|Antiques Digest||Browse Auctions||Appraisal||Antiques And Arts News||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 )
REIGN OF LOUIS XIV - 1643-1715
After studying briefly the Renaissance as it spread over Europe, putting on local colour in each district, stiffening a bit under the effect of the Reformation when that great movement was most powerful, the student of decoration reaches a trio of French decorative periods so popular that every one knows them, so charming that one is ever ready to review them.
In trying to fix in the mind the classic principles of the Renaissance in its highest expression, I have touched but lightly on its later aspect, its decadence, the time when in matters artistic unreason and immorality held high carnival over Italy and whatever country was injudicious enough to copy. It is confusing to study the bad. A thorough understanding of the good will inevitably forefend the adoption of the decadent. But because the decadence came we must record it as a historic fact. Sometimes its cloven foot is well hid, but the well-trained eye instinctively rejects it. Very often the resemblance between good styles and bad is very close, but that only makes the latter more repulsive, as no animal repels man more than that one which most resembles him.
After the classic influence passed away there was a groping about, or rather a straining after new effects, all more or less distressing, until France produced what might be looked on in the light of a second Renaissance. I allude to the decorative periods known as Louis Quatorze, Louis Quinze, and Louis Seize.
It is impossible to disassociate any of these from the personnel of the style, but that instead of being a bore adds mightily to the interest. In considering the time of Louis XIV let us divide these actuating influences into the two classes of political and social, placing Le Grand Monarque at the head of both, as he was in truth, - although the divinity that doth hedge a king is so attenuated in these days that one is more inclined to Louis' astute ministers than to his egoist self.
However, everything was in the power of a king in those days -possibly would be still if kings had been ever wise and good - and so Louis headed the movement for the most magnificent luxury the world has seen in modern times. The remarkable thing seems that a monarch with affairs of state to manage should think this department of life worth his kingly devotion. It was probably due to the reaction from his early training under the queen mother, when Mazarin's severe hand kept the boy king under rigid discipline. We can imagine how in boyhood he must have revolted in spirit, and planned indulgences and gratification of the love for the beautiful when he should attain power.
He had a long time to play his part,-seventytwo years,-and in which to develop a style of such magnificence that now only palaces and hotels de luxe can attempt to reproduce it in its perfection. Let not the caviller scoff at the linking of the two words, for modern hotels have recently become the palaces of the public, and in their furnishing and decoration reach a degree of lavishness - and sometimes perfection -rarely seen outside the homes of the unnecessarily rich. And on the style that takes the name of Louis XIV are founded so many of the pieces of furniture we find in other countries, particularly in England and our own land, that a careful study is rich in results to the collector with whom identification is a passion.
Those who cannot forget the self-indulgence of the king, his cruel extortion, his questionable political policies, and his colossal vanity, are prone to place all the glory of his reign on those who counselled him, and perhaps they are right, but this must be admitted, that had he not favoured art and literature these would not have reached such brilliant development in his reign.
While looking for reason, for cause, and effect in this pursuit of furniture styles, one must go to high sources, - in this case to so high a one as Colbert, whom Louis made Prime Minister in 1661, the king being then but a young boy of eighteen.
It was but three years later that an institution was founded which has affected decorative art for nearly two hundred and fifty years. This was the assembling of artists together under the " Royal Academy of Painting, Architecture, and Sculpture," which embraced also the makers of furniture. This classifying of furniture with the fine arts helped to make it one of them, and enlisted all the others in bringing it to perfection.
The Academy thus founded was not permitted to languish, but was stimulated with a novel and desirable prize system. Those artists who showed themselves of sufficient ability were invited to join their confreres under the roof of the Louvre, not, as now, by means of canvases skied, or cabinets misplaced, but in actual and permanent instalment of the men themselves. In other words, the State took upon itself the maintenance of industrious men of talent, and placed them beyond the annoying considerations of rent, butcher bills, etc. (inestimable boon which even the inartistic might value!), so that fertile brains and cunning hands might be devoted to art alone. If Louis XIV was ever extravagant in indulgence of le Roi Soled, at least he should have large credit for the generosity of this ideal institution, which must appeal strongly to every man trying to reconcile the artistic with the practical.
