Interior Decoration in France Prior to the 18th Century
( Originally Published 1919 )
INTRODUCTION.—The story of interior decoration in France prior to the eighteenth century begins with a phase in which the body was Gothic and the clothes Renaissance; it ends with the full development of Baroque grandiosity and elaboration in what was known as the "Grand Manner" under the lavish patronage and control of Louis XIV, who evinced an extraordinary interest in decoration and regarded decorative pomp and magnificence as indispensable adjuncts of his court.
The military farings of Charles VIII into Italy, at the end of the fifteenth century, opened the door to a great influx of Italian Renaissance influences into France and fostered an appetite for the refinements of Classicism in decoration and architecture, a vivid recollection of which the returning expeditionaries brought back with them. The motives of the expedition were military; the chief results were cultural. Further expeditions into Italy on the part of the French kings who succeeded Charles had the same outcome. Kings, nobles, and soldiery alike had gazed upon the fruits of the Italian Renaissance only to become enamoured of them and imbued with a determination to emulate them in their own land and for their own behoof.
Besides the returning nobles and soldiery, other important factors that served to spread the Renaissance influence in France were the missions and embassies to Italian courts, Italian missions to the French court, and a growing influx of Italian bankers and merchants who brought in their train sundry articles of "goldsmiths' work, medals and cameos, books, pictures, furniture and intarsias, casts and bronze work, terra-cottas and maiolica," all of which "helped to ac-custom French eyes to Renaissance forms." The sincere admiration of French travellers and ambassadors for what they saw in Italy is typically voiced in the words of Philippe de Comines who, in 1495, conducted a mission to Venice which he described as "the most triumphant citie that ever I save" and enthusiastically wrote of the Grand Canal, "Sure in my opinion, it is the goodliest streete in the world and the best built."
But even more important than the agencies just mentioned, in completing Italy's peaceful conquest of France, were the lessons French artists learnt in Italy and the things that Italian artists and artificers taught in France. During the fifteenth century there were comparatively few Italians in France; "but from its closing years onwards a continuous stream of architects and engineers, decorators and all manner of artificers poured across the Alps, beginning with Charles VIII's colonies at Amboise and Tours, and continued by that of Francis I at Paris and Fontainebleau."
Generous royal patronage and, to some extent, the patronage of great and wealthy nobles played a significant part in the Renaissance development of the decorative arts in France. The colonies of Italian artificers established and maintained by Charles VIII and Francis I were only the first instances of this royal interest and support. Throughout the sixteenth and seventeenth centuries the crown, either directly or else indirectly through its ministers, gave substantial encouragement to decorative progress. This whole architectural and decorative development in France during the sixteenth and seventeenth centuries may be divided into five phases of style. The dates are to some degree approximate as there were necessarily overlappings and survivals.
The Style Louis XII, 1495-1515 (Charles VIII, 1483-1498 ; Louis XII, 1498-1515 ; contemporary rulers in England, Henry VII and Henry VIII) embraced the beginnings of Italian Renaissance influence—the decking of the Gothic body in Renaissance clothes—and marked the incorporation of a few of the delicate characteristics of the Tuscan school, a school marked by a "certain austerity . . . and a rather minute type of ornament, evolved by a race of architects of goldsmith training." The Style Louis XII was only a preliminary phase, a feeling of the way.
The second phase is known as the Style of Francis I, 1515-1545 (Francis I, 1515-1547: Henry VIII con-temporary ruler in England) marked the complete fusion (Plate 26) of the native French elements and the Lombard Renaissance forms, the latter representing a style of eminent `charm and delicacy" exuberant with the devising of new features and impressive both from its wealth of ornament and the "beauty of its detail."
