Illustrated History Of Furniture:
From the Earliest to the Present Time.
With numerous Illustrations
In the following pages the Author has placed before the reader an account of the changes in the design of Decorative Furniture and Woodwork, from the earliest period of which we have any reliable or certain record until the present time.
A careful selection of illustrations has been made from examples of established authenticity, the majority of which are to be seen, either in the Museums to which reference is made, or by permission of the owners; and the representations of the different "interiors" will convey an idea of the character and disposition of the furniture of the periods to which they refer. These illustrations are arranged, so far as is possible, in chronological order, and the descriptions which accompany them are explanatory of the historical and social changes which have influenced the manners and customs, and directly or indirectly affected the Furniture of different nations. An endeavour is made to produce a "panorama" which may prove acceptable to many, who, without wishing to study the subject deeply, may desire to gain some information with reference to it generally, or with regard to some part of it, in which they may feel a particular interest.
It will be obvious that within the limits of a single volume of moderate dimensions it is impossible to give more than an outline sketch of many periods of design and taste which deserve far more consideration than is here bestowed upon them; the reader is, therefore, asked to accept the first chapter, which refers to "Ancient Furniture" and covers a period of several centuries, as introductory to that which follows, rather than as a serious attempt to examine the history of the furniture during that space of time. The fourth chapter, which deals with a period of some hundred and fifty years, from the time of King James the First until that of Chippendale and his contemporaries, and the last three chapters, are more fully descriptive than some others, partly because trustworthy information as to these times is more accessible, and partly because it is probable that English readers will feel greater interest in the furniture of which they are the subject. The French meubles de luxe, from the latter half of the seventeenth century until the Revolution, are also treated more fully than the furniture of other periods and countries, on account of the interest which has been manifested in this description of the cabinet maker's and metal mounter's work during the past ten or fifteen years. There is evidence of this appreciation in the enormous prices realised at notable auction sales, when such furniture has been offered for competition to wealthy connoisseurs.
In order to gain a more correct idea of the design of Furniture of different periods, it has been necessary to notice the alterations in architectural styles which influenced, and were accompanied by, corresponding changes in the fashion of interior woodwork. Such comments are made with some diffidence, as it is felt that this branch of the subject would have received more fitting treatment by an architect, who was also an antiquarian, than by an antiquarian with only a limited knowledge of architecture.
Some works on "Furniture" have taken the word in its French interpretation, to include everything that is "movable" in a house; other writers have combined with historical notes, critical remarks and suggestions as to the selection of Furniture. The author has not presumed to offer any such advice, and has confined his attention to a description of that which, in its more restricted sense, is understood as "Decorative Furniture and Woodwork." For his own information, and in the pursuit of his business, he has been led to investigate the causes and the approximate dates of the several changes in taste which have taken place, and has recorded them in as simple and readable a story as the difficulties of the subject permit.
Numerous acts of kindness and co-operation, received while preparing the work for the press, have rendered the task very pleasant; and while the author has endeavoured to acknowledge, in a great many instances, the courtesies received, when noticing the particular occasion on which such assistance was rendered, he would desire generally to record his thanks to the owners of historic mansions, the officials of our Museums, the Clerks of City Companies, Librarians, and others, to whom he is indebted. The views of many able writers who have trodden the same field of enquiry have been adopted where they have been confirmed by the writer's experience or research, and in these cases he hopes he has not omitted to express his acknowledgments for the use he has made of them.
The large number of copies subscribed for, accompanied, as many of the applications have been, by expressions of goodwill and confidence beforehand, have been very gratifying, and have afforded great encouragement during the preparation of the work.
If the present venture is received in such a way as to encourage a larger effort, the writer hopes both to multiply examples and extend the area of his observations.
F. L. Hanway Street, London, July, 1892.
BIBLICAL REFERENCES: Solomon's House and Temple—Palace of Ahashuerus. ASSYRIAN FURNITURE: Nimrod's Palace—Mr. George Smith quoted. EGYPTIAN FURNITURE: Specimens in the British Museum—The Workman's Stool—Various articles of Domestic Furniture—Dr. Birch quoted. GREEK FURNITURE: The Bas Reliefs in the British Museum—The Chest of Cypselus—Laws and Customs of the Greeks—House of Alcibiades—Plutarch quoted. ROMAN FURNITURE: Position of Rome—The Roman House—Cicero's Table—Thyine Wood—Customs of wealthy Romans—Downfall of the Empire.
Period of 1000 years from Fall of Rome, A.D. 476, to Capture of Constantinople, 1453—The Crusades—Influence of Christianity—Chairs of St. Peter and Maximian at Rome, Ravenna and Venice—Edict of Leo III. prohibiting Image worship—The Rise of Venice—Charlemagne and his successors—The Chair of Dagobert—Byzantine character of Furniture—Norwegian carving—Russian and Scandinavian—The Anglo-Saxons—Sir Walter Scott quoted—Descriptions of Anglo-Saxon Houses and Customs—Art in Flemish Cities—Gothic Architecture—The Coronation Chair in Westminster Abbey—Penshurst—French Furniture in the 14th Century—Description of rooms—The South Kensington Museum—Transition from Gothic to Renaissance—German carved work: the Credence, the Buffet, and Dressoir.
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. Bonnaffe 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 in 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 Duerer—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 in South Kensington—The Charterhouse—Gray's Inn Hall and Middle Temple—The Hall of the Carpenters' Company—The Great Bed of Ware—Shakespeare's Chair—Penshurst Place.
English Home Life in the Reign of James I.—Sir Henry Wootton quoted—Inigo Jones and his work—Ford Castle—Chimney Pieces in South Kensington Museum—Table in the Carpenters' Hall—Hall of the Barbers' Company—The Charterhouse—Time of Charles I.—Furniture at Knole—Eagle House, Wimbledon—Mr. Charles Eastlake—Monuments at Canterbury and Westminster—Settles, Couches, and Chairs of the Stuart period—Sir Paul Pindar's House—Cromwellian Furniture—The Restoration—Indo-Portuguese Furniture—Hampton Court Palace—Evelyn's description—The Great Fire of London—Hall of the Brewers' Company—Oak Panelling of the time—Grinling Gibbons and his work—The Edict of Nantes—Silver Furniture at Knole—William III. and Dutch influence—Queen Anne—Sideboards, Bureaus, and Grandfather's Clocks—Furniture at Hampton Court.
CHINESE FURNITURE: Probable source of artistic taste—Sir William Chambers quoted—Racinet's "Le Costume Historique"—Dutch influence—The South Kensington and the Duke of Edinburgh Collections—Processes of making Lacquer—Screens in the Kensington Museum. JAPANESE FURNITURE: Early History—Sir Rutherford Alcock and Lord Elgin—The Collection of the Shogun—Famous Collections—Action of the present Government of Japan—Special characteristics. INDIAN FURNITURE: Early European influence—Furniture of the Moguls—Racinet's Work—Bombay Furniture—Ivory Chairs and Table—Specimens in the India Museum. PERSIAN WOODWORK: Collection of Objets d'Art formed by Gen. Murdoch Smith, R.E.—-Industrial Arts of the Persians—Arab influence—South Kensington specimens. SARACENIC WOODWORK: Oriental customs—Specimens in the South Kensington Museum of Arab Work—M. d'Aveune's Work.
