The Renaissance in Italy: Leonardo da Vinci and Raffaele—Church of St. Peter, contemporary great artists—The Italian Palazzo—Methods of gilding, inlaying and mounting Furniture-Pietra-dura and other enrichments—Ruskin's criticism. The Renaissance in France: Francois I. and the Chateau of Fontainebleau—Influence on Courtiers, Chairs of the time—Design of Cabinets—M.E. Bonnaffé on The Renaissance, Bedstead of Jeanne d'Albret—Deterioration of taste in time of Henry IV., Louis XIII. Furniture—Brittany woodwork. The Renaissance in the Netherlands: Influence of the House of Burgundy on Art—The Chimney-piece at Bruges, and other casts of specimens at South Kensington Museum. The Renaissance in Spain: The resources of Spain in the sixteenth and seventeenth centuries—Influence of Saracenic Art, high-backed leather chairs, the Carthusian Convent at Granada. The Renaissance in Germany: Albrecht Dürer—Famous Steel Chair of Augsburg—German seventeenth century carving in St. Saviour's Hospital. The Renaissance in England: Influence of Foreign Artists in the time of Henry VIII.—End of Feudalism—Hampton Court Palace—Linen pattern Panels—Woodwork in the Henry VII. Chapel at Westminster Abbey—Livery Cupboards at Hengrave—Harrison quoted—the "parler," alteration in English customs—Chairs of the sixteenth century—Coverings and Cushions of the time, extract from old Inventory—South Kensington Cabinet—Elizabethan Mirror at Goodrich Court—Shaw's "Ancient Furniture" the Glastonbury Chair—Introduction of Frames into England—Characteristics of Native Woodwork—Famous Country Mansions, alteration in design of Woodwork and Furniture—Panelled Rooms at South Kensington—The Charterhouse—Gray's Inn Hall and Middle Temple—The Hall of the Carpenter's Company—The Great Bed of Ware—Shakespeare's Chair—Penshurst Place.
t is impossible to write about the period of the Renaissance without grave misgivings as to the ability to render justice to a period which has employed the pens of many cultivated writers, and to which whole volumes, nay libraries, have been devoted. Within the limited space of a single chapter all that can be attempted is a brief glance at the influence on design by which furniture and woodwork were affected. Perhaps the simplest way of understanding the changes which occurred, first in Italy, and subsequently in other countries, is to divide the chapter on this period into a series of short notes arranged in the order in which Italian influence would seem to have affected the designers and craftsmen of several European nations.
Towards the end of the fifteenth century there appears to have been an almost universal rage for classical literature, and we believe some attempt was made to introduce Latin as a universal language; it is certain that Italian Art was adopted by nation after nation, and a well known writer on architecture (Mr. Parker) has observed:—"It was not until the middle of the nineteenth century that the national styles of the different countries of Modern Europe were revived."
As we look back upon the history of Art, assisted by the numerous examples in our Museums, one is struck by the want of novelty in the imagination of mankind. The glorious antique has always been our classic standard, and it seems only to have been a question of time as to when and how a return was made to the old designs of the Greek artists, then to wander from them awhile, and again to return when the world, weary of over-abundance of ornament, longed for the repose of simpler lines on the principles which governed the glorious Athenian artists of old.
Italy was the birthplace of the Renaissance. Leonardo da Vinci and Raffaele may be said to have guided and led the natural artistic instincts of their countrymen, to discard the Byzantine-Gothic which, as M. Bonnaffe has said, was adopted by the Italians not as a permanent institution, but "faute de mieux" as a passing fashion.
It is difficult to say with any certainty when the first commencement of a new era actually takes place, but there is an incident related in Michael Bryan's biographical notice of Leonardo da Vinci which gives us an approximate date. Ludovico Sforza, Duke of Milan, had appointed this great master Director of Painting and Architecture in his academy in 1494, and, says Bryan, who obtained his information from contemporary writers, "Leonardo no sooner entered on his office, than he banished all the Gothic principles established by his predecessor, Michelino, and introduced the beautiful simplicity and purity of the Grecian and Roman styles."
A few years after this date, Pope Julius II. commenced to build the present magnificent Church of St. Peter's, designed by Bramante d'Urbino, kinsman and friend of Raffaele, to whose superintendence Pope Leo X. confided the work on the death of the architect in 1514, Michael Angelo having the charge committed to him some years after Raffaele's death.
These dates give us a very fair idea of the time at which this important revolution in taste was taking place in Italy, at the end of the fifteenth and the commencement of the following century, and carved woodwork followed the new direction.
Reproduction of Decoration By Raffaelle. In the Loggie of the Vatican. Period: Italian Renaissance.
A Sixteenth Century Room. Reproduced from the "Magazine of Art" (By Permission)
Salon of M. Edmond Bonnaffé, Decorated and Furnished in the Renaissance Style.
Leo X. was Pope in 1513. The period of peace which then ensued after war, which for so many decades had disturbed Italy, as France or Germany had in turn striven to acquire her fertile soil, gave the princes and nobles leisure to rebuild and adorn their palaces; and the excavations which were then made brought to light many of the works of art which had remained buried since the time when Rome was mistress of the world. Leo was a member of that remarkable and powerful family the Medicis, the very mention of whom is to suggest the Renaissance, and under his patronage, and with the co-operation of the reigning dukes and princes of the different Italian states, artists were given encouragement and scope for the employment of their talents. Michael Angelo, Titian, Raffaele Sanzio, Andrea del Sarto, Correggio, and many other great artists were raising up monuments of everlasting fame; Palladio was rebuilding the palaces of Italy, which were then the wonder of the world; Benvenuto Cellini and Lorenzo Ghiberti were designing those marvellous chef d'oeuvres in gold, silver, and bronze which are now so rare; and a host of illustrious artists were producing work which has made the sixteenth century famous for all time.
Chair in Carved Walnut. Found in the house of Michael Angelo.
The circumstances of the Italian noble caused him to be very amenable to Art influence. Living chiefly out of doors, his climate rendered him less dependent on the comforts of small rooms, to which more northern people were attached, and his ideas would naturally aspire to pomp and elegance, rather than to home life and utility. Instead of the warm chimney corner and the comfortable seat, he preferred furniture of a more palatial character for the adornment of the lofty and spacious saloons of his palace, and therefore we find the buffet elaborately carved, with a free treatment of the classic antique which marks the time; it was frequently "garnished" with the beautiful majolica of Urbino, of Pesaro, and of Gubbio. The sarcophagus, or cassone, of oak, or more commonly of chesnut or walnut, sometimes painted and gilded, sometimes carved with scrolls and figures; the cabinet designed with architectural outline, and fitted up inside with steps and pillars like a temple; chairs which are wonderful to look upon as guardians of a stately doorway, but uninviting as seats; tables inlaid, gilded, and carved, with slabs of marble or of Florentine Mosaic work, but which from their height are as a rule impossible to use for any domestic purpose; mirrors with richly carved and gilded frames are so many evidences of a style which is palatial rather than domestic, in design as in proportion.
Venetian Centre Table, Carved and Gilt. In the South Kensington Museum.
The walls of these handsome saloons or galleries were hung with rich velvet of Genoese manufacture, with stamped and gilt leather, and a composition ornament was also applied to woodwork, and then gilded and painted; this kind of decoration was termed "gesso work."
Marriage Coffer in Carved Walnut. (Collection of Comte de Briges.) Period: Renaissance (XVI. Century) Venetian.
Marriage Coffer, Carved and Gilt with Painted Subject. Italian. XVI. Century.