The king's signature of approval was necessary to the paper which gave the aspiring artist the prize of un appartement au Louvre, but Colbert was the one who usually made the selection according to the talent of the artist, for Colbert was worthily a leader. It was he who selected as fitted worthy of the honour the man who is perhaps the most interesting in the study of furniture, - Charles Andre Boulle.
The career of this man shows the developing atmosphere of the day, the wise methods which matured talent and made a fine art of furnituremaking. It shows also the high place occupied by the craftsman. That the crafts are so neglected in favour of the work of machines is one of the reasons why we cannot find in modern work the perfection which marks the old. But times have changed, and if the best pieces are not now so good, at least the average home of the country is more elegantly furnished than were the homes of the masses in France during Louis' reign.
Colbert, then, rested his wise eye on Boulle and recommended to the king that he be removed from the world of distraction and given un appartement au Louvre, where he might produce those masterpieces which would both convenience and delight the ladies of the left-hand court. We are not told that the queen was pleased; she seems not to have counted in matters decorative or pleasurable. It was recommended that Boulle receive one of the best of the apartments, which he doubtless did. He was but thirty at the time. Following the example of the Academy, he established under himself a smaller institution in his extended workshop within the palace precincts, and here he employed numbers of workmen and craftsmen.
This would be uninteresting in itself did it not illustrate the high rank accorded to furniture-making. These aids to Boulle were not mere mechanics, but were men of talent, carrying out their own ideas. It was not the custom then to draw a design and let who would execute it, for the execution was as important as the thought. Boulle's workshops, therefore, were not filled with the mere smelters, woodcutters, and the like, but with an enthusiastic band of practical artists. It is to the great Le Brun that some of the designs of Boulle cabinets are attributed.
Boulle had four sons, all men of talent, and innumerable gifted assistants, and it was under this influence that the best details of the Louis XIV styles were developed. After his death came a relaxation from the chaste and perfect outlines which, combined with sprightly detail, form the best expression of the style we are considering.
But the special work associated with the name of Boulle is the rich and costly inlay of tortoise-shell and metal with which furniture was encrusted. It would be an injustice to the man to think of him only in connection with this species of decoration, remarkable and brilliant as it is, for inlay of a similar kind was used long before his time, and the later copies are so crude as to produce a prejudice against it. Nevertheless, the name of Boulle means to most people not the man and his ateliers, but the inlay of tortoise and metal on hard wood, such as chestnut and oak. Work that he never designed masquerades under his name, and is turned out of French factories every year, but its quality at once proclaims its falseness.
The designs for the inlay were drawn by artists whose legitimate work was painting, and were mainly in free Renaissance effects of floriated scrolls. To execute the work, sheets were glued together, two of white metal or brass, two of shell, and the pattern then sawed out. This gave what is known as Boulle and counterpart, or the pattern and the ground for inlaying. When separated they were fitted together to form decorative panels. The process is a nice one, requiring a conscientious hand.
After it is laid in place the engraver finishes the metal by lines which soften its too great brilliancy by a gentle shading, and this is where great opportunity lies for artistic work. After the designs have been thus worked up and softened, the finishing touch of the piece of furniture is added, a most important part,-the mounts of ormolu, or gilded brass.
It seems that too much attention could not be paid to these, either in design or workmanship. The shell and metal inlay were taken as a piquant background on which to set these decorative metal pieces. In shape they conformed to the meuble they adorned, but so gracefully that it seemed instead the piece was shaped to their convenience.
On cabinets there were small panels, in high relief, worked out as carefully as though this bit were to stand alone. There were also satyrs, mascalons, rams' heads, exquisite women's heads sparkling with that look of vitality which we call modernity, and as a compliment to the king who never wearied of incessant adulation, there was the head from which rayed the light of the sun. The great Sun King, who had the assurance to believe that he himself represented God on earth, was ever pleased to see this symbol of his reign, and it may be regarded as one of its characteristic decorative details.
