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The New Art In Spain And Portugal

In considering the story of the spread of the Italian Renaissance as it moved onward we must always bear in mind the countries it passed through in its march to its ultimate goal ; and when examining examples of the woodwork of each of those countries we should recall the additional influences of locality and proximity to countries having distinctly different artistic feelings. This is very noticeable in the Renaissance of Spain and Portugal, which made itself felt towards the end of the fifteenth century—in its fuller development not until after the reconquest of Granada.

A very noticeable feature in the woodwork of Spain is the Moorish influence ; but the Spanish Renaissance was governed chiefly by the peculiar political status of the country. At that time the power of Charles I. of Spain was exceptional. He not only ruled Germany, Austria, Sardinia, and the Netherlands, but he claimed the New World. That was the splendid position of Spain when the Renaissance of art was in progress.

It is very interesting indeed to learn what kind of furniture the proud nobles and grandees of such an influential nation as Spain then possessed, and what were the domestic ambitions of the- people. Mr Foley, in his book of Decorative Furniture, tells us in reference to Spanish beds that "the bed grew larger and more and more sumptuous. . . . Hangings of satin, brocade, and rich skins were used in conjunction with gold and silver embroidery, whilst a triptych or a driptych containing the sacred images was placed at the head end ; balustrades of wood heavily silvered were set around it, and steps of silver were provided in order that it might be entered without loss of dignity." These beds, he tells us, were usually placed in one corner of the apartment ; in an opposite corner was the writing-and dining - table laid out with napery and the usual appointments.

Early Spanish chairs like some of the Italian chairs were of X-like shapes, and richly carved ; ladies, how-ever, used low stools. The upholstery and hangings of the chief apartments were especially chaste and rich, owing to the use of the gilded and painted leathers of Guadames, in Africa. There are few collectors of Spanish furniture specialising on that alone, most of the rarer examples being locked up in public collections.

The galleries at the Victoria and Albert Museum are well stocked with examples, such as the finely fitted cabinet formerly containing plate and relics in the Carthusian Convent at Saragossa. The chairs, of which there are many in the museum, include a remarkably fine chair of carved chestnut partly painted and gilt, and back and seat being covered with painted and gilt leather; and on the back of this beautiful sixteenth-century chair are the arms of the Franciscan Order.

( Originally Published Early 1900's )

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