A rich effect was produced on the carved console tables, chairs, stools and frames intended for gilding, by the method employed by the Venetian and Florentine craftsmen, the gold leaf being laid on a red preparation, and then the chief portions highly burnished. There are in the South Kensington Museum several specimens of such work, and now that time and wear have caused this red groundwork to shew through the faded gold, the harmony of color is very satisfactory.
Pair of Italian Carved Bellows, in Walnut Wood. (South Kensington Museum.)
Other examples of fifteenth century Italian carving, such as the old Cassone fronts, are picked out with gold, the remainder of the work displaying the rich warm color of the walnut or chesnut wood, which were almost invariably employed.
Of the smaller articles of furniture, the "bellows" and wall brackets of this period deserve mention; the carving of these is very carefully finished, and is frequently very elaborate. The illustration on page 51 is that of a pair of bellows in the South Kensington collection.
Carved Italian Mirror Frame, 16th Century. (In the South Kensington Museum.)
The enrichment of woodwork by means of inlaying deserves mention. In the chapter on Ancient Furniture we have seen that ivory was used as an inlaid ornament as early as six centuries before Christ, but its revival and development in Europe probably commenced in Venice about the end of the thirteenth century, in copies of geometrical designs, let into ebony and brown walnut, and into a wood something like rosewood; parts of boxes and chests of these materials are still in existence. Mr. Maskell tells us in his Handbook on "Ivories," that probably owing to the difficulty of procuring ivory in Italy, bone of fine quality was frequently used in its place. All this class of work was known as "Tarsia," "Intarsia," or "Certosina," a word supposed to be derived from the name of the well-known religious community—the Carthusians—on account of the dexterity of those monks at this work.6 It is true that towards the end of the fourteenth century, makers of ornamental furniture began to copy marble mosaic work, by making similar patterns of different woods, and subsequently this branch of industrial art developed from such modest beginnings as the simple pattern of a star, or bandings in different kinds of wood in the panel of a door, to elaborate picture-making, in which landscapes, views of churches, houses and picturesque ruins were copied, figures and animals being also introduced. This work was naturally facilitated and encouraged by increasing commerce between different nations, which rendered available a greater variety of woods. In some of the early Italian "intarsia" the decoration was cut into the surface of the panel piece by piece. As artists became more skilful, veneers were applied and the effect heightened by burning with hot sand the parts requiring shading; and the lines caused by the thickness of the sawcuts were filled in with black wood or stained glue to give definition to the design.
The "mounting" of articles of furniture with metal enrichments doubtless originated in the iron corner pieces and hinge plates, which were used to strengthen the old chests, of which mention has been already made, and as artificers began to render their productions decorative as well as useful, what more natural progress than that the iron corners, bandings, or fastenings, should be of ornamental forged or engraved iron. In the sixteenth century, metal workers reached a point of excellence which has never been surpassed, and those marvels of mountings in steel, iron and brass were produced in Italy and Germany, which are far more important as works of art, than the plain and unpretending productions of the coffer maker, which are their raison d'etre. The woodcut on p. 53 represents a very good example of a "Coffre-fort" in the South Kensington Collection. The decoration is bitten in with acids so as to present the appearance of its being damascened, and the complicated lock, shewn on the inside of the lid, is characteristic of these safeguards for valuable documents at a time when the modern burglar-proof safe had not been thought of.
The illustration on the following page is from an example in the same museum, shewing a different decoration, the oval plaques of figures and coats of arms being of carved ivory let into the surface of the coffer. This is an early specimen, and belongs as much to the last chapter as to the present.
"Pietra-dura" as an ornament was first introduced in Italy during the sixteenth century, and became a fashion. This was an inlay of highly-polished rare marbles, agates, hard pebbles, lapis lazuli, and other stones; ivory was also carved and applied as a bas relief, as well as inlaid in arabesques of the most elaborate designs; tortoiseshell, brass, mother of pearl, and other enrichments were introduced in the decoration of cabinets and of caskets; silver plaques embossed and engraved were pressed into the service as the native princes of Florence, Urbino, Ferrara, and other independent cities vied with Rome, Venice, and Naples in sumptuousness of ornament, and lavishness of expense, until the inevitable period of decline supervened in which exaggeration of ornament and prodigality of decoration gave the eye no repose.
Edmond Bonnaffe, contrasting the latter period of Italian Renaissance with that of sixteenth century French woodwork, has pithily remarked: "Chez cux, l'art du bois consiste à le dissimuler, chez nous à le faire valoir."
Italian Coffer with Medallions of Ivory. 15th Century. (South Kensington Museum.)
In Ruskin's "Stones of Venice," the author alludes to this over-ornamentation of the latter Renaissance in severe terms. After describing the progress of art in Venice from Byzantine to Gothic, and from Gothic to Renaissance he subdivides the latter period into three classes:—1. Renaissance grafted on Byzantine. 2. Renaissance grafted on Gothic. 3. Renaissance grafted on Renaissance, and this last the veteran art critic calls "double darkness," one of his characteristic terms of condemnation which many of us cannot follow, but the spirit of which we can appreciate.
Speaking generally of the character of ornament, we find that whereas in the furniture of the Middle Ages, the subjects for carving were taken from the lives of the saints or from metrical romance, the Renaissance carvers illustrated scenes from classical mythology, and allegories, such as representations of elements, seasons, months, the cardinal virtues, or the battle scenes and triumphal processions of earlier times.
Carved Walnut Wood Italian Chairs. 16th Century. (From Photos of the originals in the South Kensington Museum.)
Ebony Cabinet. With marble mosaics, and bronze gilt ornaments, Florentine work. Period: XVII. Century.
The outlines and general designs of the earlier Renaissance cabinets were apparently suggested by the old Roman triumphal arches and sarcophagi; afterwards these were modified and became varied, elegant and graceful, but latterly as the period of decline was marked, the outlines as shewn in the two chairs on the preceding page became confused and dissipated by over-decoration.
The illustrations given of specimens of furniture of Italian Renaissance render lengthy descriptions unnecessary. So far as it has been possible to do so, a selection has been made to represent the different classes of work, and as there are in the South Kensington Museum numerous examples of cassone fronts, panels, chairs, and cabinets which can be examined, it is easy to form an idea of the decorative woodwork made in Italy during the period we have been considering.
Venetian State Chair. Carved and Gilt Frame, Upholstered with Embroidered Velvet. Date about 1670. (In the possession of H.M. the Queen at Windsor Castle.)
From Italy the great revival of industrial art travelled to France. Charles VIII., who for two years had held Naples (1494-96), brought amongst other artists from Italy, Bernadino de Brescia and Domenico de Cortona, and Art, which at this time was in a feeble, languishing state in France, began to revive. Francis I. employed an Italian architect to build the Chateau of Fontainebleau, which had hitherto been but an old fashioned hunting box in the middle of the forest, and Leonardo da Vinci and Andrea del Sarto came from Florence to decorate the interior. Guilio Romano, who had assisted Raffaele to paint the loggie of the Vatican, exercised an influence in France, which was transmitted by his pupils for generations. The marriage of Henry II. with Catherine de Medici increased the influence of Italian art, and later that of Marie de Medici with Henri Quatre continued that influence. Diane de Poietiers, mistress of Henri II., was the patroness of artists; and Fontainebleau has been well said to "reflect the glories of gay and splendour loving kings from Francois Premier to Henri Quatre."
Besides Fontainebleau, Francis I. built the Chateau of Chambord,7 that of Chenonceaux on the Loire, the Chateau de Madrid, and others, and commenced the Louvre.
Following their King's example, the more wealthy of his subjects rebuilt or altered their chateaux and hotels, decorated them in the Italian style, and furnished them with the cabinets, chairs, coffers, armoires, tables, and various other articles, designed after the Italian models.