The Style Henry II, 1530-1590, the third stage of development (Henri II, 1547-1559; Francis II, 1559-1560; Charles IX, 1560-1574; Henri III, 1574-1589; Henry VIII, Edward VI, Mary, and Elizabeth, contemporary rulers in England), which followed in close succession, saw the assimilation of the Roman phase of the Renaissance, that phase which took shape in Rome during the last quarter of the fifteenth century and continued dominant during the first quarter of the sixteenth. The mature Roman phase, inspired by a more systematic study of ancient monuments, and "pruned of earlier exuberances," "became bolder, surer, more balanced in its composition, gaining in calm monumentality and masculine strength what it lost in youthful vitality and variety of decorative motives."
The three foregoing phases, belong wholly and purely to the Renaissance in all their characteristics of style except in so far as chance Gothic traits survived here and there. Of the two that follow, the former embodied the beginnings of Baroque influence and its commingling with the ripe Renaissance conceptions; the latter comprised the full fruition of the Baroque mode and its complete ascendancy over the purer and more restrained forms of Renaissance provenance.
The Style Henri IV and Louis XIII, 1590-1660 (Henri IV, 1589-1610; Louis XIII, 1610-1643: Elizabeth, James I, and Charles I, contemporary rulers in England) was a phase of fusion when curvilinear forms and bolder, heavier detail began gradually to make their progress into popular favour.
The Style Louis XIV, 1640-1710 (Louis XIII, 1610--1643 ; Louis XIV, 1643-1715: Charles II, James II, William and Mary, and Queen Anne, contemporary rulers in England) marked the apotheosis of ponderous curves and scrolls, singly and in combination, of pomposity, redundance, oftentimes heaviness of detail and all that conceptions of superabundant splendour could devise to create the "Grand Manner." What was naturally imposing, the exponents of Baroque essayed to make more so and did not hesitate to create structure for the sole purpose of carrying their massive decorations which were, it is true, mightily imposing but could scarcely be called logical. The exaggerations of this period belong to the earlier portion (1610-1650). Directly the influence of Louis XIV began to make itself felt there was far more restraint and the style was perceptibly tempered by an infusion of Classicism and a more studied sobriety in composition.
During all this period of five phases there was a steady and rapid development in the technical mastery of decorative processes and resources which combined to make the sixteenth and seventeenth centuries in French decorative art one of the most resplendent epochs in history.
Architectural Background and Methods of Fixed Decoration.—Throughout the sixteenth and seventeenth centuries the rooms of French chateaux and houses were commonly of large size. Indeed, they were often oppressively so, especially in the formal and grandiose days of Louis XIV. As was natural, and in fact necessary under the circumstances, the fixed or architectural background formed a vitally important part of the composition. The ceilings were lofty.
Style Louis XII.—In the interiors of the Style Louis XII the embrasured windows were of good size, had either square heads or very flat elliptical arches, and were usually two lights wide, divided in the centre by a substantial vertical stone mullion, intersected by one or more transverse mullions or transomes. The casements were of metal. In the less important rooms oiled linen or oiled paper were used ; in the better rooms the casements were glazed with roundels or with small quarries set in lead. Inside shutters were used and, in some cases, the lower lights had also perforated out-side shutters. Door heads, like window heads, were square or had flat elliptical arches.
Walls were sometimes panelled, either wholly or in part, with small panels, but were more commonly of stone or plaster, which might be painted or frescoed, but they were more frequently relieved by hangings of painted cloth or canvas or by tapestries and embroideries. Complete schemes of permanent decoration were rather exceptions than otherwise but gradually came more and more into vogue under spreading Italian influence. The motifs used in the panelling, medallions and other carved, sculptured or moulded features of door and window trim or wall decoration were a medley of Gothic and Renaissance details.
Fireplaces, with their surmounting chimney-pieces, afforded an opportunity for rich and imposing structure and a wealth of carved detail. Some of the structures left the fire largely exposed at the sides, the hood receding upwards from a bold vertical mantel whose weight was carried on half-piers or corbels other over-mantel structures consisted of an elaborate pilastered and panelled architectural composition carried up vertically part or all of the way to the ceiling and resting on a vigorous vertical mantel which, in turn, was supported on a pillared substructure that left only the front of the fireplace open.