PALACE OF VERSAILLES: "Grand" and "Petit Trianon"—The three Styles of Louis XIV., XV., and XVI.—Colbert and Lebrun—Andre Charles Boule and his Work—Carved and Gilt Furniture—The Regency and its Influence—Alteration in Condition of French Society—Watteau, Lancret, and Boucher. Louis XV. FURNITURE: Famous Ebenistes—Vernis Martin Furniture—Caffieri and Gouthiere Mountings—Sevres Porcelain introduced into Cabinets—Gobelins Tapestry—The "Bureau du Roi." LOUIS XVI. AND MARIE ANTOINETTE: The Queen's Influence—The Painters Chardin and Greuze—More simple Designs—Characteristic Ornaments of Louis XVI. Furniture—Riesener's Work—Gouthiere's Mountings—Specimens in the Louvre—The Hamilton Palace Sale—French influence upon the design of Furniture in other countries—The Jones Collection—Extract from "The Times".
Chinese style—Sir William Chambers—The Brothers Adams' work—Pergolesi, Cipriani, and Angelica Kauffmann—Architects of the time—Wedgwood and Flaxman—Chippendale's Work and his Contemporaries—Chair in the Barbers' Hall—Lock, Shearer, Hepplewhite; Ince, Mayhew, Sheraton—Introduction of Satinwood and Mahogany—Gillows, of Lancaster and London—History of the Sideboard—The Dining Room—Furniture of the time.
The French Revolution and First Empire—Influence on design of Napoleon's Campaigns—The Cabinet presented to Marie Louise—Dutch Furniture of the time—English Furniture—Sheraton's later work—Thomas Hope, architect—George Smith's designs—Fashion during the Regency—Gothic revival—Seddon's Furniture—Other Makers—Influence on design of the Restoration in France—Furniture of William IV. and early part of Queen Victoria's reign—Baroque and Rococo styles—The panelling of rooms, dado, and skirting—The Art Union—The Society of Arts—Sir Charles Barry and the new Palace of Westminster—Pugin's designs—Auction Prices of Furniture—Christie's—The London Club Houses—Steam—Different Trade Customs—Exhibitions in France and England—Harry Rogers' work—The Queen's cradle—State of Art in England during first part of present reign—Continental designs—Italian carving—Cabinet work—General remarks.
THE GREAT EXHIBITION: Exhibitors and contemporary Cabinet Makers—Exhibition of 1862, London; 1867, Paris; and subsequently—Description of Illustrations—Fourdinois, Wright and Mansfield—The South Kensington Museum—Revival of Marquetry—Comparison of Present Day with that of a Hundred Years ago—AEstheticism—Traditions—Trades-Unionism—The Arts and Crafts Exhibition Society—Independence of Furniture—Present Fashions—Writers on Design—Modern Furniture in other Countries—Concluding Remarks.
List of Artists and Manufacturers of Furniture—Woods—Tapestry used for French Furniture—The processes of Gilding and Polishing—The Pianoforte.
List of Subscribers.
List of Illustrations.
Frontispiece—Dwelling Room of a French Chateau
Vignette of Bas-relief—egyptian Seated, as Ornament to Initial Letter. Assyrian Bronze Throne and Footstool Chairs From Khorsabad and Xanthus and Assyrian Throne Repose of King Asshurbanipal Examples of Egyptian Furniture in the British Museum: Stool; Stand for a Vase; Head-rest or Pillow; Workman's Stool; Vase on a Stand; Folding Stool; Ebony Seat inlaid with ivory An Egyptian of High Rank Seated An Egyptian Banquet Chair with Captives as Supports, and an Ivory Box Bacchus and Attendants Visiting Icarus Greek Bedstead with a Table Greek Furniture Interior of an Ancient Roman House Roman State Chair Bronze Lamp and Stand Roman Scamnum or Bench Bisellium, or Seat for Two Persons Roman Couch, Generally of Bronze A Roman Study Roman Triclinium or Dining Room
Vignette of Gothic Oak Armoire, as Ornament to Initial Letter Chair of St. Peter, Rome Dagobert Chair A Carved Norwegian Doorway Scandinavian Chair Cover of a Casket Carved in Whalebone Saxon House (IX. Century) Anglo-saxon Furniture of About the X. Century The Seat on the Dais Saxon State Bed English Folding Chair (XIV. Century) Cradle of Henry V Coronation Chair, Westminster Abbey Chair in York Minster Two Chairs of the XV. Century Table at Penshurst Bedroom (XIV. Century) Carved Oak Bedstead and Chair The New Born Infant Portrait of Christine De Pisan State Banquet with Attendant Musicians (Two Woodcuts) A High-backed Chair (XV. Century) Medieval Bed and Bedroom A Scribe or Copyist Two German Chairs Carved Oak Buffet (French Gothic) Carved Oak Table Flemish Buffet A Tapestried Room A Carved Oak Seat Interior of Apothecary's Shop Court of the Ladies of Queen Anne of Brittany
Vignette of the Caryatides Cabinet, as Ornament to Initial Letter Reproduction of Decoration by Raffaele Salon of M. Bonnaffe A Sixteenth Century Room Chair in Carved Walnut Venetian Centre Table Marriage Coffer in Carved Walnut Marriage Coffer Pair of Italian Carved Bellows Carved Italian Mirror Frame, XVI. Century A Sixteenth Century Coffre-fort Italian Coffer Italian Chairs Ebony Cabinet Venetian State Chair Ornamental Panelling in St. Vincent's Church, Rouen Chimney Piece (Fontainebleau) Carved Oak Panel (1577) Fac-Similes of Engraving On Wood Carved Oak Bedstead of Jeanne D'albret Carved Oak Cabinet (Lyons) Louis XIII. and His Court Decoration of a Salon in Louis XIII. Style An Ebony Armoire (Flemish Renaissance) A Barber's Shop (XVI. Century) A Flemish Citizen at Meals Sedan Chair of Charles V. Silver Table (Windsor Castle) Chair of Walnut or Chesnut Wood, Spanish, with Embossed Leather Wooden Coffer (XVI. Century) The Steel Chair (Longford Castle) German Carved Oak Buffet Carved Oak Chest Chair of Anna Boleyn Tudor Cabinet The Glastonbury Chair Carved Oak Elizabethan Bedstead Oak Wainscoting Dining Hall in the Charterhouse Screen in the Hall of Gray's Inn Carved Oak Panels (Carpenters' Hall) Part of an Elizabethan Staircase The Entrance Hall, Hardwick Hall Shakespeare's Chair The "Great Bed of Ware" The "Queen's Room," Penshurst Place Carved Oak Chimney Piece in Speke Hall
A Chair of XVII. Century, as Ornament to Initial Letter Oak Chimney Piece in Sir W. Raleigh's House Chimney Piece in Byfleet House "The King's Chamber," Ford Castle Centre Table (Carpenters' Hall) Carved Oak Chairs Oak Chimney Piece From Lime Street, City Oak Sideboard Seats at Knole Arm Chair, Knole The "Spangle" Bedroom, Knole Couch, Chair, and Single Chair (Penshurst Place) "Folding" and "Drawinge" Table Chairs, Stuart Period Chair Used by Charles I. During His Trial Two Carved Oak Chairs Settle of Carved Oak Staircase in General Treton's House Settee and Chair (Penshurst Place) Carved Ebony Chair Sedes Busbiana The Master's Chair in the Brewers' Hall Carved Oak "Livery" Cupboard Carved Oak Napkin Press Three Chairs From Hampton Court, Hardwick, and Knole Carved Oak Screen in Stationers' Hall Silver Furniture at Knole Three Chimney Pieces by James Gibbs
Pattern of a Chinese Lac Screen An Eastern (Saracenic) Table, as Ornament to Initial Letter Japanese Cabinet of Red Chased Lacquer Ware Casket of Indian Lacquer-work Door of Carved Sandal Wood From Travancore Persian Incense Burner of Engraved Brass Governor's Palace, Manfulut Specimen of Saracenic Panelling A Carved Door of Syrian Work Shaped Panel of Saracenic Work