The character of the woodwork naturally accompanied the design of the building. Fireplaces, which until the end of the fifteenth century had been of stone, were now made of oak, richly carved and ornamented with the armorial bearings of the "seigneur." The Prie dieu chair, which Viollet le Due tells us came into use in the fifteenth century, was now made larger and more ornate, in some cases becoming what might almost be termed a small oratory, the back being carved in the form of an altar, and the utmost care lavished on the work. It must be remembered that in France, until the end of the fifteenth century, there were no benches or seats in the churches, and, therefore, prayers were said by the aristocracy in the private chapel of the chateau, and by the middle classes in the chief room of the house.
Ornamental Panelling in St. Vincent's Church, Rouen. Period: Early French Renaissance. Temp. Francois I.
Chimney Piece. In the Gallery of Henri II., Chateau of Fontainebleau. Period: French Renaissance, Early XVI. Century.
The large high-backed chair of the sixteenth century "chaire à haut dossier," the arm chair "chaire à bras," "chaire tournante," for domestic use, are all of this time, and some illustrations will show the highly finished carved work of Renaissance style which prevailed.
Besides the "chaire" which was reserved for the "seigneur," there were smaller and more convenient stools, the X form supports of which were also carved.
Cabinets were made with an upper and lower part; sometimes the latter was in the form of a stand with caryatides figures like the famous cabinet in the Chateau Fontainebleau, a vignette of which forms the initial letter of this chapter; or were enclosed by doors generally decorated with carving, the upper, part having richly carved panels, which when open disclosed drawers with fronts minutely carved.
M. Edmond Bonnaffé, in his work on the sixteenth century furniture of France, gives no less than 120 illustrations of "tables, coffres, armoires, dressoirs, sieges, et bancs, manufactured at Orleans, Anjou, Maine, Touraine, Le Berri, Lorraine, Burgundy, Lyons, Provence, Auvergne, Languedoc, and other towns and districts, besides the capital," which excelled in the reputation of her "menuisiers," and in the old documents certain articles of furniture are particularized as "fait à Paris."
He also mentions that Francis I. preferred to employ native workmen, and that the Italians were retained only to furnish the designs and lead the new style; and in giving the names of the most noted French cabinet makers and carvers of this time, he adds that Jacques Lardant and Michel Bourdin received no less than 15,700 livres for a number of "buffets de salles," "tables garnies de leurs tréteaux," "chandeliers de bois" and other articles.
Facsimiles of Engravings on Wood, By J. Amman, in the 16th century, showing interiors of Workshops of the period.
The bedstead, of which there is an illustration, is a good representation of French Renaissance. It formed part of the contents of the Chateau of Pau, and belonged to Jeanne d'Albret, mother of Henri Quatre, who was born at Pau in 1553. The bedstead is of oak, and by time has acquired a rich warm tint, the details of the carving remaining sharp and clear. On the lower cornice moulding, the date 1562 is carved.
This, like other furniture and contents of Palaces in France, forms part of the State or National collection, of which there are excellent illustrations and descriptions in M. Williamson's "Mobilier National," a valuable contribution to the literature of this subject which should be consulted.
Carved Oak Bedstead of Jeanne D'albret. From the Chateau of Pau. (Collection "Mobilier National.") Period: French Renaissance (Date 1562).
Carved Oak Cabinet. Made at Lyons. Period: Latter Part of XVI. Century.
Another example of four-post bedsteads of French sixteenth century work is that of the one in the Cluny Museum, which is probably some years later than the one at Pau, and in the carved members of the two lower posts, more resembles our English Elizabethan work.
Towards the latter part of Henri IV. the style of decorative art in France became debased and inconsistent. Construction and ornamentation were guided by no principle, but followed the caprice of the individual. Meaningless pilasters, entablatures, and contorted cornices replaced the simpler outline and subordinate enrichment of the time of Henri II., and until the great revival of taste under the "grand monarque," there was in France a period of richly ornamented but ill-designed decorative furniture. An example of this can be seen at South Kensington in the plaster cast of a large chimney-piece from the Chateau of the Seigneur de Villeroy, near Menecy, by Germain Pillon, who died in 1590. In this the failings mentioned above will be readily recognized, and also in another example, namely, that of a carved oak door from the church of St. Maclou, Rouen, by Jean Goujon, in which the work is very fine, but somewhat overdone with enrichment. This cast is in the same collection.
During the 'Louis Treize' period chairs became more comfortable than those of an earlier time. The word "chaise" as a diminutive of "chaire" found its way into the French dictionary to denote the less throne-like seat which was in more ordinary use, and, instead of being at this period entirely carved, it was upholstered in velvet, tapestry or needlework; the frame was covered, and only the legs and arms visible and slightly carved. In the illustration here given, the King and his courtiers are seated on chairs such as have been described. Marqueterie was more common; large armoires, clients of drawers and knee-hole writing tables were covered with an inlay of vases of flowers and birds, of a brownish wood, with enrichments of bone and ivory, inserted in a black ground of stained wood, very much like the Dutch inlaid furniture of some years later but with less colour in the various veneers than is found in the Dutch work. Mirrors became larger, the decoration of rooms had ornamental friezes with lower portions of the walls panelled, and the bedrooms of ladies of position began to be more luxuriously furnished.
It is somewhat singular that while Normandy very quickly adopted the new designs in her buildings and her furniture, and Rouen carvers and joiners became famous for their work, the neighbouring province, Brittany, was conservative of her earlier designs. The sturdy Breton has through all changes of style preserved much of the rustic quaintness of his furniture, and when some three or four years ago the writer was stranded in a sailing trip up the Ranee, owing to the shallow state of the river, and had an opportunity of visiting some of the farm houses in the country district a few miles from Dinan, there were still to be seen many examples of this quaint rustic furniture. Curious beds, consisting of shelves for parents and children, form a cupboard in the wall and are shut in during the day by a pair of lattice doors of Moorish design, with the wheel pattern and spindle perforations. These, with the armoire of similar design, and the "huche" or chest with relief carving, of a design part Moorish, part Byzantine, used as a step to mount to the bed and also as a table, are still the garniture of a good farm house in Brittany.
The earliest date of this quaint furniture is about the middle of the fifteenth century, and has been handed down from father to son by the more well-to-do farmers. The manufacture of armoires, cupboards, tables and doors, is still carried on near St. Malo, where also some of the old specimens may be found.
Louis XIII. And His Court in a Hall, Witnessing a Play. (From a Miniature dated 1643.)
In the Netherlands, the reigning princes of the great House of Burgundy had prepared the soil for the Renaissance, and, by the marriage of Mary of Burgundy with the Archduke Maximilian, the countries which then were called Flanders and Holland, passed under the Austrian rule. This influence was continued by the taste and liberality of Margaret of Austria, who, being appointed "Governor" of the Low Countries in 1507, seems to have introduced Italian artists and to have encouraged native craftsmen. We are told that Corneille Floris introduced Italian ornamentation and grotesque borders; that Pierre Coech, architect and painter, adopted and popularised the designs of Vitruvius and Serlio. Wood carvers multiplied and embellished churches and palaces, the houses of the Burgomasters, the Town Halls, and the residences of wealthy citizens.
Oak, at first almost the only wood used, became monotonous, and as a relief, ebony and other rare woods, introduced by the then commencing commerce with the Indies, were made available for the embellishments of furniture and wood work of this time.
