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Gothic To Renaissance

The Gothic influence which spread so rapidly over Europe, filling the minds of ecclesiastics with high ideals of architectural grandeur, resulting in the upbuilding of many beautiful cathedrals and religious houses, also affected the wood-workers and carvers who wrought such marvellous works. The beauty of the stone tracery was reflected in the wood - carving of the interior of both cathedrals and the houses of ecclesiastics. There seems, however, to have been a marked difference between the adornment of religious houses where the Gothic influence was so strong, and the rough furnishings of the home-steads of the people. Yet in those few objects that have been presented to us Gothic influence and design is apparent. The influence that architecture had upon the wood-worker's efforts inside the dwelling - house as well as upon the designer of furniture and those who fashioned it, may be recognised when one of the few ancient buildings of France is inspected. Some of the interior wood-work of Continental houses dating from about the year 1500 is preserved in our museums, one of the finest examples being a truly remarkable staircase of carved oak removed from a house in Morlaix, in Brittany, presented to the Victoria and Albert Museum by the late J. H. Fitzhenry, Esq. It is a circular staircase giving access to four floors, each of the stair treads being cut out of a block of solid oak, shaped to the required angle. Leading from the staircase to the rooms on each of the floors there is a galleried passage, the fronts of which are covered with beautiful linen-fold panelling, such as may be seen in some of the older rooms in Hampton Court Palace. The central supporting column of this remarkable stair-case is carved to imitate a pine tree, and marking the stairway at each floor there is a carved figure of a saint or ecclesiastic, and midway between them small shields of arms..

As already mentioned, the coffers or hutches used in France at the commencement of this period were store chests, and when in use as furniture were supplemented at a little later date by cupboards, tables, and seats ; but when chairs became more commonly used the seigneurial chair was a feature quite apart from those seats used by other than the seigneur or chief guest. It was a high - backed chair known as 4 haut dossier. The sellette or scabelle were names given to simpler forms of stools. In the reign of Henry IV. the bed, which had hitherto been made up in a recess in the wall, gave place to the four - poster, in which the ceil or tester was an important feature.

The wood-carving of French artists was of excellent quality, and in its faithfulness to the prevailing style in stone, so fully seen in the tracery of windows, screens, roofs, arcades, and doorways, is still much admired in the relics of early furniture. Those artists in wood who had achieved such heights in Gothic design paused when the Renaissance began in Italy. It is said that they welcomed the new departure, in that they had done all they could in Gothic design, and were ready to found a new school of design, the inspiration for which they found in Italy. At that time the habits of the people in France as in England were changing, and necessitated more comfortable furniture, and French artists saw in the Italian Renaissance just what they needed to evolve a style far removed from the Gothic, and one which would be acceptable to their patrons.

Charles VIII. had seen for himself the Renaissance in Italy, and on his return to France brought Italian artists to Paris. The progress in art spread, and was extended during the reign of Francis I. Decorative wood-work was produced for the palaces in the Loire Valley, and after the sack of Rome in 1527 more Italian artists found their homes in Paris. The architectural additions to the Louvre by Francis I. were further enriched by the magnificent carvings of Jean Goujou; the woods being worked at that time were oak and cedar, both of which were used in France and Burgundy, but they were supplemented a little later by chestnut and walnut.

( Originally Published Early 1900's )

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