Boule Armoire (Hamilton Palace) Vignette of a Louis Quatorze Commode, as Ornament to Initial Letter. Boule Armoire (Jones Collection) Pedestal Cabinet by Boule (Jones Collection) A Concert in the Reign of Louis XIV. A Screen Panel by Watteau Decoration of a Salon in the Louis XIV. Style A Boule Commode French Sedan Chair Part of a Salon (Louis XV.) Carved and Gilt Console Table Louis XV. Fauteuil (Carved and Gilt) Louis XV. Commode (Jones Collection) A Parqueterie Commode "Bureau Du Roi" A Boudoir (Louis XVI. Period) Part of a Salon in Louis XVI. Style A Marqueterie Cabinet (Jones Collection) Writing Table (Riesener) The "Marie Antoinette" Writing Table Bedstead of Marie Antoinette A Cylinder Secretaire (Rothschild Collection) An Arm Chair (Louis XVI.) Carved and Gilt Settee and Arm Chair A Sofa En Suite A Marqueterie Escritoire (Jones Collection) A Norse Interior, Shewing French Influence A Secretaire with Sevres Plaques A Clock by Robin (Jones Collection) Harpsichord, About 1750 Italian Sedan Chair
Vignette of a Chippendale Girandole, as Ornament to Initial Letter Fac-simile of Drawings by Robert Adam English Satinwood Dressing Table Chimney-piece and Overmantel, Designed by W. Thomas Two Chippendale Chairs in the "Chinese" Style Fac-simile of Title Page of Chippendale's "Gentleman and Cabinet Maker's Director" Two Book Cases From Chippendale's "Director" Tea Caddy Carved in the French Style (Chippendale) A Bureau From Chippendale's "Director" A Design for a State Bed From Chippendale's "Director" "French" Commode and Lamp Stands Bed Pillars Chimney-piece and Mirror Parlour Chairs by Chippendale Clock Case by Chippendale China Shelves, Designed by W. Ince Girandoles and Pier Table, Designed by W. Thomas Toilet Glass and Urn Stand, From Hepplewhite's Guide Parlour Chairs, Designed by W. Ince Ladies' Secretaires, Designed by W. Ince Desk and Bookcase, Designed by W. Ince China Cabinet, Designed by J. Mayhew Dressing Chairs, Designed by J. Mayhew Designs of Furniture From Hepplewhite's "Guide" Plan of a Room. (Hepplewhite) Inlaid Tea Caddy and Tops of Pier Tables, From Hepplewhite's "Guide" Kneehole Table by Sheraton Chairs by Sheraton Chair Backs, From Sheraton's "Cabinet Maker" Urn Stand A Sideboard in the Style of Robert Adam Carved Jardiniere by Chippendale Cabinet and Bookcase with Secretaire, by Sheraton
Vignette of an Empire Tripod, as Ornament to Initial Letter Cabinet Presented to Marie Louise Stool and Arm Chair (Napoleon I. Period) Nelson's Chairs by Sheraton Drawing Room Chair, Designed by Sheraton Drawing Room Chair, Designed by Sheraton "Canopy Bed" by Sheraton "Sisters' Cylinder Bookcase" by Sheraton Sideboard and Sofa Table (Sheraton) Design of a Room, by T. Hope Library Fauteuil, From Smith's "Book of Designs" Parlor Chairs Bookcase by Sheraton Drawing Room Chairs, From Smith's Book Prie-dieu in Carved Oak, Designed by Mr. Pugin Secretaire and Bookcase (German Gothic Style) Cradle for H.M. the Queen by H. Rogers Design for a Tea Caddy by J. Strudwick Design for One of the Wings of a Sideboard by W. Holmes Design for a Work Table. H. Fitzcook Venetian Stool of Carved Walnut
Examples of Design in Furniture in the 1851 Exhibition:— Sideboard, in Carved Oak, by Gillow Chimney-piece and Bookcase by Holland and Sons Cabinet by Grace Bookcase by Jackson and Graham Grand Pianoforte by Broadwood Vignette of a Cabinet, Modern Jacobean Style, as Ornament to Initial Letter Lady's Escritoire by Wettli, Berne Lady's Work Table and Screen in Papier Mache Sideboard (Sir Walter Scott) by Cookes, Warwick A State Chair by Jancowski, York Sideboard, in Carved Oak, by Dorand, Paris Bedstead, in Carved Ebony, by Roule, Antwerp Pianoforte by Leistler, Vienna Bookcase, in Lime Tree, by Leistler, Vienna Cabinet, with Bronze and Porcelain, by Games, St. Petersburg Casket of Ivory, with Ormolu Mountings, by Matifat, Paris Table and Chair, in the Classic Style, by Capello, Turin Cabinet of Ebony, with Carnelions, by Litchfield & Radclyffe (1862 Exhibition, London) Cabinet of Ebony, with Boxwood Carvings, by Fourdinois, Paris (1867 Exhibition, Paris) Cabinet of Satinwood, with Wedgwood Plaques, by Wright and Mansfield (1867 Exhibition, Paris) Cabinet of Ebony and Ivory by Andrea Picchi, Florence (1867 Exhibition, Paris) The Ellesmere Cabinet The Saloon at Sandringham House The Drawing Room at Sandringham House Carved Frame by Radspieler, Munich Carved Oak Flemish Armoire, as Tail Piece A Sixteenth Century Workshop
BIBLICAL REFERENCES: Solomon's House and Temple—Palace of Ahashuerus. ASSYRIAN FURNITURE: Nimrod's Palace—Mr. George Smith quoted. EGYPTIAN FURNITURE: Specimens in the British Museum—the Workman's Stool—various articles of Domestic Furniture—Dr. Birch quoted. GREEK FURNITURE: The Bas Reliefs in the British Museum—the Chest of Cypselus—Laws and Customs of the Greeks—House of Alcibiades—Plutarch quoted. ROMAN FURNITURE: Position of Rome—the Roman House—Cicero's Table—Thyine Wood—Customs of wealthy Romans—Downfall of the Empire.
The first reference to woodwork is to be found in the Book of Genesis, in the instructions given to Noah to make an Ark of gopher wood, "to make a window," to "pitch it within and without with pitch," and to observe definite measurements. From the specific directions thus handed down to us, we may gather that mankind had acquired at a very early period of the world's history a knowledge of the different kinds of wood, and of the use of tools.
We know, too, from the bas reliefs and papyri in the British Museum, how advanced were the Ancient Egyptians in the arts of civilization, and that the manufacture of comfortable and even luxurious furniture was not neglected. In them, the Hebrews must have had excellent workmen for teachers and taskmasters, to have enabled them to acquire sufficient skill and experience to carry out such precise instructions as were given for the erection of the Tabernacle, some 1,500 years before Christ—as to the kinds of wood, measurements, ornaments, fastenings ("loops and taches"), curtains of linen, and coverings of dried skins. We have only to turn for a moment to the 25th chapter of Exodus to be convinced that all the directions there mentioned were given to a people who had considerable experience in the methods of carrying out work, which must have resulted from some generations of carpenters, joiners, weavers, dyers, goldsmiths, and other craftsmen.
A thousand years before Christ, we have those descriptions of the building and fitting by Solomon of the glorious work of his reign, the great Temple, and of his own, "the King's house," which gathered from different countries the most skilful artificers of the time, an event which marks an era of advance in the knowledge and skill of those who were thus brought together to do their best work towards carrying out the grand scheme. It is worth while, too, when we are referring to Old Testament information bearing upon the subject, to notice some details of furniture which are given, with their approximate dates as generally accepted, not because there is any particular importance attached to the precise chronology of the events concerned, but because, speaking generally, they form landmarks in a history of furniture. One of these is the verse (Kings ii. chap. 4) which tells us the contents of the "little chamber in the wall," when Elisha visited the Shunamite, about B.C. 895; and we are told of the preparations for the reception of the prophet: "And let us set for him there a bed and a table and a stool and a candlestick." The other incident is some 420 years later, when, in the allusion to the grandeur of the palace of Ahashuerus, we catch a glimpse of Eastern magnificence in the description of the drapery which furnished the apartment: "Where were white, green, and blue hangings, fastened with cords of fine linen and purple, to silver rings and pillars of marble; the beds were of gold and silver, upon a pavement of red and blue and white and black marble." (Esther i. 6.)