One of the most famous examples of rich wood carving is the well known hall and chimney piece at Bruges with its group of cupidons and armorial bearings, amongst an abundance of floral detail. This over ornate chef d'oeuvre was designed by Lancelot Blondel and Guyot de Beauregrant, and its carving was the combined work of three craftsmen celebrated in their day, Herman Glosencamp, André Rash and Roger de Smet. There is in the South Kensington Museum a full-sized plaster cast of this gigantic chimney piece, the lower part being coloured black to indicate the marble of which it was composed, with panels of alabaster carved in relief, while the whole of the upper portion and the richly carved ceiling of the room is of oak. The model, including the surrounding woodwork, measures thirty-six feet across, and should not be missed by any one who is interested in the subject of furniture, for it is noteworthy historically as well as artistically, being a monument in its way, in celebration of the victory gained by Charles V. over Francis I. of France, in 1529, at Pavia, the victorious sovereign being at this time not only Emperor of Germany, but also enjoying amongst other titles those of Duke of Burgundy, Count of Flanders, King of Spain and the Indies, etc., etc. The large statues of the Emperor, of Ferdinand and Isabella, with some thirty-seven heraldic shields of the different royal families with which the conqueror claimed connection, are prominent features in the intricate design.
There is in the same part of the Museum a cast of the oak door of the Council Chamber of the Hotel de Ville at Audenarde, of a much less elaborate character. Plain mullions divide sixteen panels carved in the orthodox Renaissance style, with cupids bearing tablets, from which are depending floral scrolls, and at the sides the supports are columns, with the lower parts carved and standing on square pedestals. The date of this work is 1534, somewhat later than the Bruges carving, and is a representative specimen of the Flemish work of this period.
An Ebony Armoire, Richly Carved, Flemish Renaissance. (In South Kensington Museum.)
The clever Flemish artist so thoroughly copied the models of his different masters that it has become exceedingly difficult to speak positively as to the identity of much of the woodwork, and to distinguish it from German, English, or Italian, although as regards the latter we have seen that walnut wood was employed very generally, whereas in Flanders, oak was nearly always used for figure work.
After the period of the purer forms of the first Renaissance, the best time for carved woodwork and decorative furniture in the Netherlands was probably the seventeenth century, when the Flemish designers and craftsmen had ceased to copy the Italian patterns, and had established the style we recognise as "Flemish Renaissance."
Lucas Faydherbe, architect and sculptor (1617-1694)—whose boxwood group of the death of John the Baptist is in the South Kensington Museum—both the Verbruggens, and Albert Bruhl, who carved the choir work of St. Giorgio Maggiore in Venice, are amongst the most celebrated Flemish wood carvers of this time. Vriedman de Vriesse and Crispin de Passe, although they worked in France, belong to Flanders and to the century. Some of the most famous painters—Francis Hals, Jordaens, Rembrandt, Metsu, Van Mieris—all belong to this time, and in some of the fine interiors represented by these Old Masters, in which embroidered curtains and rich coverings relieve the sombre colors of the dark carved oak furniture, there is a richness of effect which the artist could scarcely have imagined, but which he must have observed in the houses of the rich burghers of prosperous Flanders.
A Barber's Shop. From a Wood Engraving by J. Amman. 16th Century. Shewing a Chair of the time.
In the chapter on Jacobean furniture, we shall see the influence and assistance which England derived from Flemish woodworkers; and the similarity of the treatment in both countries will be noticed in some of the South Kensington Museum specimens of English marqueterie, made at the end of the seventeenth century. The figure work in Holland has always been of a high order, and though as the seventeenth century advanced, this perhaps became less refined, the proportions have always been well preserved, and the attitudes are free and unconstrained.
A very characteristic article of seventeenth century Dutch furniture is the large and massive wardrobe, with the doors handsomely carved, not infrequently having three columns, one in the centre and one at each side, and these generally form part of the doors, which are also enriched with square panels, carved in the centre and finished with mouldings. There are specimens in the South Kensington Museum, of these and also of earlier Flemish work when the Renaissance was purer in style and, as has been observed, of less national character.
The marqueterie of this period is extremely rich, the designs are less severe, but the colouring of the woods is varied, and the effect heightened by the addition of small pieces of mother of pearl and ivory. Later, this marqueterie became florid, badly finished, and the colouring of the veneers crude and gaudy. Old pieces of plain mahogany furniture were decorated with a thin layer of highly coloured veneering, a meretricious ornamentation altogether lacking refinement.
There is, however, a peculiarity and character about some of the furniture of North Holland, in the towns of Alkmaar, Hoorn, and others in this district, which is worth noticing. The treatment has always been more primitive and quaint than in the Flemish cities to which allusion has been made—and it was here that the old farm houses of the Nord-Hollander were furnished with the rush-bottomed chairs, painted green; the three-legged tables, and dower chests painted in flowers and figures of a rude description, with the colouring chiefly green and bright red, is extremely effective.
A Flemish Citizen at Meals. (From a XVI, Century MS.)
We have seen that Spain as well as Germany and the Low Countries were under the rule of the Emperor Charles V., and therefore it is unnecessary to look further for the sources of influence which brought the wave of Renaissance to the Spanish carvers and cabinet makers.
Sedan Chair Of Charles V. Probably made in the Netherlands. Arranged with moveable back and uprights to form a canopy when desired. (In the Royal Armoury, Madrid.)
After Van Eyck was sent for to paint the portrait of King John's daughter, the Low Countries continued to export to the Peninsula painters, sculptors, tapestry weavers, and books on Art. French artists also found employment in Spain, and the older Gothic became superseded as in other countries. Berruguete, a Spaniard, who had studied in the atelier of Michael Angelo, returned to his own country with the new influence strong upon him, and the vast wealth and resources of Spain at this period of her history enabled her nobles to indulge their taste in cabinets richly ornamented with repoussé plaques of silver, and later of tortoiseshell, of ebony, and of scarce woods from her Indian possessions; though in a more general way chesnut was still a favorite medium.
Contemporary with decorative woodwork of Moorish design there was also a great deal of carving, and of furniture made, after designs brought from Italy and the North of Europe; and Mr. J.H. Pollen, quoting a trustworthy Spanish writer, Senor J.F. Riario, says:—"The brilliant epoch of sculpture (in wood) belongs to the sixteenth century, and was due to the great impulse it received from the works of Berruguete and Felipe de Borgoña. He was the chief promoter of the Italian style, and the choir of the Cathedral of Toledo, where he worked so much, is the finest specimen of the kind in Spain. Toledo, Seville, and Valladolid were at the time great productive and artistic centres."
Silver Table, Late 16th or Early 17th Century. (In the Queen's Collection, Windsor Castle.)
The same writer, after discussing the characteristic Spanish cabinets, decorated outside with fine ironwork and inside with columns of bone painted and gilt, which were called "Varguenos," says:—"The other cabinets or escritoires belonging to that period (sixteenth century) were to a large extent imported from Germany and Italy, while others were made in Spain in imitation of these, and as the copies were very similar it is difficult to classify them." * * *
Chair of Walnut or Chesnut Wood, Covered in Leather with embossed pattern. Spanish, (Collection of Baron de Vallière.) Period: Early XVII. Century.
Wooden Coffer. With wrought iron mounts and falling flap, on carved stand. Spanish. (Collection of M. Monbrison.) Period: XVII. Century.
"Besides these inlaid cabinets, others must have been made in the sixteenth century inlaid with silver. An Edict was issued in 1594, prohibiting, with the utmost rigour, the making and selling of this kind of merchandise, in order not to increase the scarcity of silver." The Edict says that "no cabinets, desks, coffers, braziers, shoes, tables, or other articles decorated with stamped, raised, carved, or plain silver should be manufactured."
