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Furniture Styles - Other Influences At Work

The dole cupboard would never have been made had it not been for the bequests and sympathies of religious houses and pious persons, who " remembered the poor." There would have been no court cupboard or buffet if the habits of the people had not become more choice. Styles changed as times became more luxurious, and increasing refinement called for greater comfort. The hard wood seats and backs did not then satisfy, and chairs with cushions, and wing chairs with easy upholstered backs, were welcomed. The splendid decorative furniture of early French art palled in the reign of Louis XIV. The King wanted something suggestive of life and activity. He gave the signal for advance when he sent the famous instructions to his architect, Mansart, to whom he wrote saying, " Some-thing must be changed. The subjects are too serious, and youth must be introduced into what is to be done . . . childhood must be widespread everywhere."

The change in style in each individual piece of important furniture is noted in the review given in chapter xxi. to chapter xxvi., and the changes in style appertaining to decoration and ornament in relation to furniture used in conjunction and combination are specially pointed out in chapters v. to xi.

The modern tendency to " furnish throughout " according to one style, which may be that of the present day or one of the older styles not altogether new, is no great novelty, for it has been practised in times gone by. The only difference is that in copying what has gone before we have today many styles from which to choose—all of the older ones are reproduced either as they were originally made or as modern adaptations—whereas in the past it was rare for makers to depart from the then prevailing style. It is well that collectors should remember that, as it gives greater confidence when buying antiques.

Reproductions of antiques, although not altogether unknown in the past, are the result of a modern craze.

The styles prevailing in this country at certain periods do not always coincide with the art of other countries at those times. In this work, although greater space has been devoted to English furniture, some attention is given to the antiques of other countries, especially of those continental peoples whose arts materially influence the craftsmen of this country. England has always received some lead from the artists and craftsmen of Italy, France, Holland, and a few other countries. The style of early English furniture was the result of the presence of the Romans in Britain during the first four centuries of the Christian era. That gave rise to a well-defined style, and others followed.

Certain characteristics to be found only in certain countries, or perhaps in some few towns, enable us to trace the evolution of style throughout the ages, and to note the adaptation of advanced workmen, either in the purposes of ornament, or when some new piece of furniture or object of household decoration or utility was being fashioned. There are what are called by some primitive styles. the styles which remain intact when stripped of all superfluous ornament and superadded decoration. It is in the simpler designs and the ruder forms and ornaments that the purity of style is discovered. To take a few examples of the styles prevailing in countries where the earlier peoples were found, and especially those countries where primitive conditions prevail, we find in what is known as the Mahometan style, which emanated from the manner of life of the people, a strong kinship between architecture and furniture, and between architecture and actual necessity. The decoration of the oriental in its purer and earlier form has closer alliance with the inside of the dwelling-house than with the outside. In many dwellings of early Mahometan architecture, while everything was plain on the outside the interior was richly decorated. The most ornamental part of the buildings was found in the porticos surrounding the open courts. In the early furniture, as in the architecture of those countries subjected to Arabian influence, there are three different forms of arches found in arcades, doors, and windows. There is the pointed arch consisting of curves, slightly more elliptical than the Gothic style which developed in the West, found in Egypt and Sicily. In Persia and India the keel arch prevails, differing from the pointed arch in that the ends of the curves at the apex are bent slightly upwards. In Spain the horse-shoe arch prevails. In no place do we find a characteristic style retained so tenaciously as in Persia, for Persian art does not appear to have been influenced by contact with other nations. The strongest influence of foreign design upon Persian art is traceable to the Chinese porcelain, which was introduced into Persia in the sixteenth century. The Arabian influence spread

west through Spain, but it is probable that Arabian art had its origin in Persia, for it is well known that Persian workmen erected and decorated many Mahometan mosques. It was from such striking characteristics observable in the Mahometan style and Persian art that the grand Gothic of Western Europe evolved. Its characteristics in its full development are, of course, its pointed arches, pinnacles, and spires, and bold and lofty vaulted roofs and profusion of ornament. Many valuable specimens of the cabinet-maker's art are enriched with pure Gothic designs, such, for instance, as coffers and cabinets which so closely resemble in design and style the architectural features of contemporary cathedrals and abbeys.

( Originally Published Early 1900's )

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