There are, unfortunately, no trustworthy descriptions of ancient Hebrew furniture. The illustrations in Kitto's Bible. Mr. Henry Soltan's "The Tabernacle, the Priesthood, and the Offerings," and other similar books, are apparently drawn from imagination, founded on descriptions in the Old Testament. In these, the "table for shew-bread" is generally represented as having legs partly turned, with the upper portions square, to which rings were attached for the poles by which it was carried. As a nomadic people, their furniture would be but primitive, and we may take it that as the Jews and Assyrians came from the same stock, and spoke the same language, such ornamental furniture as there was would, with the exception of the representations of figures of men or animals, be of a similar character.
The discoveries which have been made in the oldest seat of monarchical government in the world, by such enterprising travellers as Sir Austin Layard, Mr. George Smith, and others, who have thrown so much light upon domestic life in Nineveh, are full of interest in connection with this branch of the subject. We learn from these authorities that the furniture was ornamented with the heads of lions, bulls, and rams; tables, thrones, and couches were made of metal and wood, and probably inlaid with ivory; the earliest chair, according to Sir Austin Layard, having been made without a back, and the legs terminating in lion's feet or bull's hoofs. Some were of gold, others of silver and bronze. On the monuments of Khorsabad, representations have been discovered of chairs supported by animals, and by human figures, probably those of prisoners. In the British Museum is a bronze throne found by Sir A. Layard amidst the rains of Nirnrod's palace, which shews ability of high order for skilled metal work.
Mr. Smith, the famous Assyrian excavator and translator of cuneiform inscriptions, has told us in his "Assyrian Antiquities" of his finding close to the site of Nineveh portions of a crystal throne somewhat similar in design to the bronze one mentioned above, and in another part of this interesting book we have a description of an interior that is useful in assisting us to form an idea of the condition of houses of a date which can be correctly assigned to B.C. 860:—"Altogether in this place I opened six chambers, all of the same character, the entrances ornamented by clusters of square pilasters, and recesses in the rooms in the same style; the walls were coloured in horizontal bands of red, green, and yellow, and where the lower parts of the chambers were panelled with small stone slabs, the plaster and colours were continued over these." Then follows a description of the drainage arrangements, and finally we have Mr. Smith's conclusion that this was a private dwelling for the wives and families of kings, together with the interesting fact that on the under side of the bricks he found the legend of Shalmeneser II. (B.C. 860), who probably built this palace.
In the British Museum is an elaborate piece of carved ivory, with depressions to hold colored glass, etc., from Nineveh, which once formed part of the inlaid ornament of a throne, shewing how richly such objects were ornamented. This carving is said by the authorities to be of Egyptian origin. The treatment of figures by the Assyrians was more clumsy and more rigid, and their furniture generally was more massive than that of the Egyptians.
An ornament often introduced into the designs of thrones and chairs is a conventional treatment of the tree sacred to Asshur, the Assyrian Jupiter; the pine cone, another sacred emblem, is also found, sometimes as in the illustration of the Khorsabad chair on page 4, forming an ornamental foot, and at others being part of the merely decorative design.
The bronze throne, illustrated on page 3, appears to have been of sufficient height to require a footstool, and in "Nineveh and its Remains" these footstools are specially alluded to. "The feet were ornamented like those of the chair with the feet of lions or the hoofs of bulls."
The furniture represented in the following illustration, from a bas relief in the British Museum, is said to be of a period some two hundred years later than the bronze throne and footstool.
In the consideration of ancient Egyptian furniture we find valuable assistance in the examples carefully preserved to us, and accessible to everyone, in the British Museum, and one or two of these deserve passing notice.
Nothing can be more suitable for its purpose then the "Workman's Stool:" the seat is precisely like that of a modern kitchen chair (all wood), slightly concaved to promote the sitter's comfort, and supported by three legs curving outwards. This is simple, convenient, and admirably adapted for long service. For a specimen of more ornamental work, the folding stool in the same glass case should be examined; the supports are crossed in a similar way to those of a modern camp-stool, and the lower parts of the legs carved as heads of geese, with inlayings of ivory to assist the design and give richness to its execution.
Portions of legs and rails, turned as if by a modern lathe, mortice holes and tenons, fill us with wonder as we look upon work which, at the most modern computation, must be 3,000 years old, and may be of a date still more remote.
In the same room, arranged in cases round the wall, is a collection of several objects which, if scarcely to be classed under the head of furniture, are articles of luxury and comfort, and demonstrate the extraordinary state of civilisation enjoyed by the old Egyptians, and help us to form a picture of their domestic habits.
Amongst these are boxes inlaid with various woods, and also with little squares of bright turquoise blue pottery let in as a relief; others veneered with ivory; wooden spoons, carved in most intricate designs, of which one, representing a girl amongst lotus flowers, is a work of great artistic skill; boats of wood, head rests, and models of parts of houses and granaries, together with writing materials, different kinds of tools and implements, and a quantity of personal ornaments and requisites.
"For furniture, various woods were employed, ebony, acacia or sont, cedar, sycamore, and others of species not determined. Ivory, both of the hippopotamus and elephant, was used for inlaying, as also were glass pastes; and specimens of marquetry are not uncommon. In the paintings in the tombs, gorgeous pictures and gilded furniture are depicted. For cushions and mattresses, linen cloth and colored stuffs, filled with feathers of the waterfowl, appear to have been used, while seats have plaited bottoms of linen cord or tanned and dyed leather thrown over them, and sometimes the skins of panthers served this purpose. For carpets they used mats of palm fibre, on which they often sat. On the whole, an Egyptian house was lightly furnished, and not encumbered with so many articles as are in use at the present day."
The above paragraph forms part of the notice with which the late Dr. Birch, the eminent antiquarian, formerly at the head of this department of the British Museum, has prefaced a catalogue of the antiquities alluded to. The visitor to the Museum should be careful to procure one of these useful and inexpensive guides to this portion of its contents.
Some illustrations taken from ancient statues and bas reliefs in the British Museum, from copies of wall paintings at Thebes, and other sources, give us a good idea of the furniture of this interesting people. In one of these will be seen a representation of the wooden head-rest which prevented the disarrangement of the coiffure of an Egyptian lady of rank. A very similiar head-rest, with a cushion attached for comfort to the neck, is still in common use by the Japanese of the present day.
An early reference to Greek furniture is made by Homer, who describes coverlids of dyed wool, tapestries, carpets, and other accessories, which must therefore have formed part of the contents of a great man's residence centuries before the period which we recognise as the "meridian" of Greek art.
In the second Vase-room of the British Museum the painting on one of these vases represents two persons sitting on a couch, upon which is a cushion of rich material, while for the comfort of the sitters there is a footstool, probably of ivory. On the opposite leaf there is an illustration of a has relief in stone, "Bacchus received as a guest by Icarus," in which the couch has turned legs and the feet are ornamented with carved leaf work.
We know, too, from other illustrations of tripods used for sacred purposes, and as supports for braziers, that tables were made of wood, of marble, and of metal; also folding chairs, and couches for sleeping and resting, but not for reclining at meals, as was the fashion at a later period. In most of the designs for these various articles of furniture there is a similarity of treatment of the head, legs, and feet of lions, leopards, and sphinxes to that which we have noticed in the Assyrian patterns.