Ceilings were either vaulted, with a more or less complicated system of ribbing, or else of wooden construction with the timbers, as a rule, exposed to view. At times the timbers were concealed by temporary cloth or tapestry testers attached by hooks. In other cases, the ceiling timbers were boarded in the manner of a barrel vault with wooden rib divisions. Panelled wood ceilings, with square, hexagon or octagon-shaped panels, affixed to the under side of joists gradually appeared as a result of Italian influence and were frequently enriched with colour and gilding.
Flooring consisted of stone slabs, of bricks, of en-caustic tiles and also, as a direct outcome of Italian teaching, of maiolica tiles and of parquetted wood.
Style Francis I.—The most numerous type of window in the Francis I style was square-headed. An oocasional variation was the rounding of the shoulders. This detail, however, chiefly appeared outside and did not affect the interior aspect. Besides these, there were also in lesser number round-arched windows and windows with flat elliptical-arched tops. The windows were generally large, two lights wide, and divided vertically by a mullion which was crossed by a transverse mullion or transome, nearer the top than the bottom, thus forming a cross, hence the name fenetre croisee. There were also smaller windows without mullions, square-headed, and filled by two full-length casements. Besides the leaded quarries or roundels in the metal casements, stained-glass cartoons were occasionally introduced. Door heads corresponded in shape to window heads and above the door heads carved or sculptured decoration was often added.
As in the preceding style, walls were panelled wholly or in part (Plate 26), stone-faced, or plastered. At times the plaster surface above the panelled wain-scot was embellished by reliefs in stucco-duro (Plates 26 and 27). Paint and fresco adornment, as previously, were sometimes employed, but complete permanent decorations were still, for the most part, to be found only in the houses of the very great and very wealthy and it remained a common practice to deck comparatively austere walls with tapestries or with painted cloth and canvas hangings that could be taken down at will and moved elsewhere. The chief features of the rooms, however—fireplaces, overdoors and the like—were accorded rich permanent treatment.
The panels for wainscotted walls and for other interior woodwork were generally small and very frequently square in shape, defined by mouldings of low profile, in a manner strongly reminiscent of North Italian Renaissance panelling of an earlier date. The motifs with which the panels were often enriched, as well as other decorated woodwork and interior stone carving, included arabesques, paterae, monograms (Plate 27), initials, emblems, mottoes on ribbon scrolls, cockleshells, ox skulls, plant forms and human and animal forms and heads. Gothic details had quite disappeared. All of these just mentioned, and others of similar nature, appeared more especially in chimney piece carvings and in door trims and overdoor enrichments, where also one might find divers classic orders, of different scale, brought into the same composition without reference to classic precedent; capitals combining cornucopiae, fanciful volutes and heads; and panelled pilasters enriched with arabesques, interlacing scrolls or strapwork, or with circles and lozenges, the former and latter of which were especially characteristic of Francis I decoration. The relief of all carved (Plate 26) ornament was almost invariably low and restrained, and the detail exceptionally refined.
Fireplaces were quite generally surmounted with a distinctly architectural chimney-piece composition carried up vertically to the ceiling. The chimney-piece of sculptured stone or carven wood displayed niches, canopies, pilasters, panelling and sculptured devices in impressive array above a suitable corresponding mantel carried on piers, corbels or caryatides.
Vaulted and stone slab ceilings were used in places that readily .admitted their construction, but ceilings with exposed timbers and panelled ceilings were steadily becoming more and more the rule. The beamed and panelled wood ceilings were often divided up into small panels (Plate 27) and enriched with delicate carving or with colour and gold.
Stone, marble and encaustic tile floorings continued in use, but parquetted wood floors (Plate 27) were winning wider and wider favour as were also the floors of Italian enamelled or maiolica tiles in bright colours or with divers subjects in colour on a white ground.