The beautiful silver table in Her Majesty's collection at Windsor Castle, illustrated on page 68, is probably one of Spanish make of late sixteenth or early seventeenth century.
Although not strictly within the period treated of in this chapter, it is convenient to observe that much later, in the seventeenth and eighteenth centuries, one finds the Spanish cabinet maker ornamenting his productions with an inlay of ivory let into tortoiseshell, representing episodes in the history of Don Quichotte, and the National pastime of bull-fighting. These cabinets generally have simple rectangular outlines with numerous drawers, the fronts of which are decorated in the manner described, and where the stands are original they are formed of turned legs of ebony or stained wood. In many Spanish cabinets the influence of Saracenic art is very dominant; these have generally a plain exterior, the front is hinged as a fall-down flap, and discloses a decorative effect which reminds one of some of the Alhambra work—quaint arches inlaid with ivory, of a somewhat bizarre coloring of blue and vermilion—altogether a rather barbarous but rich and effective treatment.
To the seventeenth century also belong the high-backed Spanish and Portuguese chairs, of dark brown leather, stamped with numerous figures, birds and floral scrolls, studded with brass nails and ornaments, while the legs and arms are alone visible as woodwork; they are made of chesnut, with some leafwork or scroll carving. There is a good representative woodcut of one of these chairs.
Until Baron Davillier wrote his work on Spanish art, very little was known of the different peculiarities by which we can now distinguish examples of woodwork and furniture of that country from many Italian or Flemish contemporary productions. Some of the Museum specimens will assist the reader to mark some characteristics, and it may be observed generally that in the treatment of figure subjects in the carved work, the attitudes are somewhat strained, and, as has been stated, the outlines of the cabinets are without any special feature. Besides the Spanish chesnut (noyer), which is singularly lustrous and was much used, one also finds cedar, cypress wood and pine.
In the Chapel of Saint Bruno, attached to the Carthusian Convent at Granada, the doors and interior fittings are excellent examples of inlaid Spanish work of the seventeenth century; the monks of this order at a somewhat earlier date are said to have produced the "tarsia," or inlaid work, to which some allusion has already been made.
German Renaissance may be said to have made its debut under Albrecht Dürer. There was already in many of the German cities a disposition to copy Flemish artists, but under Dürer's influence this new departure became developed in a high degree, and, as the sixteenth century advanced, the Gothic designs of an earlier period were abandoned in favour of the more free treatment of figure ornament, scrolls, enriched panels and mouldings, which mark the new era in all Art work.
Many remarkable specimens of German carving are to be met with in Augsburg, Aschaffenburg, Berlin, Cologne, Dresden, Gotha, Munich, Manheim, Nuremberg, Ulm, Regensburg, and other old German towns.
Although made of steel, the celebrated chair at Longford Castle in Wiltshire is worthy of some notice as a remarkable specimen of German Renaissance. It is fully described in Richardson's "Studies from Old English Mansions." It was the work of Thomas Rukers, and was presented by the city of Augsburg to the Emperor of Germany in 1577. The city arms are at the back, and also the bust of the Emperor. The other minute and carefully finished decorative subjects represent different events in history; a triumphal procession of Caesar, the Prophet Daniel explaining his dream, the landing of Aeneas, and other events. The Emperor Rudolphus placed the chair in the City of Prague, Gustavus Adolphus plundered the city and removed it to Sweden, whence it was brought by Mr. Gustavus Brander about 100 years ago, and sold by him to Lord Radnor.
As is the case with Flemish wood-carving, it is often difficult to identify German work, but its chief characteristics may be said to include an exuberant realism and a fondness for minute detail. M. Bonnaffé has described this work in a telling phrase: "l'ensemble est tourmenté, laborieux, touffu tumultueux."
There is a remarkable example of rather late German Renaissance oak carving in the private chapel of S. Saviour's Hospital, in Osnaburg Street, Regent's Park, London. The choir stalls, some 31 in number, and the massive doorway, formed part of a Carthusian monastery at Buxheim, Bavaria, which was sold and brought to London after the monastery had been secularised and had passed into the possession of the territorial landlords, the Bassenheim family. At first intended to ornament one of the Colleges at Oxford, it was afterwards resold and purchased by the author, and fitted to the interior of S. Saviour's, and so far as the proportions of the chapel would admit of such an arrangement, the relative positions of the different parts are maintained. The figures of the twelve apostles—of David, Eleazer, Moses, Aaron, and of the eighteen saints at the backs of the choir stalls, are marvellous work, and the whole must have been a harmonious and well considered arrangement of ornament. The work, executed by the monks themselves, is said to have been commenced in 1600, and to have been completed in 1651, and though a little later than, according to some authorities, the best time of the Renaissance, is so good a representation of German work of this period that it will well repay an examination. As the author was responsible for its arrangement in its present position, he has the permission of the Rev. Mother at the head of S. Saviour's to say that any one who is interested in Art will be allowed to see the chapel.
German Carved Oak Buffet, 17th Century. (From a Drawing by Prof. Heideloff.)
England under Henry the Eighth was peaceful and prosperous, and the King was ambitious to outvie his French contemporary, Francois I., in the sumptuousness of his palaces. John of Padua, Holbein, Havernius of Cleves, and other artists, were induced to come to England and to introduce the new style. It, however, was of slow growth, and we have in the mixture of Gothic, Italian and Flemish ornament, the style which is known as "Tudor."
It has been well said that "Feudalism was ruined by gunpowder." The old-fashioned feudal castle was no longer proof against cannon, and with the new order of things, threatening walls and serried battlements gave way as if by magic to the pomp and grace of the Italian mansion. High roofed gables, rows of windows and glittering oriels looking down on terraced gardens, with vases and fountains, mark the new epoch.
The joiner's work played a very important part in the interior decoration of the castles and country seats of this time, and the roofs were magnificently timbered with native oak, which was available in longer lengths than that of foreign growth. The Great Hall in Hampton Court Palace, which was built by Cardinal Wolsey and presented to his master, the halls of Oxford, and many other public buildings which remain to us, are examples of fine woodwork in the roofs. Oak panelling was largely used to line the walls of the great halls, the "linen scroll pattern" being a favorite form of ornament. This term describes a panel carved to represent a napkin folded in close convolutions, and appears to have been adopted from German work; specimens of this can be seen at Hampton Court, and in old churches decorated in the early part of the sixteenth century. There is also some fine panelling of this date in King's College, Cambridge.
In this class of work, which accompanied the style known in architecture as the "Perpendicular," some of the finest specimens of oak ornamented interiors are to be found, that of the roof and choir stalls in the beautiful Chapel of Henry VII. in Westminster Abbey, being world famous. The carved enrichments of the under part of the seats, or "misericords," are especially minute, the subjects apparently being taken from old German engravings. This work was done in England before architecture and wood carving had altogether flung aside their Gothic trammels, and shews an admixture of the new Italian style which was afterwards so generally adopted.
There are in the British Museum some interesting records of contracts made in the ninth year of Henry VIII.'s reign for joyner's work at Hengrave, in which the making of 'livery' or service cupboards is specified.
"Ye cobards they be made ye facyon of livery y is w'thout doors."
These were fitted up by the ordinary house carpenters, and consisted of three stages or shelves standing on four turned legs, with a drawer for table linen. They were at this period not enclosed, but the mugs or drinking vessels were hung on hooks, and were taken down and replaced after use; a ewer and basin was also part of the complement of a livery cupboard, for cleansing these cups. In Harrison's description of England in the latter part of the sixteenth century the custom is thus described:
"Each one as necessitie urgeth, calleth for a cup of such drinke as him liketh, so when he hath tasted it, he delivereth the cup again to some one of the standers by, who maketh it clean by pouring out the drinke that remaineth, restoreth it to the cupboard from whence he fetched the same."