The description of an interesting piece of furniture may be noticed here, because its date is verified by its historical associations, and it was seen and described by Pausanias about 800 years afterwards. This is the famous chest of Cypselus of Corinth, the story of which runs that when his mother's relations, having been warned by the Oracle of Delphi, that her son would prove formidable to the ruling party, sought to murder him, his life was saved by his concealment in this chest, and he became Ruler of Corinth for some 30 years (B.C. 655-625). It is said to have been made of cedar, carved and decorated with figures and bas reliefs, some in ivory, some in gold or ivory part gilt, and inlaid on all four sides and on the top.
The peculiar laws and customs of the Greeks at the time of their greatest prosperity were not calculated to encourage display or luxury in private life, or the collection of sumptuous furniture. Their manners were simple and their discipline was very severe. Statuary, sculpture of the best kind, painting of the highest merit—in a word, the best that art could produce—were all dedicated to the national service in the enrichment of Temples and other public buildings, the State having indefinite and almost unlimited power over the property of all wealthy citizens. The public surroundings of an influential Athenian were therefore in direct contrast to the simplicity of his home, which contained the most meagre supply of chairs and tables, while the chef d'oeuvres of Phidias adorned the Senate House, the Theatre, and the Temple.
There were some exceptions to this rule, and we have records that during the later years of Greek prosperity such simplicity was not observed. Alcibiades is said to have been the first to have his house painted and decorated, and Plutarch tells us that he kept the painter Agatharcus a prisoner until his task was done, and then dismissed him with an appropriate reward. Another ancient writer relates that "the guest of a private house was enjoined to praise the decorations of the ceilings and the beauty of the curtains suspended from between the columns." This occurs, according to Mr. Perkins, the American translator of Dr. Falke's German book "Kunst im Hause," in the "Wasps of Aristophanes," written B.C. 422.
The illustrations, taken from the best authorities in the British Museum, the National Library of Paris, and other sources, shew the severe style adopted by the Greeks in their furniture.
As we are accustomed to look to Greek Art of the time of Pericles for purity of style and perfection of taste, so do we naturally expect the gradual demoralisation of art in its transfer to the great Roman Empire. From that little village on the Palatine Hill, founded some 750 years B.C., Rome had spread and conquered in every direction, until in the time of Augustus she was mistress of the whole civilised world, herself the centre of wealth, civilisation, luxury, and power. Antioch in the East and Alexandria in the South ranked next to her as great cities of the world.
From the excavations of Herculaneum and Pompeii we have learned enough to conceive some general idea of the social life of a wealthy Roman in the time of Rome's prosperity. The houses had no upper story, but were formed by the enclosure of two or more quadrangles, each surrounded by courts opening into rooms, and receiving air and ventilation from the centre open square or court. The illustration will give an idea of this arrangement.
In Mr. Hungerford Pollen's useful handbook there is a description of each room in a Roman house, with its proper Latin title and purpose; and we know from other descriptions of Ancient Rome that the residences in the Imperial City were divided into two distinct classes—that of domus and insula, the former being the dwellings of the Roman nobles, and corresponding to the modern Palazzi, while the latter were the habitations of the middle and lower classes. Each insula consisted of several sets of apartments, generally let out to different families, and was frequently surrounded by shops. The houses described by Mr. Pollen appear to have had no upper story, but as ground became more valuable in Rome, houses were built to such a height as to be a source of danger, and in the time of Augustus there were not only strict regulations as to building, but the height was limited to 70 feet. The Roman furniture of the time was of the most costly kind.
Tables were made of marble, gold, silver, and bronze, and were engraved, damascened, plated, and enriched with precious stones. The chief woods used were cedar, pine, elm, olive, ash, ilex, beech, and maple. Ivory was much used, and not only were the arms and legs of couches and chairs carved to represent the limbs of animals, as has been noted in the Assyrian, Egyptian, and Greek designs, but other parts of furniture were ornamented by carvings in bas relief of subjects taken from Greek mythology and legend. Veneers were cut and applied, not as some have supposed for the purpose of economy, but because by this means the most beautifully marked or figured specimens of the woods could be chosen, and a much richer and more decorative effect produced than would be possible when only solid timber was used. As a prominent instance of the extent to which the Romans carried the costliness of some special pieces of furniture, we have it recorded on good authority (Mr. Pollen) that the table made for Cicero cost a million sesterces, a sum equal to about L9,000, and that one belonging to King Juba was sold by auction for the equivalent of L10,000.
Cicero's table was made of a wood called Thyine—wood which was brought from Africa and held in the highest esteem. It was valued not only on account of its beauty but also from superstitious or religious reasons. The possession of thyine wood was supposed to bring good luck, and its sacredness arose from the fact that from it was produced the incense used by the priests. Dr. Edward Clapton, of St. Thomas' Hospital, who has made a collection of woods named in the Scriptures, has managed to secure a specimen of thyine, which a friend of his obtained on the Atlas Mountains. It resembles the woods which we know as tuyere and amboyna.
Roman, like Greek houses, were divided into two portions—the front for reception of guests and the duties of society, with the back for household purposes, and the occupation of the wife and family; for although the position of the Roman wife was superior to that of her Greek contemporary, which was little better than that of a slave, still it was very different to its later development.
The illustration given here of a repast in the house of Sallust, represents the host and his eight male guests reclining on the seats of the period, each of which held three persons, and was called a triclinium, making up the favorite number of a Roman dinner party, and possibly giving us the proverbial saying—"Not less than the Graces nor more than the Muses"—which is still held to be a popular regulation for a dinner party.
From discoveries at Herculaneum and Pompeii a great deal of information has been gained of the domestic life of the wealthier Roman citizens, and there is a useful illustration at the end of this chapter of the furniture of a library or study in which the designs are very similar to the Greek ones we have noticed; it is not improbable they were made and executed by Greek workmen.
It will be seen that the books such as were then used, instead of being placed on shelves or in a bookcase, were kept in round boxes called Scrinia, which were generally of beech wood, and could be locked or sealed when required. The books in rolls or sewn together were thus easily carried about by the owner on his journeys.
Mr. Hungerford Pollen mentions that wearing apparel was kept in vestiaria, or wardrobe rooms, and he quotes Plutarch's anecdote of the purple cloaks of Lucullus, which were so numerous that they must have been stored in capacious hanging closets rather than in chests.
In the atrium, or public reception room, was probably the best furniture in the house. According to Moule's "Essay on Roman Villas," "it was here that numbers assembled daily to pay their respects to their patron, to consult the legislator, to attract the notice of the statesman, or to derive importance in the eyes of the public from an apparent intimacy with a man in power."
The growth of the Roman Empire eastward, the colonisation of Oriental countries, and subsequently the establishment of an Eastern Empire, produced gradually an alteration in Greek design, and though, if we were discussing the merits of design and the canons of taste, this might be considered a decline, still its influence on furniture was doubtless to produce more ease and luxury, more warmth and comfort, than would be possible if the outline of every article of useful furniture were decided by a rigid adherence to classical principles. We have seen that this was more consonant with the public life of an Athenian; but the Romans, in the later period of the Empire, with their wealth, their extravagance, their slaves, their immorality and gross sensuality, lived in a splendour and with a prodigality that well accorded with the gorgeous colouring of Eastern hangings and embroideries, of rich carpets and comfortable cushions, of the lavish use of gold and silver, and meritricious and redundant ornament.