Style Henri II.-The Style Henri II marks the very height and flower of the French Renaissance, the climax to which all previous development was only preparatory. It is logical and straightforward in all its characteristics and its creations carry a sense of satisfaction and conviction unequalled by the work that preceded or followed. The composition of a room in this style possessed unity of conception and ,did not represent merely a more or less unrelated group of fixed decorative items.
Windows to a great extent retained their mullioned and transomed divisions and their two-light width, al-though mullions and transomes were not invariable, and square-headed windows without them and with two full-length casements were not uncommon. Round-arched windows also occurred to some extent. Panelled inside shutters were used. Door heads were of corresponding shape to window heads and over-door decoration often took the form of a pediment, either rectilinear or arc-shaped, with appropriate accompaniments.
While movable hangings, such as those mentioned in the review of the preceding styles, continued to some extent in use, permanent complete decorations (Plate 28) were much more common. Walls were often panelled, either wholly or in part, and the panelling, which tended to become larger and more diversified (Plate 28) in the shapes of its divisions, was not infrequently embellished with carving and gilding and sometimes also "with marqueterie of coloured woods, and inlays of ivory, ebony, precious metals and even of marble."
Oftentimes walls that had an high-panelled dado (Plate 28) were of decorated and moulded plaster above, with colour and gilding applied to the plaster relief, or else there were frescoes (Plate 28) framed in moulded plaster cartouches with all their attendant scroll embellishments. Again, whole wall surfaces were frescoed, or were hung with tapestries or decorated leather hangings which were framed in with stucco or plaster frames wrought in high relief and embellished with scrolls, strapwork and figures in the round. Wall coverings were also made from embossed and stamped leather decorated in the Spanish manner, polychromed and gilt in repeat patterns, and affixed to the wall. A much less pretentious wall covering, but one nevertheless capable of agreeable decorative effect when wisely used, was the Italian motley marbleised paper made in small squares and applied to the walls. This paper, similar in pattern to that used for book covers, was called "domino" paper and was made in Italy from the fifteenth century on.
The motifs employed for the sundry wall decorations—this includes likewise the adornments of the chimney-pieces and door trims—showed, for one thing, an increased use of the orders (Plate 28) in a systematised and consistent arrangement with due recognition of their proportions and parts. The combinations of members and forms were somewhat more restricted in variety than previously by a more conscientious attention to classic rules. Capitals, for instance, adhered more nearly to traditional types (Plate 28) and the variations from precedent were chiefly in minor matters such as the incorporation of monograms, sprays of foliage and the like. Bay, olive, myrtle, oak, acanthus and palm were the usual sorts of foliage. It was very significant and characteristic that pilasters were fluted, or now and then wreathed, instead of being panelled and adorned with arabesques or with circles and lozenges, a treatment thoroughly indicative of the Francis I style. Strapwork, scrolls, interlacings, frets and running borders were among the "properties" in evidence.
While the profiles of mouldings and the cutting of all enrichments were cleanly and incisively wrought with extreme delicacy, a larger scale in general was adopted, patterns were less complex and "in the treatment of doors, shutters, panelling, and indeed all features, larger and bolder patterns were preferred, with a tendency to make of each a single, centralised design with one dominant feature, while the characteristic of the best rooms is the manner in which all the features were combined into a consistent whole." In other words, whereas the earlier styles had been largely methods of enriched decoration of spaces with small enrichments, the style of Henry II was far more architectural in its feeling and in its well-rounded scheme of composition.
The general contour and structure of the chimney piece, which still continued the most significant single feature (Plate 28) in the room, remained substantially the same as previously. The only notable differences were that its composition was more closely governed by classic precedent and that it was not seldom executed in coloured marbles as well as in the stone or wood of former times.
Plaster ceilings had now come into high favour and were wrought with all the mastery of design and delicacy of finish of which the best Italian and Italian-taught¬ French plasterers were capable. To the rare artistry of pattern and modelling these ceilings added the living glory of colour and gold in brilliant and glowing schemes. In addition to flat and coffered plaster ceilings, there were simple and intersecting barrel vaults and domes. The wooden ceilings also glowed with rich colour and gold and were beamed and panelled or coffered in hexagons, octagons and the like. Oftentimes the beams were encased in panelling. Occasionally the wooden ceilings were inlaid instead of being painted and gilt.