On tables all these designs were used, as well as border patterns of the classic sort, the egg and tongue, acanthus moulding, bound bay leaves, or any of the running designs which for centuries have delighted the cultivated eye. Enough cannot be said about the perfection of workmanship on these mounts, for by this are the originals distinguished. The work expended on each piece equalled that spent on a piece of fine jewelry. The piece was first cast, then it passed into the hands of those artistic craftsmen whom Boulle directed and whom Le Brun superintended, in the great State atelier for furniture-making, which was attached to the factory of the Gobelins tapestry. These men cut, chased, polished, and worked up the design until a state of perfection was reached which approached the finest production of the goldsmith's art. And, after all, this piece was but an ornamental detail of a great whole. On one of his cabinets Boulle employed men of many crafts, and he himself was master of them all, with the wisdom of a leader. He is not spoken of by his biographers as merely an " ebeniste," but as " architecte, peintre, et sculptre en mosaique, ciseleur, et marqueteur ordinaire du roi."
How can it be possible in the hasty work of today to reproduce these gems of art? Alas, there are many who know no difference, like a certain lady who, looking on a piece of Boulle, said with amiable frankness that she would as lief buy one just made. For such the world is full of cheap and nasty illmade imitations. The works of the master will always be imitated, so it must be borne in mind that all's not Boulle that glitters.
Whether it was to please an eye of less refined taste than his own, or whether it was done in the search for new effects, Boulle introduced into his later work a vermilion colouring under the shell, which, showing through, gave high decorative value. Gold was used in the same way, but these effects came late in the period and are far from representing at its best. At this time, too, mounts became coarser and began to develop into the patterns of curled endive or celery, which, under the handling of Caffieri and Gouthiere, made such an impress on the decorative style of the next monarch, Louis XV.
It is interesting to note the forms of Boulle's case work, to see how rigidly he adheres to purity of line in his cabinets; then to turn to the tables and see the inception of the curved leg, which played so extensive a part in furniture designs all over Europe and America. It is just this departure from the straight support to a curved which is the distinguishing feature of furniture in the succeeding French style, in the Netherlands, in England, and, finally, here, when the colonists were imitating the mother country.
But Boulle was thoroughly an artist, and it will be observed that he adhered to true principles when he gave to curved supports the appearance of being made of metal. Wood was never meant, on account of its grain, to be carved into the serpentine legs. The scroll leg, or rather what it became, could only be logically executed in metal, - a fact which led the Greeks to use bronze in table legs of similar shape.
The commode of the time of Louis XIV shows the beginning of those styles which were characteristic of the succeeding period, - that is, it initials the bombe which swells its sides in portly elegance. The manner of decoration was consistent with this time of over-decoration. Furniture was veneered with rare woods, panelled in a manner simple yet effective. Four sheets of wood were taken from the same " quarter " of a tree's bole and set together to form a square. This made a natural raying of the grain from the centre, and sufficiently decorated a panel when bordered with a straight band and set with an ormolu handle. On the angle of the front was set a metal mount, a meandering fancy in the way of a lady or a satyr, with celery terminals.
We wander quite away from Boulle in considering chairs of the period, for his especial fancy played its brilliant lights about less obviously useful bits of furniture. Indeed, in chairs we seem to be studying another time altogether, - a time less intellectual, we might say, when the body's comfort was agreeably blended with the pleasure of vision. These chairs, then, were large and comfortable, upholstered, too, on back and seat, and covered either with the rich ruby velvet of the time, which was so freely enriched with gold galloon, or else with brocade of gigantic pattern. A whole book might be written about these fantastic and varied products of the home looms and those imported from Italy. The designs were by artists desirous of bringing nature within the sumptuous over-civilised apartments of the time, for they often showed large sylvan scenes of flowering trees bending over lakes, over gardens, and over scenes where sportive youth played at love.
