The Quality Of Carved Oak
The quality of some of the carvings on early Tudor furniture is very noticeable, the more so because it is sometimes seen upon what would otherwise be quite plain uninteresting pieces, not always giving the impression of skilled workmanship. This is due probably to the not infrequent practice of employing local workmen to make the furniture and afterwards foreign carvers—of whom there were many in this country then—to decorate it. There is no doubt much of the work, such as the carvings on the fronts of chests, cupboards, and even chair backs, was done after the furniture was made, and not as it would be nowadays during the process of manufacture.
The characteristics of early Tudor ornament as seen on furniture are useful to note. In the early part of the period there were heads or medallions (" Romayne " work) clearly showing Italian influence.
The painted and gilded ornament of the Renaissance fell into disuse during Henry VII.'s reign, and was but little practised in the reign of his son. Indeed, in Henry VII.'s time inlays came into vogue, not only for the larger pieces and panels like the room from Sizergh Castle, but for smaller objects also.
It is said the dolphins found upon work executed about the middle of the sixteenth century were adopted as a form of decoration by English workmen after the visit of Henry VIII. to the Field of the Cloth of Gold, the dolphin being the device of the Dauphin ; undoubtedly such a display as that which history has recorded would make an impression at that time, and as the news of its grandeur spread through rural England, the importance of the event, the entente cordiale of Tudor days, would sink into the minds of craftsmen as well as of their patrons, and when designing furniture the dolphin would be welcomed as a new and appropriate symbol of the friendship between the two countries. The guilloche was another adaptation of the idea coming from the Continent.
In realising what the furniture of Tudor days looked like, and when reconstructing a well-furnished room with such pieces as are available, it should be remembered that although oak was the principal timber used, it was supplemented by other woods, although they were mostly employed as inlays, and for ornament upon a base of less costly material ; the supplementary woods of that time were ebony, holly, yew, pear, and cherry.
The need of a secret chamber or of a safe hiding-place was felt in Tudor times, and the furniture, especially the architectural furniture, was often designed to assist in the deceit. There were sliding panels in the wainscoting; and secret entrances through the heads of beds, and through wardrobes and cupboards, all of which pieces were attached to the walls or fixed in some permanent position. Sometimes there was a false back or double panelling, so that the secret chamber could be approached from behind the bed ; and recesses and doorway entrances were made to look like pieces of furniture, whereas they were but disguised entrances to stairways and secret chambers, or to lofts above.
( Originally Published Early 1900's )