While the formerly mentioned flooring materials were still employed, carefully laid wooden floors, enriched with parquetting, were more than ever in high esteem. Likewise, glazed polychrome tiles, now made in France after the inspiration of the Italian maiolica tiles, played an important part as flooring materials.
Style Henri IV and Louis XIIL—In this style of decoration Baroque influences, and especially Flemish Baroque influences, began to make themselves more and more conspicuous. The crisp delicacy and restraint of the Style Henri II were supplanted by a more bulbous, obtuse and ponderous conception of line and design.
Windows under Henri IV grew larger and longer but, generally speaking, kept their stone mullions and transomes, making the divisions previously noted. The openings were commonly square-headed but were occasionally varied by round-arched heads. The two-light width remained unchanged. Later in the period, under Louis XIII, many windows were further in-creased in size, so that they extended nearly all the way from floor to ceiling. About the same time, also, stone mullions and transomes began to fall into disuse, being replaced by wooden substitutes or by wooden casement frames with broad stiles and rails. Door heads, as usual, followed the fashion of window openings.
Save in the most sumptuous rooms, the bare plaster of the walls was exposed, thus leaving a broad expanse to be decorated with frescoes or treated with "domino" paper as indicated in the previous style. While, of course, tapestries were plentifully used, they no longer formed an inseparable adjunct to the general scheme as indicated by the earlier plaster or stucco mouldings, especially contrived to frame them. A low-panelled dado or wainscot, with small divisions, was often used and embellished with painted decorations of landscapes, flowers, foliage and the like.
The prevailing motifs for mural decoration—in which may also be reckoned the carved wood, stone or modelled plaster adornments for chimney-pieces (Plates 29 and 30 B) and overdoor enrichments (Plate 30 A), where they were especially prominent, included the "cartouche" form (Plate 30 A), one of the most ubiquitous and important—with its surrounding "scrolliage'' pierced and slashed, and pulpy strapwork, heaving convex cabochons, masques, pudgy cherubs, which one wit has humourously dubbed "pukids," volutes, conucopiae, ovoid bulging shields, massive draperies,, scrolls, rectilinear pediments, arc-shaped pediments (Plate 30 A), and both kinds of pediments interrupted, scrolled pediments, and several kinds of pediments combined in a redundant medley, swags and drops of foliage and flowers, palm branches, laurel leaves, human figures, caryatides, quadrangular term-shaped pedestals or pilasters tapered toward the base, along with the various other characteristic Baroque "properties" which found an analogue to their thick, pulpy gobbiness in the contemporary big-scale, fat women painted by Rubens. The same conception of the properties of line was back of both. Mouldings, as contrasted with their sharp crispness and incisive delicacy in the Henri II style, now appeared obtuse and blunted (Plates 29 and 30 A) as well as rotund and massive. And yet, notwithstanding the tumid pomposity and exaggerated emphasis of the Baroque style, its often grotesque conception and lack of refinement, we must concede that it could be both imposing and distinguished and, when discreetly managed, was not without a certain agreeable quality of charm. It should be added that in France the tendency to extravagance of expression was generally kept within bounds, thanks to the national trait of moderation.
Although the fireplace openings began to be appreciably reduced in size (Plates 29, 30 B and 31 A), the chimney-piece superstructure extending to the ceiling lost none of its pristine importance and was duly embellished with all the decorative assets of the time. The scheme usually included some central feature—a decorative panel or picture—surrounded by a composition of some of the motifs just enumerated. The whole composition might be in stone, wood or stucco.
Ceiling beams (Plate 30 B) were often decorated with painted and gilt patterns as were also the enclosed panels (Plate 31 B). Sometimes the panels were of stucco wrought and coloured. Again, the whole ceiling was an elaborate production of the plasterer's art (Plates 29 and 31 A) with heavy stucco details and gorgeous colouring.