It must be borne in mind, in considering the furniture of the earlier part of the sixteenth century, that the religious persecutions of the time, together with the general break-up of the feudal system, had gradually brought about the disuse of the old custom of the master of the house taking his meals in the large hall or "houseplace," together with his retainers and dependants; and a smaller room leading from the great hall was fitted up with a dressoir or service cupboard, for the drinking vessels in the manner just described, with a bedstead, and a chair, some benches, and the board on trestles, which formed the table of the period. This room, called a "parler" or "privée parloir," was the part of the house where the family enjoyed domestic life, and it is a singular fact that the Clerics of the time, and also the Court party, saw in this tendency towards private life so grave an objection that, in 1526, this change in fashion was the subject of a court ordinance, and also of a special Pastoral from Bishop Grosbeste. The text runs thus: "Sundrie noblemen and gentlemen and others doe much delighte to dyne in corners and secret places," and the reason given, was that it was a bad influence, dividing class from class; the real reason was probably that by more private and domestic life, the power of the Church over her members was weakened.
Chair Said To Have Belonged to Anna Boleyn, Hever Castle. (From the Collection of Mr. Godwin, F.S.A.)
In spite, however, of opposition in high places, the custom of using the smaller rooms became more common, and we shall find the furniture, as time goes on, designed accordingly.
Tudor Cabinet in the South Kensington Museum. (Described below.)
In the South Kensington Museum there is a very remarkable cabinet, the decoration of which points to its being made in England at this time, that is, about the middle, or during the latter half, of the sixteenth century, but the highly finished and intricate marqueterie and carving would seem to prove that Italian or German craftsmen had executed the work. It should be carefully examined as a very interesting specimen. The Tudor arms, the rose and portcullis, are inlaid on the stand. The arched panels in the folding doors, and at the ends of the cabinet are in high relief, representing battle scenes, and bear some resemblance to Holbein's style. The general arrangement of the design reminds one of a Roman triumphal arch. The woods employed are chiefly pear tree, inlaid with coromandel and other woods. Its height is 4 ft. 7 in. and width 3 ft. 1 in., but there is in it an immense amount of careful detail which could only be the work of the most skilful craftsmen of the day, and it was evidently intended for a room of moderate dimensions where the intricacies of design could be observed. Mr. Hungerford Pollen has described this cabinet fully, giving the subjects of the ornament, the Latin mottoes and inscriptions, and other details, which occupy over four closely printed pages of his museum catalogue. It cost the nation £500, and was an exceedingly judicious purchase.
Chairs were during the first half of the sixteenth century very scarce articles, and as we have seen with other countries, only used for the master or mistress of the house. The chair which is said to have belonged to Anna Boleyn, of which an illustration is given on p. 74, is from the collection of the late Mr. Geo. Godwin, F.S.A., formerly editor of "The Builder," and was part of the contents of Hever Castle, in Kent. It is of carved oak, inlaid with ebony and boxwood, and was probably made by an Italian workman. Settles were largely used, and both these and such chairs as then existed, were dependent, for richness of effect, upon the loose cushions with which they were furnished.
If we attempt to gain a knowledge of the designs of the tables of the sixteenth, and early part of the seventeenth centuries, from interiors represented in paintings of this period, the visit to the picture gallery will be almost in vain, for in nearly every case the table is covered by a cloth. As these cloths or carpets, as they were then termed, to distinguish them from the "tapet" or floor covering, often cost far more than the articles they covered, a word about them may be allowed.
Most of the old inventories from 1590, after mentioning the "framed" or "joyned" table, name the "carpett of Turky werke" which covered it, and in many cases there was still another covering to protect the best one, and when Frederick, Duke of Wurtemburg, visited England in 1592 he noted a very extravagant "carpett" at Hampton Court, which was embroidered with pearls and cost 50,000 crowns.
The cushions or "quysshens" for the chairs, of embroidered velvet, were also very important appendages to the otherwise hard oaken and ebony seats, and as the actual date of the will of Alderman Glasseor quoted below is 1589, we may gather from the extract given, something of the character and value of these ornamental accessories which would probably have been in use for some five and twenty or thirty years previously.
"Inventory of the contents of the parler of St. Jone's, within the cittie of Chester," of which place Alderman Glasseor was vice-chamberlain:—
"A drawinge table of joyned work with a frame," valued at "xl shillings," equilius Labour £20 your present money.
Two formes covered with Turkey work to the same belonginge. xiij shillings and iiij pence
A joyned frame xvjd.
A bord ijs. vjd.
A little side table upon a frame ijs. vd.
A pair of virginalls with the frame xxxs.
Sixe joyned stooles covr'd with nedle werke xvs.
Sixe other joyned stooles vjs.
One cheare of nedle worke iijs. iiijd.
Two little fote stooles iiijd.
One longe carpett of Turky werke vili.
A shortte carpett of the same werke xiijs. iijd.
One cupbord carpett of the same xs.
Sixe quysshens of Turkye xijs.
Sixe quysshens of tapestree xxs.
And others of velvet "embroidered wt gold and silver armes in the middesle."
Eight pictures xls. Maps, a pedigree of Earl Leicester in "joyned frame" and a list of books.
This Alderman Glasseor was apparently a man of taste and culture for those days; he had "casting bottles" of silver for sprinkling perfumes after dinner, and he also had a country house "at the sea," where his parlour was furnished with "a canapy bedd."
As the century advances, and we get well into Elizabeth's reign, wood carving becomes more ambitious, and although it is impossible to distinguish the work of Flemish carvers who had settled in England from that of our native craftsmen, these doubtless acquired from the former much of their skill. In the costumes and in the faces of figures or busts, produced in the highly ornamental oak chimney pieces of the time, or in the carved portions of the fourpost bedsteads, the national characteristics are preserved, and, with a certain grotesqueness introduced into the treatment of accessories, combine to distinguish the English school of Elizabethan ornament from other contemporary work.
Knole, Longleaf, Burleigh, Hatfield, Hardwick, and Audley End are familiar instances of the change in interior decoration which accompanied that in architecture; terminal figures, that is, pedestals diminishing towards their bases, surmounted by busts of men or women, elaborate interlaced strap work carved in low relief, trophies of fruit and flowers, take the places of the more Gothic treatment formerly in vogue. The change in the design of furniture naturally followed, for in cases where Flemish or Italian carvers were not employed, the actual execution was often by the hand of the house carpenter, who was influenced by what he saw around him.
The great chimney piece in Speke Hall, near Liverpool, portions of the staircase of Hatfield, and of other English mansions before mentioned, are good examples of the wood carving of this period, and the illustrations from authenticated examples which are given, will assist the reader to follow these remarks.
The Glastonbury Chair. (In the Palace of the Bishop of Bath, and Wells.)
There is a mirror frame at Goodrich Court of early Elizabethan work, carved in oak and partly gilt; the design is in the best style of Renaissance and more like Italian or French work than English. Architectural mouldings, wreaths of flowers, cupids, and an allegorical figure of Faith are harmoniously combined in the design, the size of the whole frame being 4 ft. 5 ins. by 3 ft. 6 ins. It bears the date 1559 and initials R. M.; this was the year in which Roland Meyrick became Bishop of Bangor, and it is still in the possession of the Meyrick family. A careful drawing of this frame was made by Henry Shaw, F.S.A., and published in "Specimens of Ancient Furniture drawn from existing Authorities," in 1836. This valuable work of reference also contains finished drawings of other noteworthy examples of the sixteenth century furniture and woodwork. Amongst these is one of the Abbot's chair at Glastonbury, temp. Henry VIII., the original of the chair familiar to us now in the chancel of most churches; also a chair in the state-room of Hardwick Hall, Derbyshire, covered with crimson velvet embroidered with silver tissue, and others, very interesting to refer to because the illustrations are all drawn from the articles themselves, and their descriptions are written by an excellent antiquarian and collector, Sir Samuel Rush Meyrick.
