the beauties and ameliorations of life, imported Andrea del Sarto, and the great Leonardo, to set the true note artistically. It must be remembered in this connection that the latter was not artist alone, but architect and engineer, a master in music and literature, besides being one of the most aristocratic of gentlemen. He was called on to beautify Fontainebleau's interior, and later taking up his residence at Amboise, staid in France until his death.

The next monarch, Henry II, married the Italian Catherine de Medici, who most naturally brought with her the decorative products of her country, and held to the Italian school that Franqois had founded through Giulio Romano. The revival of Greek mythology which accompanied the revival of the art that flourished when such inadequate religion was taken seriously, pleased the fancy of the king's favorite, Diane de Poitiers, who, therefore, gave her powerful favour to the Renaissance. It was a pretty conceit to work upon, that because of her name she was in truth the goddess of the hunt, and to flatter her vanity, artists exerted themselves to be classic in design appropriate to the luxury of La Chasseresse.

Forty years later, under Henry IV, things had changed a bit, had got away from the two principle beauties of the Renaissance, the graft of Italian on Gothic, and the pure Italian. This time marks a sort of decadence, a period of meaningless ornamentation which entirely lacks the intellectual quality of earlier work. Logic and consistency were buried under superfluous design. The influence of Italy was still present with a Medicean queen on the throne. It was Marie who persuaded Rubens, after his eight years in Mantua, to come to France.

But Italy herself had passed the period of greatest purity in art.

It was under the next monarch, Louis XIII, that were begun those artistic tendencies and improvements that led up to the sumptuousness of Le Grand Monarque.



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