The formerly mentioned flooring materials continued in use in varying degrees of popularity, but marble tiling and parquetted wooden floors (Plates 29 and 30 A and B) were regarded with most favour.
Style Louis XIV.—In his admirable summarisation of characteristics that dominated the style of Louis XIV, W. H. Ward (Architecture of the Renaissance in France) says, "No government, however powerful, and no monarch, however good his taste—and within certain limits that of Louis XIV was excellent—can create an art or a literature to order. Success was achieved in virtue of a coincidence in aim with the artistic tendencies of the century and a skillful choice of agents." To put the matter a little differently, one might say that the almost universal prevalence, at any one given period, of a great wave of popular taste or, in other words, the vogue of a particular style, may be likened to the on-sweeping epidemic of a contagious disease that few or none can wholly escape. One person, for in-stance, may have a light case of small-pox and be apparently little affected by the disorder; another may be severely ill with all the attendant symptoms fully developed. But the same influence has been at work in both cases. So is it in the matter of falling under a style of influence and so is it that the epidemic of a style merges into a clearly defined and crystallised fashion.
Thus was it also in the case of the Style Louis XIV. There were certain antecedents back of it whose presence, in the new style development, could not be ignored and from whose influence there could be no complete escape, no matter what fresh elements came into play, unless there was to be an absolute and drastic revolution in all conceptions and in all methods of style expression. And such a sweeping revolution it would have been exceedingly difficult to compass even had it been desirable or desired. As a matter of fact, it was not desired and the obvious solution, therefore, was a compromise with the infusion of a large and vigorous new element of ideals. The Style Louis XIV was just such a compromise. It was a full coordination of the elements that had gone to make up the Henri IV–Louis XIII style with something added—a very appreciable addition, indeed. In architecture, and to a very much greater extent in decoration, it was a compromise, and on the whole a sane and satisfying compromise, between Palladianism—the scholastic interpretation of Classicism as formulated during the late Italian Renaissance —and Baroque tendencies. The result was Baroque idealised, purged of its grossness and abnormal, swollen heaviness, presented in a tempering and restraining setting of Classicism (Plate 35), a rationalised style that incorporated what was best in the preceding episode and added positive elements of fresh provenance. Its physical affinities were Baroque, a chastened and reasoned Baroque; its spiritual affinities were Classic and Renaissance.
The foremost artists and craftsmen of the age—and it was a truly great age, despite certain defects—encouraged and assisted by the king, aided in making the Style Louis XIV one of the most sumptuous and impressive that the world has ever seen. Simon Vouet, Eugene Le Sueur, Nicholas Poussin, Charles Le Brun, Le Pautre, Marot, Francesco Romanelli, Berain, Jacques Sarrazin, Laurent Magnier, these are a few of the names of men who added lustre to the decorative work of the period, their association with the practice of their several metiers proving a guarantee of the excellence therein realised.
If the cartouche and all its satellite entourage of auxiliary motifs was the "trade-mark" of the Style Louis XIII, the rayed sun, the Gallic cock, along with the shaped panel (Plate 33, Figs. 1–5) and all its kindred variations, may be regarded as the badges of Louis XIV decorative expression. Other distinguishing traits were the impressive applied orders (Plates 34, 35 and 36 A), the general architectural composition of interiors (Plate 35), the full convex sections of mouldings (Plates 32, 34 and 35) and projecting members, often deeply undercut, the frequent use of the torus and of the cyma reversa, reticulated diaperwork (Plate 33, Fig. 7) in otherwise unoccupied spaces such as spandrels, and the striking use of shadow. It was, in short, an opulent, masculine and magnificent style.
Windows and doors were commonly square-headed (Plate 36 A) or round-arched (Plate 35), the former being far more numerous. The divisions of casements and panes were, as a rule, much the same as in the pre-ceding style. Mouldings of door frames were full and often richly ornate, and above important doorways was generally an imposing architectural and decorative composition (Plate 34) in bold relief, subsidiary features of the decoration not infrequently extending to the floor on either side. The doors themselves were richly panelled (Plates 34, 35 and 36 A) and decorated in relief or colour or both.