This slight sketch, brief and inadequate as it is, of a history of furniture from the earliest time of which we have any record, until from the extraordinary growth of the vast Roman Empire, the arts and manufactures of every country became as it were centralised and focussed in the palaces of the wealthy Romans, brings us down to the commencement of what has been deservedly called "the greatest event in history"—the decline and fall of this enormous empire. For fifteen generations, for some five hundred years, did this decay, this vast revolution, proceed to its conclusion. Barbarian hosts settled down in provinces they had overrun and conquered, the old Pagan world died as it were, and the new Christian era dawned. From the latter end of the second century until the last of the Western Caesars, in A.D. 476, it is, with the exception of a short interval when the strong hand of the great Theodosius stayed the avalanche of Rome's invaders, one long story of the defeat and humiliation of the citizens of the greatest power the world has ever known. It is a vast drama that the genius and patience of a Gibbon has alone been able to deal with, defying almost by its gigantic catastrophes and ever raging turbulence the pen of history to chronicle and arrange. When the curtain rises on a new order of things, the age of Paganism has passed away, and the period of the Middle Ages will have commenced.
The Middle Ages.
Period of 1000 years from Fall of Rome, A.D. 476, to Capture of Constantinople, 1453—the Crusades—Influence of Christianity—Chairs of St. Peter and Maximian at Rome, Ravenna and Venice—Edict of Leo III. prohibiting Image worship—the Rise of Venice—Charlemagne and his successors—the Chair of Dagobert—Byzantine character of Furniture—Norwegian carving—Russian and Scandinavian—the Anglo-Saxons—Sir Walter Scott quoted—Descriptions of Anglo-Saxon Houses and Customs—Art in Flemish Cities—Gothic Architecture—the Coronation Chair at Westminster Abbey—Penshurst—French Furniture in the 14th Century—Description of rooms—the South Kensington Museum—Transition from Gothic to Renaissance—German carved work: the Credence, the Buffet, and Dressoir.
The history of furniture is so thoroughly a part of the history of the manners and customs of different peoples, that one can only understand and appreciate the several changes in style, sometimes gradual and sometimes rapid, by reference to certain historical events and influences by which such changes were effected.
Thus, we have during the space of time known as the Middle Ages, a stretch of some 1,000 years, dating from the fall of Rome itself, in A.D. 476, to the capture of Constantinople by the Turks under Mahomet II. in 1453, an historical panorama of striking incidents and great social changes bearing upon our subject. It was a turbulent and violent period, which saw the completion of Rome's downfall, the rise of the Carlovingian family, the subjection of Britain by the Saxons, the Danes, and the Normans; the extraordinary career and fortunes of Mahomet; the conquest of Spain and a great part of Africa by the Moors; and the Crusades, which, for a common cause, united the swords and spears of friend and foe.
It was the age of monasteries and convents, of religious persecutions and of heroic struggles of the Christian Church. It was the age of feudalism, chivalry, and war; but, towards the close, a time of comparative civilisation and progress, of darkness giving way to the light which followed; the night of the Middle Ages preceding the dawn of the Renaissance.
With the growing importance of Constantinople, the capital of the Eastern Empire, families of well-to-do citizens flocked thither from other parts, bringing with them all their most valuable possessions; and the houses of the great became rich in ornamental furniture, the style of which was a mixture of Eastern and Roman: that is, a corruption of the Early Classic Greek developing into the style known as Byzantine. The influence of Christianity upon the position of women materially affected the customs and habits of the people. Ladies were allowed to be seen in chariots and open carriages, the designs of which, therefore, improved and became more varied; the old custom of reclining at meals ceased, and guests sat on benches; and though we have, with certain exceptions, such as the chair of St. Peter at Rome, and that of Maximian in the Cathedral at Ravenna, no specimens of furniture of this time, we have in the old Byzantine ivory bas-reliefs such representations of circular throne chairs and of ecclesiastical furniture as suffice to show the class of woodwork then in vogue.
The chair of St. Peter is one of the most interesting relics of the Middle Ages. The woodcut will shew the design, which is, like other work of the period, Byzantine, and the following description is taken from Mr. Hungerford Pollen's introduction to the South Kensington catalogue:—"The chair is constructed of wood, overlaid with carved ivory work and gold. The back is bound together with iron. It is a square with solid front and arms. The width in front is 39 inches; the height in front 30 inches, shewing that a scabellum or footstool must have belonged to it.... In the front are 18 groups or compositions from the Gospels, carved in ivory with exquisite fineness, and worked with inlay of the purest gold. On the outer sides are several little figures carved in ivory. It formed, according to tradition, part of the furniture of the house of the Senator Pudens, an early convert to the Christian faith. It is he who gave to the Church his house in Rome, of which much that remains is covered by the Church of St. Pudenziana. Pudens gave this chair to St. Peter, and it became the throne of the See. It was kept in the old Basilica of St. Peter's." Since then it has been transferred from place to place, until now it remains in the present Church of St. Peter's, but is completely hidden from view by the seat or covering made in 1667, by Bernini, out of bronze taken from the Pantheon.
Much has been written about this famous chair. Cardinal Wiseman and the Cavaliere de Rossi have defended its reputation and its history, and Mr. Nesbitt, some years ago, read a paper on the subject before the Society of Antiquaries.
Formerly there was in Venice another chair of St. Peter, of which there is a sketch from a photograph in Mrs. Oliphant's "Makers of Venice." It is said to have been a present from the Emperor Michel, son of Theophilus (824-864), to the Venetian Republic in recognition of services rendered, by either the Doge Gradonico, who died in 1864, or his predecessor, against the Mahommedan incursions. Fragments only now remain, and these are preserved in the Church of St. Pietro, at Castello.
There is also a chair of historic fame preserved in Venice, and now kept in the treasury of St. Mark's. Originally in Alexandria, it was sent to Constantinople and formed part of the spoils taken by the Venetians in 1204. Like both the other chairs, this was also ornamented with ivory plaques, but these have been replaced by ornamental marble.
The earliest of the before-mentioned chairs, namely, the one at Ravenna, was made for the Archbishop about 546 to 556, and is thus described in Mr. Maskell's "Handbook on Ivories," in the Science and Art series:—"The chair has a high back, round in shape, and is entirely covered with plaques of ivory arranged in panels carved in high relief with scenes from the Gospels and with figures of saints. The plaques have borders with foliated ornaments, birds and animals; flowers and fruits filling the intermediate spaces. Du Sommerard names amongst the most remarkable subjects, the Annunciation, the Adoration of the Wise Men, the Flight into Egypt, and the Baptism of Our Lord." The chair has also been described by Passeri, the famous Italian antiquary, and a paper was read upon it, by Sir Digby Wyatt, before the Arundel Society, in which he remarked that as it had been fortunately preserved as a holy relic, it wore almost the same appearance as when used by the prelate for whom it was made, save for the beautiful tint with which time had invested it.
Long before the general break up of the vast Roman Empire, influences had been at work to decentralise Art, and cause the migration of trained and skilful artisans to countries where their work would build up fresh industries, and give an impetus to progress, where hitherto there had been stagnation. One of these influences was the decree issued in A.D. 726 by Leo III., Emperor of the Eastern Empire, prohibiting all image worship. The consequences to Art of such a decree were doubtless similar to the fanatical proceedings of the English Puritans of the seventeenth century, and artists, driven from their homes, were scattered to the different European capitals, where they were gladly received and found employment and patronage.
It should be borne in mind that at this time Venice was gradually rising to that marvellous position of wealth and power which she afterwards held.
"A ruler of the waters and their powers: And such she was;—her daughters had their dowers From spoils of nations, and the exhaustless East Pour'd in her lap all gems in sparkling showers; In purple was she robed and of her feasts Monarchs partook, and deemed their dignity increased."
Her wealthy merchants were well acquainted with the arts and manufactures of other countries, and Venice would be just one of those cities to attract the artist refugee. It is indeed here that wood carving as an Art may be said to have specially developed itself, and though, from its destructible nature, there are very few specimens extant dating from this early time, yet we shall see that two or three hundred years later ornamental woodwork flourished in a state of perfection which must have required a long probationary period.
