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Lion And Mask Period - Early Georgian Furniture

A distinction is made in the decoration of furniture in the first half of the eighteenth century between the lion and satyr mask ornament which came into being at a slightly different period, but which overlapped considerably. The lion period, as it has been stated, extended from 1720-1735, whereas there are few traces in the satyr mask having appeared before 1730, but it extended to about 1740. Those were the days when the heads and feet of lions were characteristic ornaments, and when masks were cleverly carved on the fronts of console tables, and on the legs of furniture. The lion head or mask had been used at an earlier time by German makers, who ornamented some of their Renaissance furniture by introducing them into carvings. Masks and heads are seen on the knees of cabriole legs with very realistic feet, both in walnut and mahogany furniture of that period. They are characteristic features of mahogany stools and settees. The mask took many forms in the course of its development. Satyr heads in high relief were frequently carved in the midst of conventional honeysuckle, and winged satyrs are seen in conjunction with lions' and claw-and-ball feet. Some of the lions' legs with bold feet are very effective, and they sometimes serve as the supports of tall chests of drawers.

The satyr masks and lion heads were frequently used in conjunction with the acanthus leaf, which continued to be used by cabinet-makers for light decorative treatment. The acanthus ornament was no new thing, for as one writer puts it, " from ancient Greek to Sheraton the acanthus has curled itself round every mode within reach of its scrolls." The legend of this Greek ornament is one of those interesting myths which we delight to remember, and to pass on as reminiscent of the mysteries of Greek faith and belief, as well as of the legends of the ancients. The story tells how a Greek vase was thrown upon a maiden's grave, a wild acanthus plant springing up and curling itself with natural artistic beauty round the vase. This new design furnished by Nature appealed to the heart of Kallimachus, the maiden's lover, who was a skilful sculptor, and forthwith applied the inspiration to the carving of a column which gave forth to the world the ornament of the Corinthian capital, which has all these centuries been incorporated in architectural ornament.

( Originally Published Early 1900's )

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