In general the legs of chairs were straight in intent, for although the scroll appeared, its deviations affected decoration more than form. The acanthus leaf is seen in its most vigorous treatment, not with its greatest refinement, but with strong and reassuring effect. When under-framing is done it receives generous decorative treatment, this being made possible by the adoption of the Italian method in distinction from the square under-framing of the style of Louis XIII and earlier. It is this feature that the Flemish adopted, with far-reaching results.
The use of stuffs makes the bed of this period an affair of curtains and covers more than of decorative woodwork, and makes it, therefore, less interesting to us in our hygienic times. One accustomed to the free ventilation and unhindered view of the modern bed of the " gates-of-Heaven " variety and its kindred, could look only with sanitary distrust on the bed which harboured Louis XIV at Versailles. But then, consider the uses of a bed at a time when personages of high degree held small receptions in them, when the "petit levee " and the " couchee " were semi-public functions. Let those who will call the Sun King self-indulgent, his life must have earned our modern epithet strenuous, when he could not even go to bed without one of the most aristocratic of his court ceremoniously holding the candle in awful state during the process.
But kings aside and public petits levees, bed chambers were large in those days, often used for other things, and the bed was railed off in what was called an alcove; but while its occupant slept, there was no immunity from the interruption of persons of the family passing to and fro, or even sitting down for a cosy chat. What a blessing, then, the thickest of curtains, the highest of canopies, which could make at once a private chamber of this elegant but much exposed bed.
In heavy sumptuousness the decorations of Louis XIV have never been exceeded. It was a time when richness was piled on richness, when ornamentation reached a point beyond which progress would be impossible. The general scheme for rooms left nothing to be supplied after decorations were finished. And yet into these rooms against these ornate backgrounds were placed the exquisite productions of Boulle and his assistants, and a horde of others.
The general scheme for rooms was architectural. Fluted pilasters rose at frequent but well-planned intervals to support an ornate pediment and frieze, above which curved a deep decorative cove. This treatment was suitable for palaces, but has to be much modified to suit modern needs, and then it loses its primal principles of grandeur and magnificence.
Wherever carving and high relief could be used they were employed in panels, mantels, etc. Ceilings were painted with whatever richness the owner could afford. It is not to be supposed that with the great artist Le Brun as the chief director of things artistic there would not be place made for the works of artists in this golden age of decoration. It may well be called a golden age, for wherever gilt could be laid it was unsparingly used, so that all parts of a room would be gilded except those covered with hangings or paintings. In these rooms were placed chairs and sofas with heavy carving, every part of which shone with gold. Being an age of splendour, gold seemed its appropriate expression, and suited well the massive richness.
Glass at this time was manufactured in larger sheets than had hitherto been possible, and mirrors did their work of multiplying the magnificence as well as brightening it. And larger glass made possible a new article of furniture called the vitrine, - the glass front cabinet which so accommodatingly shelters and displays the treasures committed to its care.
The ebenistes of the time took the Italian method of introducing into furniture, marble, mosaic, placques of Egyptian porphyry, lapis lazuli, and all decorative and rare imparters of colour and richness. Chinese lacquer found favour, too, brought from Holland as the enterprise of Dutch navigators had penetrated the Orient, but brought as a result of the French invasion of the Netherlands, - another little point from history which daintily calls for notice from the surface of a French screen.
Although it is not the province of this book to enter the large field of tapestry-weaving, it is impossible to disassociate from this period the free use of tapestry which characterised it. If one were inclined to quarrel with the almost barbaric splendour of the style which speaks display, all might be forgiven for the tapestries alone. A more ideal covering for a wall could never have been designed. The room where tapestries hang is a chamber of delight, a room in which company should be of the choicest. The foliage which hangs overhead is from the garden of the Hesperides, and the fruit is lusciously provocative. Lose yourself under the umbrageous shadows if you seek sweet peace, or if your mood is for company, sit among the gay beauties in the formal garden and hear how loveliness enhances wit, and how well court ladies play the parts of old divinities. Or, drag yourself back to the time in which you live, let the trees retire and carry with them the vitality of the shadow-folk they shelter, and use your tapestry as fitting background for the living friends around you.