The mirror frame, described above, was probably one of the first of its size and kind in England. It was the custom, as has been already stated, to paint the walls with subjects from history or Scripture, and there are many precepts in existence from early times until about the beginning of Henry VIII.'s reign, directing how certain walls were to be decorated. The discontinuance of this fashion brought about the framing of pictures, and some of the paintings by Holbein, who came to this country about 1511, and received the patronage of Henry VIII. some fourteen or fifteen years later, are probably the first pictures that were framed in England. There are some two or three of these at Hampton Court Palace, the ornament being a scroll in gold on a black background, the width of the frame very small in comparison with its canvas. Some of the old wall paintings had been on a small scale, and, where long stories were represented, the subjects instead of occupying the whole flank of the wall, had been divided into rows some three feet or less in height, these being separated by battens, and therefore the first frames would appear to be really little more than the addition of vertical sides to the horizontal top and bottom which such battens had formed. Subsequently, frames became more ornate and elaborate. After their application to pictures, their use for mirrors was but a step in advance, and the mirror in a carved and gilt or decorated frame, probably at first imported and afterwards copied, came to replace the older mirror of very small dimensions for toilet use.
Until early in the fifteenth century, mirrors of polished steel in the antique style, framed in silver and ivory, had been used; in the wardrobe account of Edward I. the item occurs, "A comb and a mirror of silver gilt," and we have an extract from the privy purse of expenses of Henry VIII. which mentions the payment "to a Frenchman for certayne loking glasses," which would probably be a novelty then brought to his Majesty's notice.
Indeed, there was no glass used for windows8 previous to the fifteenth century, the substitute being shaved horn, parchment, and sometimes mica, let into the shutters which enclosed the window opening.
The oak panelling of rooms during the reign of Elizabeth was very handsome, and in the example at South Kensington, of which there is here an illustration, the country possesses a very excellent representative specimen. This was removed from an old house at Exeter, and its date is given by Mr. Hungerford Pollen as from 1550-75. The pilasters and carved panels under the cornice are very rich and in the best style of Elizabethan Renaissance, while the panels themselves, being plain, afford repose, and bring the ornament into relief. The entire length is 52 ft. and average height 8 ft. 3 in. If this panelling could be arranged as it was fitted originally in the house of one of Elizabeth's subjects, with models of fireplace, moulded ceiling, and accessories added, we should then have an object lesson of value, and be able to picture a Drake or a Raleigh in his West of England home.
A later purchase by the Science and Art Department, which was only secured last year for the extremely moderate price of £1,000, is the panelling of a room some 23 ft. square and 12 ft. 6 in. high, from Sizergh Castle, Westmoreland. The chimney piece was unfortunately not purchased, but the Department has arranged the panelling as a room with a plaster model of the extremely handsome ceiling. The panelling is of richly figured oak, entirely devoid of polish, and is inlaid with black bog oak and holly, in geometrical designs, being divided at intervals by tall pilasters fluted with bog oak and having Ionic capitals. The work was probably done locally, and from wood grown on the estate, and is one of the most remarkable examples in existence. The date is about 1560 to 1570, and it has been described in local literature of nearly 200 years ago.
Oak Wainscoting, From an old house in Exeter. S. Kensington Museum. Period: English Renaissance (About 1550-75).
While we are on the subject of panelling, it may be worth while to point out that with regard to old English work of this date, one may safely take it for granted that where, as in the South Kensington (Exeter) example, the pilasters, frieze, and frame-work are enriched, and the panels plain, the work was designed and made for the house, but, when the panels are carved and the rest plain, they were bought, and then fitted up by the local carpenter.
Another Museum specimen of Elizabethan carved oak is a fourpost bedstead, with the arms of the Countess of Devon, which bears date 1593, and has all the characteristics of the time.
There is also a good example of Elizabethan woodwork in part of the interior of the Charterhouse, immortalised by Thackeray, when, as "Greyfriars," in "The Newcomes," he described it as the old school "where the colonel, and Clive, and I were brought up," and it was here that, as a "poor brother," the old colonel had returned to spend the evening of his gentle life, and, to quote Thackeray's pathetic lines, "when the chapel bell began to toll, he lifted up his head a little, and said 'Adsum!' It was the word we used at school when names were called."
This famous relic of old London, which fortunately escaped the great fire in 1666, was formerly an old monastery which Henry VIII. dissolved in 1537, and the house was given some few years later to Sir Edward, afterwards Lord North, from whom the Duke of Norfolk purchased it in 1565, and the handsome staircase, carved with terminal figures and Renaissance ornament, was probably built either by Lord North or his successor. The woodwork of the Great Hall, where the pensioners still dine every day, is very rich, the fluted columns with Corinthian capitals, the interlaced strap work, and other details of carved oak, are characteristic of the best sixteenth century woodwork in England; the shield bears the date of 1571. This was the year when the Duke of Norfolk, who was afterwards beheaded, was released from the Tower on a kind of furlough, and probably amused himself with the enrichment of his mansion, then called Howard House. In the old Governors' room, formerly the drawing room of the Howards, there is a specimen of the large wooden chimney piece of the end of the sixteenth century, painted instead of carved. After the Duke of Norfolk's death, the house was granted by the Crown to his son, the Earl of Suffolk, who sold it in 1611 to the founder of the present hospital, Sir Thomas Sutton, a citizen who was reputed to be one of the wealthiest of his time, and some of the furniture given by him will be found noticed in the chapter on the Jacobean period.
Dining Hall in the Charterhouse. Shewing Oak Screen and front of Minstrels' Gallery, dated 1571. Period: Elizabethan.
Screen in the Hall of Gray's Inn. With Table and Desks referred to.
There are in London other excellent examples of Elizabethan oak carving. Amongst those easily accessible and valuable for reference are the Hall of Gray's Inn, built in 1560, the second year of the Queen's reign, and Middle Temple Hall, built in 1570-2. An illustration of the carved screen supporting the Minstrels' Gallery in the older Hall is given by permission of Mr. William R. Douthwaite, librarian of the "Inn," for whose work, "Gray's Inn, its History and Associations," it was specially prepared. The interlaced strap work generally found in Elizabethan carving, encircles the shafts of the columns as a decoration. The table in the centre has also some low relief carving on the drawer front which forms its frieze, but the straight and severe style of leg leads us to place its date at some fifty years later than the Hall. The desk on the left, and the table on the right, are probably later still. It may be mentioned here, too, that the long table which stands at the opposite end of the Hall, on the daïs, said to have been presented by Queen Elizabeth, is not of the design with which the furniture of her reign is associated by experts; the heavy cabriole legs, with bent knees, corresponding with the legs of the chairs (also on the daïs), are of unmistakable Dutch origin, and, so far as the writer's observations and investigations have gone, were introduced into England about the time of William III.
The same remarks apply to a table in Middle Temple Hall, also said to have been there during Elizabeth's time. Mr. Douthwaite alludes to the rumour of the Queen's gift in his book, and endeavoured to substantiate it from records at his command, but in vain. The authorities at Middle Temple are also, so far as we have been able to ascertain, without any documentary evidence to prove the claim of their table to any greater age than the end of the seventeenth century.