Turning from Venice. During the latter end of the eighth century the star of Charlemagne was in the ascendant, and though we have no authentic specimen, and scarcely a picture of any wooden furniture of this reign, we know that, in appropriating the property of the Gallo-Romans, the Frank Emperor King and his chiefs were in some degree educating themselves to higher notions of luxury and civilisation. Paul Lacroix, in "Manners, Customs, and Dress of the Middle Ages," tells us that the trichorium or dining room was generally the largest hall in the palace: two rows of columns divided it into three parts: one for the royal family, one for the officers of the household, and the third for the guests, who were always very numerous. No person of rank who visited the King could leave without sitting at his table or at least draining a cup to his health. The King's hospitality was magnificent, especially on great religious festivals, such as Christmas and Easter.
In other portions of this work of reference we read of "boxes" to hold articles of value, and of rich hangings, but beyond such allusions little can be gleaned of any furniture besides. The celebrated chair of Dagobert (illustrated on p. 21), now in the Louvre, and of which there is a cast in the South Kensington Museum, dates from some 150 years before Charlemagne, and is probably the only specimen of furniture belonging to this period which has been handed down to us. It is made of gilt bronze, and is said to be the work of a monk.
For the designs of furniture of the tenth to the fourteenth centuries we are in a great measure dependent upon old illuminations and missals of these remote times. They represent chiefly the seats of state used by sovereigns on the occasions of grand banquets, or of some ecclesiastical function, and from the valuable collections of these documents in the National Libraries of Paris and Brussels, some illustrations are reproduced, and it is evident from such authorities that the designs of State furniture in France and other countries dominated by the Carlovingian monarchs were of Byzantine character, that pseudo-classic style which was the prototype of furniture of about a thousand years later, when the Caesarism of Napoleon I., during the early years of the nineteenth century, produced so many designs which we now recognise as "Empire."
No history of mediaeval woodwork would be complete without noticing the Scandinavian furniture and ornamental wood carving of the tenth to the fifteenth centuries. There are in the South Kensington Museum, plaster casts of some three or four carved doorways of Norwegian workmanship, of the tenth, eleventh, and twelfth centuries, in which scrolls are entwined with contorted monsters, or, to quote Mr. Lovett's description, "dragons of hideous aspect and serpents of more than usually tortuous proclivities." The woodcut of a carved lintel conveys a fair idea of this work, and also of the old Juniper wood tankards of a much later time.
There are also at Kensington other casts of curious Scandinavian woodwork of more Byzantine treatment, the originals of which are in the Museums of Stockholm and Copenhagen, where the collection of antique woodwork of native production is very large and interesting, and proves how wood carving, as an industrial art, has flourished in Scandinavia from the early Viking times. One can still see in the old churches of Borgund and Hitterdal much of the carved woodwork of the seventh and eighth centuries; and lintels and porches full of national character are to be found in Thelemarken.
Under this heading of Scandinavian may be included the very early Russian school of ornamental woodwork. Before the accession of the Romanoff dynasty in the sixteenth century, the Ruric race of kings came originally from Finland, then a province of Sweden; and, so far as one can see from old illuminated manuscripts, there was a similarity of design to those of the early Norwegian and Swedish carved lintels which have been noticed above.
The covers and caskets of early mediaeval times were no inconsiderable items in the valuable furniture of a period when the list of articles coming under that definition was so limited. These were made in oak for general use, and some were of good workmanship; but of the very earliest none remain. There were, however, others, smaller and of a special character, made in ivory of the walrus and elephant, of horn and whalebone, besides those of metal. In the British Museum is one of these, of which the cover is illustrated on the following page, representing a man defending his house against an attack by enemies armed with spears and shields. Other parts of the casket are carved with subjects and runic inscriptions which have enabled Mr. Stephens, an authority on this period of archaeology, to assign its date to the eighth century, and its manufacture to that of Northumbria. It most probably represents a local incident, and part of the inscription refers to a word signifying treachery. It was purchased by Mr. A.W. Franks, F.S.A., and is one of the many valuable specimens given to the British Museum by its generous curator.
Of the furniture of our own country previous to the eleventh or twelfth centuries we know but little. The habits of the Anglo-Saxons were rude and simple, and they advanced but slowly in civilisation until after the Norman invasion. To convey, however, to our minds some idea of the interior of a Saxon thane's castle, we may avail ourselves of Sir Walter Scott's antiquarian research, and borrow his description of the chief apartment in Rotherwood, the hospitable hall of Cedric the Saxon. Though the time treated of in "Ivanhoe" is quite at the end of the twelfth century, yet we have in Cedric a type of man who would have gloried in retaining the customs of his ancestors, who detested and despised the new-fashioned manners of his conquerors, and who came of a race that had probably done very little in the way of "refurnishing" for some generations. If, therefore, we have the reader's pardon for relying upon the mise en scene of a novel for an authority, we shall imagine the more easily what kind of furniture our Anglo-Saxon forefathers indulged in.
"In a hall, the height of which was greatly disproportioned to its extreme length and width, a long oaken table—formed of planks rough hewn from the forest, and which had scarcely received any polish—stood ready prepared for the evening meal.... On the sides of the apartment hung implements of war and of the chase, and there were at each corner folding doors which gave access to the other parts of the extensive building.
"The other appointments of the mansion partook of the rude simplicity of the Saxon period, which Cedric piqued himself upon maintaining. The floor was composed of earth mixed with lime, trodden into a hard substance, such as is often employed in flooring our modern barns. For about one quarter of the length of the apartment, the floor was raised by a step, and this space, which was called the dais, was occupied only by the principal members of the family and visitors of distinction. For this purpose a table richly covered with scarlet cloth was placed transversely across the platform, from the middle of which ran the longer and lower board, at which the domestics and inferior persons fed, down towards the bottom of the hall. The whole resembled the form of the letter T, or some of those ancient dinner tables which, arranged on the same principles, may still be seen in the ancient colleges of Oxford and Cambridge. Massive chairs and settles of carved oak were placed upon the dais, and over these seats and the elevated table was fastened a canopy of cloth, which served in some degree to protect the dignitaries who occupied that distinguished station from the weather, and especially from the rain, which in some places found its way through the ill-constructed roof. The walls of this upper end of the hall, as far as the dais extended, were covered with hangings or curtains, and upon the floor there was a carpet, both of which were adorned with some attempts at tapestry or embroidery, executed with brilliant or rather gaudy colouring. Over the lower range of table the roof had no covering, the rough plastered walls were left bare, the rude earthen floor was uncarpeted, the board was uncovered by a cloth, and rude massive benches supplied the place of chairs. In the centre of the upper table were placed two chairs more elevated than the rest, for the master and mistress of the family. To each of these was added a footstool curiously carved and inlaid with ivory, which mark of distinction was peculiar to them."
A drawing in the Harleian MSS. in the British Museum is shewn on page 25, illustrating a Saxon mansion in the ninth or tenth century. There is the hall in the centre, with "chamber" and "bower" on either side; there being only a ground floor, as in the earlier Roman houses. According to Mr. Wright, F.S.A., who has written on the subject of Anglo-Saxon manners and customs, there was only one instance recorded of an upper floor at this period, and that was in an account of an accident which happened to the house in which the Witan or Council of St. Dunstan met, when, according to the ancient chronicle which he quotes, the Council fell from an upper floor, and St. Dunstan saved himself from a similar fate by supporting his weight on a beam.
The illustration here given shews the Anglo-Saxon chieftain standing at the door of his hall, with his lady, distributing food to the needy poor. Other woodcuts represent Anglo-Saxon bedsteads, which were little better than raised wooden boxes, with sacks of straw placed therein, and these were generally in recesses. There are old inventories and wills in existence which shew that some value and importance was attached to these primitive contrivances, which at this early period in our history were the luxuries of only a few persons of high rank. A certain will recites that "the bed-clothes (bed-reafes) with a curtain (hyrite) and sheet (hepp-scrytan), and all that thereto belongs," should be given to his son.