Louis XIV knew these qualities, knew that he could, among his tapestries, fall back into revery in their enchanted lands, or bid them s'eloigner, fade into backgrounds for his favourites. And Le Brun, who created their charm, to him must all credit be given. Yet Colbert must not be forgotten, for he furnished " sinews of war." In truth, the reign of the Sun King was so attended with men of talent and ability that it is hard to stop naming them.
The story of the rise of the Gobelins factory under Louis XIV is full of interest, and is typical of the time. Gilles and Jean Gobelin were two dyers who set up their little works on a stream, the water of which was especially kindly to their colours, their humble and much-ridiculed ambition being to produce a scarlet dye which they introduced from Venice.
Later they took up the manufacture of tapestry in imitation of the Flemish weavers. It was in the reign of Francois I that they established their works, but the humble factory was still existant at the time when Colbert was ministering so ably to Louis XIV:
It was by his advice that the king purchased the factory from the family whose name it has always retained, and from this purchase grew the grandest of decorative results. The factory was not only for the production of tapestries, but was made appropriate to its title of Manufacture Royale des meubles de la Couronne. The director was, of course, Le Brun, the king's favourite artist, and he was counselled to employ the best that could be found of tapestry-makers, gold and silver smiths, cabinetmakers, painters, lapidaries, founders and engravers, in short, all the army of artistic craftsmen which the age produced in such perfection.
One of the tapestries of the time, one of the complicated scenic affairs that make one wonder at choosing wool and shuttle instead of paint and brush for such a work, represents the king favouring the factory with a royal visit. His majesty is being presented by the director with magnificent cabinets, tables, vases, and other moveables, besides the wonderful tapestries themselves, so lavishly displayed as to cause forgetfulness of the labour consumed in their production.
It was not Colbert's intent to form merely a tapestry factory, but to form a State school of decorative art, and it is to this school and the royal favour it received that the age owes its artistic perfection. It was here that those silver vases and small meubles were produced that were such wonders of expense and workmanship, and which later on were relentlessly thrown into the smelting-pot to refill empty coffers.
It is not surprising that with Le Brun and Berain to draw designs that the tapestries produced were most magnificent, and that their fame is even greater today than when first made. One piece was not enough to hold the ambitious thought of the artist, so that series were made, picturing the life of Alexander, and of Constantine, and also, naturally, of the king himself and his residences. The cultivated fancy was for the revival of the antique gods and goddesses, and this brave cohort of physical perfection was thus fixed in eternal triumph of a decidedly Gallic cast. Venus, Diana, Apollo, - Louis' favourite, -with a host of bacchic attendants, made gay the scenes which were in turn to be but the background against which the living gods of the day were to hold their revel.
To those who have never entered a factory and have never seen the workers at the looms, all standing behind the fine imprisoning strands of the warp, looking in a mirror to catch glimpses of the completed work, let it be said that the big tapestries for hanging are made on machines called high warp or haute lisse. Such was the manufacture at the Gobelins factory. But Colbert, never satisfied unless supplying his king with all the world could produce, introduced into his factory the low warp from Beauvais. By this means the royal factory could manufacture the small fine pieces designed especially for the covering of furniture. Enough of it remains to thrill us with delight by its tempered elegance and dainty fancy. The factory at Aubusson existed at this time, but for the people only, and its product did not equal that of the royal looms.
Because Louis XIV (and we ourselves) owe to Colbert the development of this art which has made the world of interiors so much more beautiful to live in, it is with a feeling of personal regret that we reflect on the end of his influence, as well as on the end of the man himself. It was about 1667 that the royal factory was instituted; it was only five years later that Colbert's public influence began to abate, for an oppressed people unjustly accused him of the fault in over-taxing them for the martial splendours of the king. Colbert began to distrust his master, was filled with disgust at those acts of his which will ever revolt the moral mind, and gradually lost influence. His enemy, Louvois, coveted his place of intimacy with the king, and hesitated at nothing to secure it for himself by traduction. He lost by this means all credit at court, and in 1683 died of chagrin and was buried in the obscurity of night. His unhappy end is a reproach to the king he served with zeal.