The carved oak screen of Middle Temple Hall is magnificent, and no one should miss seeing it. Terminal figures, fluted columns, panels broken up into smaller divisions, and carved enrichments of various devices, are all combined in a harmonious design, rich without being overcrowded, and its effect is enhanced by the rich color given to it by age, by the excellent proportions of the Hall, by the plain panelling of the three other sides, and above all by the grand oak roof, which is certainly one of the finest of its kind in England. Some of the tables and forms are of much later date, but an interest attaches even to this furniture from the fact of its having been made from oak grown close to the Hall; and as one of the tables has a slab composed of an oak plank nearly thirty inches wide, we can imagine what fine old trees once grew and flourished close to the now busy Fleet Street, and the bustling Strand. There are frames, too, in Middle Temple made from the oaken timbers which once formed the piles in the Thames, on which rested "the Temple Stairs."
In Mr. Herbert's "Antiquities of the Courts of Chancery," there are several facts of interest in connection with the woodwork of Middle Temple. He mentions that the screen was paid for by contributions from each bencher of twenty shillings, each barrister of ten shillings, and every other member of six shillings and eightpence; that the Hall was founded in 1562, and furnished ten years later, the screen being put up in 1574: and that the memorials of some two hundred and fifty "Readers" which decorate the otherwise plain oak panelling, date from 1597 to 1804, the year in which Mr. Herbert's book was published. Referring to the furniture, he says:—"The massy oak tables and benches with which this apartment was anciently furnished, still remain, and so may do for centuries, unless violently destroyed, being of wonderful strength." Mr. Herbert also mentions the masks and revels held in this famous Hall in the time of Elizabeth: he also gives a list of quantities and prices of materials used in the decoration of Gray's Inn Hall.
Three Carved Oak Panels. Now in the Court Room of the Hall of the Carpenters' Company. Removed from the former Hall. Period: Elizabethan.
In the Hall of the Carpenters' Company, in Throgmorton Avenue, are three curious carved oak panels, worth noticing here, as they are of a date bringing them well into this period. They were formerly in the old Hall, which escaped the Great Fire, and in the account books of the Corporation is the following record of the cost of one of these panels:—
"Paide for a planke to carve the arms of the Companie iijs."
"Paide to the Carver for carvinge the Arms of the Companie xxiijs. iiijd."
The price of material (3s.) and workmanship (23s. 4d.) was certainly not excessive. All three panels are in excellent preservation, and the design of a harp, being a rebus of the Master's name, is a quaint relic of old customs. Some other oak furniture, in the Hall of this ancient Company, will be noticed in the following chapter. Mr. Jupp, a former Clerk of the Company, has written an historical account of the Carpenters, which contains many facts of interest. The office of King's Carpenter or Surveyor, the powers of the Carpenters to search, examine, and impose fines for inefficient work, and the trade disputes with the "Joyners," the Sawyers, and the "Woodmongers," are all entertaining reading, and throw many side-lights on the woodwork of the sixteenth and seventeenth centuries.
The illustration of Hardwick Hall shews oak panelling and decoration of a somewhat earlier, and also somewhat later time than Elizabeth, while the carved oak chairs are of Jacobean style. At Hardwick is still kept the historic chair in which it is said that William, fourth Earl of Devonshire, sat when he and his friends compassed the downfall of James II. In the curious little chapel hung with ancient tapestry, and containing the original Bible and Prayer Book of Charles I., are other quaint chairs covered with cushions of sixteenth or early seventeenth century needlework.
The Entrance Hall, Hardwick Hall. Period Of Furniture, Jacobean, XVII. Century.
Before concluding the remarks on this period of English woodwork and furniture, further mention should be made of Penshurst Place, to which there has been already some reference in the chapter on the period of the Middle Ages. It was here that Sir Philip Sydney spent much of his time, and produced his best literary work, during the period of his retirement when he had lost the favour of Elizabeth, and in the room known as the "Queen's Room," illustrated on p. 89, some of the furniture is of this period; the crystal chandeliers are said to have been given by Leicester to his Royal Mistress, and some of the chairs and tables were sent down by the Queen, and presented to Sir Henry Sydney (Philip's father) when she stayed at Penshurst during one of her Royal progresses. The room, with its vases and bowls of old oriental china and the contemporary portraits on the walls, gives us a good idea of the very best effect that was attainable with the material then available.
Richardson's "Studies" contains, amongst other examples of furniture, and carved oak decorations of English Renaissance, interiors of Little Charlton, East Sutton Place, Stockton House, Wilts, Audley End, Essex, and the Great Hall, Crewe, with its beautiful hall screens and famous carved "parloir," all notable mansions of the sixteenth century.
To this period of English furniture belongs the celebrated "Great Bed of Ware," of which there is an illustration. This was formerly at the Saracen's Head at Ware, but has been removed to Rye House, about two miles away. Shakespeare's allusion to it in the "Twelfth Night" has identified the approximate date and gives the bed a character. The following are the lines:—
"SIR TOBY BELCH.—And as many lies as shall lie in thy sheet of paper, altho' the sheet were big enough for the Bed of Ware in England, set em down, go about it."
Another illustration shows the chair which is said to have belonged to William Shakespeare; it may or may not be the actual one used by the poet, but it is most probably a genuine specimen of about his time, though perhaps not made in England. There is a manuscript on its back which states that it was known in 1769 as the Shakespeare Chair, when Garrick borrowed it from its owner, Mr. James Bacon, of Barnet, and since that time its history is well known. The carved ornament is in low relief, and represents a rough idea of the dome of S. Marc and the Campanile Tower.
We have now briefly and roughly traced the advance of what may be termed the flood-tide of Art from its birthplace in Italy to France, the Netherlands, Spain, Germany, and England, and by explanation and description, assisted by illustrations, have endeavoured to shew how the Gothic of the latter part of the Middle Ages gave way before the revival of classic forms and arabesque ornament, with the many details and peculiarities characteristic of each different nationality which had adopted the general change. During this period the bahut or chest has become a cabinet with all its varieties; the simple prie dieu chair, as a devotional piece of furniture, has been elaborated into almost an oratory, and, as a domestic seat, into a dignified throne; tables have, towards the end of the period, become more ornate, and made as solid pieces of furniture, instead of the planks and tressels which we found when the Renaissance commenced. Chimney pieces, which in the fourteenth century were merely stone smoke shafts supported by corbels, have been replaced by handsome carved oak erections, ornamenting the hall or room from floor to ceiling, and the English livery cupboard, with its foreign contemporary the buffet, is the forerunner of the sideboard of the future.
The Great Bed of Ware. Formerly at the Saracen's Head, Ware, but now at Rye House, Broxbourne, Herts. Period: XVI. Century.
Carved oak panelling has replaced the old arras and ruder wood lining of an earlier time, and with the departure of the old feudal customs and the indulgence in greater luxuries of the more wealthy nobles and merchants in Italy, Flanders, France, Germany, Spain, and England, we have the elegancies and grace with which Art, and increased means of gratifying taste, enabled the sixteenth century virtuoso to adorn his home.
The "Queen's Room," Penshurst Place. (Reproduced from "Historic Houses of the United Kingdom" by permission of Messrs. Cassell & Co., Limited.)
Carved Oak Chimney Piece in Speke Hall, Near Liverpool. Period: Elizabethan.
I. Ancient Furniture.
Chapter II. The Middle Ages.
Chapter III. The Renaissance.
Chapter IV. Jacobean furniture.
Chapter V. The Furniture of Eastern Countries.
Chapter VI. French Furniture.
Chapter VII. Chippendale and his Contemporaries.
Chapter VIII. First Half of the Nineteenth Century
Chapter IX. From 1851 to the Present Time.