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Ecclesiastical Influences On Furniture

Before entering more fully into the styles and types and individual characteristics of collectable furniture, there is an important influence which at all periods seems to have exercised control, and to some extent has given the lead to private needs and requirements, and to the house furnishings of every home throughout the ages, which must be taken into account. That influence may well be termed ecclesiastic. Whether we turn to the religions of the Orientals, the Jewish traditions of the East, to those later religions which for so many centuries influenced Eastern Europe, or to the stronger influences of the Christian religion, we find that this ecclesiastical influence dominates art and craftsmanship. The great interchange and spread of art through the touch of the western nations with the eastern during the Crusades had a marked influence on art. There were collectors of antiques, and especially of what we should nowadays call curios, even then. The cult of the collector seems to have been inborn in English-men, for some of the most treasured curiosities in our National Museums, if not actually furniture, but closely allied to house furnishings, are relics of the Crusades. The carvings upon the mother-of-pearl shell, the amulets and the talismans brought back by the Crusader, as well as the heraldic devices on the arms of the knights who fought in those religious wars, and borne by their descendants to-day, show traces of the influence of Eastern ideas ; and the carver and the wood-worker of the Middle Ages used those emblems, and sought to discover in those foreign trophies something new with which to embellish his early furniture. It is, however, from the great Gothic Renaissance of art and the influence of the monks of old that we get the strongest ecclesiastical inspirations.

It must be remembered that there was a time when even the vessels used on the cathedral altar, and later in the parish church, were not always exclusively employed for ecclesiastical purposes. Many of them were but the cups and tankards in daily use in the household, and the platters and alms dishes were either what were, or what had been, used for secular purposes. From this we understand more clearly the interchange of ideas, and the commoner use of what nowadays we should regard as sacred symbols, and inscriptions only suitable for ecclesiastical vessels, applied by the metal worker and the wood-worker on furniture and house furnishings. It is a mistake to look among the treasures which were originally made for the use of kings and wealthy ecclesiastics for types of the domestic furniture of any given period. It is equally as inappropriate for the collector of richly carved wood-work to seek for types of the chairs, reading desks, alms boxes, and the like commonly used in parish churches among the records and the examples associated with the great cathedrals and abbeys. There was always an appropriateness in furnishings, and in past years less of that extravagance and evident inappropriateness which is some-times conspicuous even in model villas today.

( Originally Published Early 1900's )

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