Louvois succeeded him, and inaugurated the time of lessening perfection in the works of the royal factory of furniture for the crown. The new director was a man of little taste, but even worse than that, Louvois let his hatred of Colbert descend to such illiberal methods as to injure Le Brun, and also to order destructive changes in the manufacture of tapestry. He was so petty as to stop the use of gold and silver thread in the tapestries, without which certain effects were not procurable, and actually had work discontinued on a magnificent piece designated by Le Brun himself, a series on the history of the king.
Louvois also signed an order by which the wonderful products of art of the gold and silver smiths, vases and the like, that represented fifteen years of labour in the Gobelins, were sent to the smelting-pot and used for coin. It was at this time that Le Brun died and was succeeded by a man without initiative and without genius. Thus the general work of the great factory gradually ceased, and nearly all the world forgets it had other products than tapestry.
Daniel Marot is one of the army of artists who must have a word, not only because he contributed to the magnificence of decorations in France, but because he was employed by William III in England as architect, and designed much of the furniture of Hampton Court. His drawings were employed by Boulle in the royal factory, and he seems to be responsible for many of the " grandfather clocks " of Chippendale. Distasteful as it is to find our cherished traditions in regard to the inventiveness of furniture-makers in England disappear under the information that history gives us, it is better to face the truth, expand the mind and taste, and take to our hearts and homes the Continental work that inspired the Anglo-Saxon.
Just here it is more than interesting to note the flagrant introduction into French work of Chinese motif. People were travelling in those days, and brought home with them chiffons of Oriental ideas, and with these they dressed the European foundation. The result was fantastic and absurd, never serious, but it was undoubtedly these engrafted Chinese ideas that later on caught the eye of Chippendale when casting about for novelties. Holland's trade with China was the chief cause of this Chinese craze that affected both France and England.
But what is furniture without man, and of what use are decorations unless the eye of man rests upon their loveliness? To give these things value they must be associated with those for whom they were made. The list is long and brilliant in the time of Louis le Grand. Credit is to him, too, for royal favour then regulated national development, and had he been a mere profligate, a mere spender of money for self-indulgence and pleasure, it is possible that men like Racine, and Corneille, Fenelon, Fontaine, and Moliere, might have hidden under a bushel. As it was, the king encouraged the productions of learned men and witty, and was himself an indefatigable worker. The eight hours of labour given so grudgingly by trades unions nowadays was the time the king voluntarily set for his own daily task.
As early as his twenty-first year he was employing the most gifted artists, authors, and musicians to make perfect a magnificent round of entertainments at Versailles. It was on this occasion that Moliere brought with him a troupe of actors, and played with them alfresco on the lovely greensward with its surrounding shrubbery, - an ideal setting for a play, as all know who have had the pleasure of leaving a hot playhouse for an out-of-door performance. His audience was the whole court, gallants in wigs of such luxuriance as human hair never knew, with ruffles of lace frilling their silken clothing, and all the affectations which Moliere himself ridicules with such fine humour. And the ladies of the time, their very names mean more of beauty and more of mind than any living woman could display, for over them all floats the golden mist of romance. At this distance even their sorrows seem but dashes of shadow to emphasise points of brilliance.
It was an age of splendour, a spectacular period, when few of the court seemed to lead real or serious lives. By the magnificence of apartments all made of gilded carving, hung with richest stuffs, and filled with furniture which an army of artists thought it sufficient ambition to produce, the people who lived in these rooms were encouraged to believe themselves superior to all others. The goddesses who looked down from carvings and from tapestry flatteringly suggested comparison with the living, who were at times only too willing to take as moral examples the somewhat questionable amours of the Greek and Roman deities.
The king himself will always be remembered as regarding himself as no more hampered than great Jove, and the world will always remember that he so far persuaded the common people to his opinion that his lawful wife Queen Marie Therese, the Duchess de la Valliere, and Madame de Montespan were grouped as the three queens. Which received the greater attention at court is known.