Order and organised symmetry were two of the most characteristic traits of the style and the wall spaces, vast as many of them were, afforded opportunity for impressive architectural composition with the use of orders of pilasters and rich panelling between. The whole ensemble represented "symmetrical and careful scheme, distributed into large well-defined divisions, and these sometimes subdivided into smaller compartments." The tops of panels were commonly shaped (Plate 33, Figs. 1-5), or rounded, and angles were apt to be softened into quadrants.
Where orders of pilasters were not used, walls were, nevertheless, divided into compartments or broad rectangular panels (Plate 32), extending from floor or dado to cornice, with enriched borders, "the centre either plain or containing a tapestry, a picture, a relief, a carved or painted arabesque, or octagonal panel in the centre."
The motifs and "properties" most in evidence, besides those already mentioned, were the lion, eagle and griffin among animal forms, normal and robust human figures quite different from Rubens's, specimens of unwholesome obesity; and, in the vegetable types, oak, laurel and olive in full, close-packed and be-ribboned wreaths, acanthus, heavy swags and drops of fruit and foliage. Shells ,and scrolls, cherubs and masques (Plate 33, Figs. 6 and 7), were used to break the centres of lintels or arches; while the cartouche, in conjunction with architectural mouldings and pediments, was reduced to "its original function of framing a shield or panel." Architraves and kindred members forming "frames to panels and openings were broad and bold, and carved with close-packed foliage or other enrichments."
When tapestries were used, it was a common practice to stretch them in a fixed frame like a painting or to empanel them. Wall adornment also often consisted of modelled stucco (Plate 32), of paintings or frescoes (Plate 32), and of inlays or coatings of various and richly coloured marbles. Mirrors also began to be employed for wall panelling and for incorporation in chimney-pieces. The colour schemes were full and vigorous and gilding was freely called into service.
Fireplaces with their accompanying overmantel decorations were focal features in the composition of the room (Plates 35 and 36 B), although the chimney breast was now often disguised in the thickness of the wall and, instead of the fireplace and chimney-piece constituting an architectural projection, it became a massively detailed and impressive piece of applied decoration. The overmantel embellishment, whether a picture empanelled in an ornate and heavily moulded surround, or some other feature, usually extended to the cornice.
Cornices were distinctly architectural (Plates 34 and 35) in their interpretation. Ceilings, which were frequently plastered with a flat surface throughout their expanse, were commonly enriched with heavily moulded plaster or stucco ornamentation of an elaborate character to which the additional touches of col-our and gilding were added. The larger panels of the ceilings were often the vehicles for gorgeous frescoes. At other times the beams were visible and coloured and gilt decoration was added to coffered panels and projections. Barrel vaulted (Plate 32), domed and coved (Plate 35) ceilings were used as well as flat. The floors were of various-coloured marbles, of tiles and of wood, plain or parquetted in patterns.
Furniture and Decoration.—During the sixteenth century, Renaissance forms of furniture completely ousted any remaining traces of Gothic design. Gothic influence, however, persisted for a time in the high-backed, stall-like seigneurial chairs of state. Oak and walnut were the staple cabinet woods and yielded a ready medium for the interpretation of Renaissance ideals, especially the latter, which was much more responsive to the carver's efforts.
The chief articles of furniture (v. illustrations, Part III) were chests and cabinets, a few chairs of state—the use of a chair was still a mark of distinction and rank—and tables, either of the draw or refectory variety. Contours were bold and structure heavy, al-though the lines were graceful, for French artisans had proved apt pupils and, shown themselves alert to grasp the new ideas of style and oftentimes to improve upon them. Upholstery, more as a bit of elegance than for comfort, was introduced fairly early in the century, but it was not until the latter part of the century that it figured to any appreciable extent. Carving was the chief decorative resource and the motifs used by the carver, as well as the structural contour of the objects, closely reflected contemporary architectural features.
From about the beginning of the seventeenth century, the progress of French nobiliary art made rapid strides. The variety of articles in use increased, structure became lighter, contours more graceful, decorative processes more diversified, and altogether the characteristics of a politer age, or at least a more luxurious age, were unmistakable. Indeed, the French cabinet-makers and carvers of the end of the sixteenth century and the beginning of the seventeenth quite equalled in skill and taste their Italian preceptors and, in addition to other excellences, they succeeded in imparting a very distinct touch of national individuality to their handiwork. By this time Baroque influence had perceptibly affected French mobiliary design and we find curvilinear structural elements, such as scrolled legs, arms and stretchers, profusion of ornament, and detail in vigorous relief, in distinction to the rectilinear, flatter and more reticent qualities that marked the earlier styles.
Under the lavish patronage of Louis XIV, the making of furniture attained a degree of finish and perfection hitherto unprecedented in any country. Furniture, likewise, branched out into various new phases. Besides employing the staple oak and walnut, rare woods of divers colours and ornamental grains were freely drawn upon for veneer, inlay and marqueterie. One of the most significant developments was the introduction of the wonderful Boule inlay of tortoise-shell and brass. To set off properly this extraordinarily rich combination, elaborate ormolu mounts and metal appliques, cast, chiselled and engraved, were profusely resorted to. Painting, gilding, lacquering, and carving also played their respective parts, but there were so many decorative processes now available that carving lost its paramount position. Although Baroque scrolls and curves had long since established themselves, structural lines, especially in cabinet work, were mainly rectilinear. Cabinets and armoires were among some of the most resplendent examples of this resplendent age.
Other Decorative Accessories and Movable Decorations.—Throughout the sixteenth century there poured into France choice products of craftsmanship from Italy and the East—ivories, intarsias, goldsmiths' work, maiolicas, small mirrors from Venice curiously set, and divers objects of like nature—which, however, came more in the capacity of curios and cherished personal possessions than as accessories to decoration. Apart from the wrought-iron or brass candelabra and sconces (Plate 32), and the banners, arms and trophies of the chase, the chief decorative accessories were such as have already been noted in connexion with the fixed background.
In the seventeenth century the story was quite different. Besides the tapestries, hangings and pictures whose presence was mentioned in discussing the fixed decorations, foreign trade had brought porcelains and bronzes from the Orient, zeal for classic research had stimulated the use of sculpture in marble and bronze, and lacquer from the East was beginning to count as an appreciable item. The brass founders and the smiths were contributing chandeliers and sconces of admirable design and these were employed to the full extent of their decorative as well as utilitarian capacity.
During the reign of Louis XIV all of the aforementioned accessories were multiplied in number and the recently started manufacture, in France, of mirrors of greater size than heretofore contributed another item of effective decoration, while the metal workers ex-celled their past performances in the fashioning of lamps, candelabra and sconces, which performed a more conspicuous function in the decorative schemes than ever before. Glass and crystal lustres for chandeliers and sconces also helped to create brilliant results.
Materials and Colour.—The materials of furniture and the fixed decorations have been noted in preceding paragraphs. The fabrics employed during this period, besides embroideries and tapestries, numbered silks, satins, brocades, damasks, brocatelles, velvets plain and figured, and printed linens. Copious importations from Italy were later supplemented by the excellent products of the French looms. Throughout the period the colours were rich, full and varied, and the patterns were, for the most part, vigorous and large.
Arrangement.—During much of the sixteenth century the arrangement of furniture was determined more by considerations of convenience than by notions of symmetrical composition or systematic grouping. By the end of the century principles of formal balance were beginning to be heeded and by the middle of the seventeenth century, in the reign of Louis XIV, conceptions of formalism and symmetry in arrangement had reached their full fruition and pairs of objects were symmetrically disposed where they would pro-duce the most impressive effect.