It was not for the self-effacing suffering queen that the royal factory and the great artists were required to produce their gems of art. Her apartments were simple almost to discomfort until late in the reign, but on the lovely Duchess de la Valliere was heaped all that money could buy. That is possibly what won her, added to a reverence for royality that the republic mind cannot comprehend. Her conscience was too tender to be easily won or easily retained, and the king worked long and patiently at the congenial task. Being an aristocrat, her tastes were fine; being a beauty, artists delighted to please her, so that under the inspiration of her lefthand reign all the gifted men produced to the limit of their talent.
Yet, - and this will ever incline us towards her, - after a time she renounced the unparalleled splendour, the unaccustomed luxury, and the royal presence which had lifted her to such power and conspicuousness. Her conscience could not be appeased without this renunciation and a subsequent immuring behind convent walls for long and dreary years, where she regained self-respect in penance. It is characteristic of that time that the position she renounced was coveted by all the ladies of the court, as it brought with it every form of worldly success, its holder being respected and reverenced; yet it was considered but right that de la Valliere should bury herself alive, a self-made outcast, while the monarch who was the cause of her renunciation kept the respect of the world in continuing his pitiless amours.
Pitiless they were not as regards Madame de Montespan, however, for this arrogant beauty had no scruples, no tenderness of heart, but was ever self-seeking at need and imperious in power. Her moral effect on the king we can fancy to be hardening. That the poor people were taxed almost to starvation to provide money for royal expenditure would not have caused her to plead their cause. That she should be provided with gowns, jewels, and furniture - which concerns us more - was of more importance than that the masses should have justice. And so, under the desire to please this sultana, Louis committed his greatest extravagances, and the royal factory produced its great works of art.
It is agreeable in glancing at those times of blind adulation, when " the king can do no wrong " was one of the articles of faith, to consider a moment the daring rectitude of Bossuet, of whom the great Conde said, on seeing him mount the pulpit to preach to the court, " Silence, there is the enemy." He it was who made the rupture between the king and Madame de Montespan. Perhaps for art's sake it is as well that it did not last, and the reconciliation brought fresh gifts to the favourite from the hands of the great artists, but, alas, the union of art with morality has ever been dissoluble.
It were a more congenial statement that the beautiful equipments of palaces in those days were inspired by the king's love for Queen Marie Therese, but art shows a lofty lack of interest in morals or immorals, refusing to be concerned with either one of them, but only with talent and those who appreciate its products. The indignant exclamation of de Montespan at an expression of approval from a critic, " What, because I do one thing bad, must I do all the others? " contains the germ of a thought tending towards charity. To understand is to forgive, and at least she favoured the decorative arts which flowered splendidly for her.
The list of ladies for whose sake the royal lover ordered the works of art in which the reign was so rich, is long and too well known to dwell on. Madame de Maintenon is the last, but hers was a rule of dignity and morality. It was not under her sway that the king ordered the fetes of Versailles when he played " Apollo " and court beauties represented Venus, Psyche, and all the lovely crew, - fetes where lotteries were held and costly pieces of furniture were given as prizes to the winners. It would probably rejoice a collector now to know that his carved gilt chair or his Boulle table had figured thus. It was Madame de Maintenon who came to the king in his maturity, and who developed in him the actuating thought that royalty was not a trade but a priesthood.
There was one woman who is recorded as having made as daring a departure in decorations as she did in intellectuality. This was the spirituelle and advanced Madame de Rarnbouillet, who coloured and draped her rooms in blue instead of the prevailing gold and red, and who gathered into them that class of high thinkers who have since been designated by her name. She is called the originator of the French salon; and it is pleasing to turn from the heaviness and abuses of court life to the more intellectual at mosphere of her celebrated and virtuous home. This lofty lady scorned the use of the ruelle or alcove meetings, where the hostess received her guests in bed, and characterised her hotel with a refinement beyond her times. Madame de Sevigne was another of the brilliant thinkers who lived and worked at this time, resting on the chairs we now call Louis Quatorze, and writing her intellectual papers from a bureau of Boulle.