In the account of the murder of King Athelbert by the Queen of King Offa, as told by Roger of Wendover, we read of the Queen ordering a chamber to be made ready for the Royal guest, which was adorned for the occasion with what was then considered sumptuous furniture. "Near the King's bed she caused a seat to be prepared, magnificently decked and surrounded with curtains, and underneath it the wicked woman caused a deep pit to be dug." The author from whom the above translation is quoted adds with grim humour, "It is clear that this room was on the ground floor."
There are in the British Museum other old manuscripts whose illustrations have been laid under contribution representing more innocent occupations of our Anglo-Saxon forefathers. "The seat on the daeis," "an Anglo-Saxon drinking party," and other illustrations which are in existence, prove generally that, when the meal had finished, the table was removed and drinking vessels were handed round from guest to guest; the storytellers, the minstrels, and the gleemen (conjurers) or jesters, beguiling the festive hour by their different performances.
Some of these Anglo-Saxon houses had formerly been the villas of the Romans during their occupation, altered and modified to suit the habits and tastes of their later possessors. Lord Lytton has given us, in the first chapter of his novel "Harold," the description of one of such Saxonised Roman houses, in his reference to Hilda's abode.
The gradual influence of Norman civilisation, however, had its effect, though the unsettled state of the country prevented any rapid development of industrial arts. The feudal system by which every powerful baron became a petty sovereign, often at war with his neighbour, rendered it necessary that household treasures should be few and easily transported or hidden, and the earliest oak chests which are still preserved date from about this time. Bedsteads were not usual, except for kings, queens, and great ladies; tapestry covered the walls, and the floors were generally sanded. As the country became more calm, and security for property more assured, this comfortless state of living disappeared; the dress of ladies was richer, and the general habits of the upper classes were more refined. Stairs were introduced into houses, the "parloir" or talking room was added, and fire places were made in some of the rooms, of brick or stonework, where previously the smoke was allowed to escape through an aperture in the roof. Bedsteads were carved and draped with rich hangings. Armoires made of oak and enriched with carving, and Presses date from about the end of the eleventh century.
It was during the reign of Henry III., 1216-1272, that wood-panelling was first used for rooms, and considerable progress generally appears to have been made about this period. Eleanor of Provence, whom the King married in 1236, encouraged more luxury in the homes of the barons and courtiers. Mr. Hungerford Pollen has quoted a royal precept which was promulgated in this year, and it plainly shows that our ancestors were becoming more refined in their tastes. The terms of this precept were as follows, viz., "the King's great chamber at Westminster be painted a green colour like a curtain, that in the great gable or frontispiece of the said chamber, a French inscription should be painted, and that the King's little wardrobe should be painted of a green colour to imitate a curtain."
In another 100 or 150 years we find mediaeval Art approaching its best period, not only in England, but in the great Flemish cities, such as Bruges and Ghent, which in the thirteenth and fourteenth centuries played so important a part in the history of that time. The taste for Gothic architecture had now well set in, and we find that in this as in every change of style, the fashion in woodwork naturally followed that of ornament in stone; indeed, in many cases it is more than probable that the same hands which planned the cathedral or monastery also drew the designs for furniture, especially as the finest specimens of wood-carving were devoted to the service of the church.
The examples, therefore, of the woodwork of this period to which we have access are found to be mostly of Gothic pattern, with quaint distorted conceptions of animals and reptiles, adapted to ornament the structural part of the furniture, or for the enrichment of the panels.
To the end of the thirteenth century belongs the Coronation chair made for King Edward I., 1296-1300, and now in Westminster Abbey. This historic relic is of oak, and the woodcut on the following page gives an idea of the design and decorative carving. It is said that the pinnacles on each side of the gabled back were formerly surmounted by two leopards, of which only small portions remain. The famous Coronation stone which, according to ancient legend, is the identical one on which the patriarch Jacob rested his head at Bethel, when "he tarried there all night because the sun was set, and he took of the stones of that place and put them up for his pillows," Gen. xxviii., can be seen through the quatrefoil openings under the seat.
The carved lions which support the chair are not original, but modern work; and were regilt in honour of the Jubilee of Her Majesty in 1887, when the chair was last used. The rest of the chair now shows the natural colour of the oak, except the arms, which have a slight padding on them. The wood was, however, formerly covered with a coating of plaster, gilded over, and it is probably due to this protection that it is now in such excellent preservation.
Standing by its side in Henry III.'s Chapel in Westminster Abbey is another chair, similar, but lacking the trefoil Gothic arches, which are carved on the sides of the original chair; this was made for and used by Mary, daughter of James II. and wife of William III., on the occasion of their double coronation. Mr. Hungerford Pollen has given us a long description of this chair, with quotations from the different historical notices which have appeared concerning it. The following is an extract which he has taken from an old writer:
"It appears that the King intended, in the first instance, to make the chair in bronze, and that Eldam, the King's workman, had actually begun it. Indeed, some parts were even finished, and tools bought for the clearing up of the casting. However, the King changed his mind, and we have accordingly 100s. paid for a chair in wood, made after the same pattern as the one which was to be cast in copper; also 13s. 4d. for carving, painting, and gilding two small leopards in wood, which were delivered to Master Walter, the King's painter, to be placed upon and on either side of the chair made by him. The wardrobe account of 29th Ed. I. shows that Master Walter was paid L1 19s. 7d. 'for making a step at the foot of the new chair in which the Scottish stone is placed; and for the wages of the carpenters and of the painters, and for colours and gold employed, and for the making a covering to cover the said chair.'"
In 1328, June 1, there is a royal writ ordering the abbot to deliver up the stone to the Sheriff of London, to be carried to the Queen-Mother; however, it never went. The chair has been used upon the occasion of every coronation since that time, except in the case of Mary, who is said to have used a chair specially sent by the Pope for the occasion.
The above drawing of a chair in York Minster, and the two more throne-like seats on the full-page illustration, will serve to shew the best kind of ornamental Ecclesiastical furniture of the fourteenth century. In the choir of Canterbury Cathedral there is a chair which has played its part in history, and, although earlier than the above, it may be conveniently mentioned here. This is the Archbishop's throne, and it is also called the chair of St. Augustine. According to legend, the Saxon kings were crowned therein, but it is probably not earlier than the thirteenth century. It is an excellent piece of stonework, with a shaped back and arms, relieved from being quite plain by the back and sides being panelled with a carved moulding.
Penshurst Place, near Tonbridge, the residence of Lord de l'Isle and Dudley, the historic home of the Sydneys, is almost an unique example of what a wealthy English gentleman's country house was about the time of which we are writing, say the middle of the fourteenth century, or during the reign of Edward III. By the courtesy of Lord de l'Isle, the writer has been allowed to examine many objects of great interest there, and from the careful preservation of many original fittings and articles of furniture, one may still gain some idea of the "hall" as it then appeared, when that part of the house was the scene of the chief events in the life of the family—the raised dais for host and honoured guests, the better table which was placed there (illustrated) and the commoner ones for the body of the hall; and though the ancient buffet which displayed the gold and silver cups is gone, one can see where it would have stood. Penshurst is said to possess the only hearth of the time now remaining in England, an octagonal space edged with stone in the centre of the hall, over which was once the simple opening for the outlet of smoke through the roof, and the old andirons or firedogs are still there.
An idea of the furniture of an apartment in France during the fourteenth century is conveyed by the above illustration, and it is very useful, because, although we have on record many descriptions of the appearance of the furniture of state apartments, we have very few authenticated accounts of the way in which such domestic chambers as the one occupied by "a knight and his lady" were arranged. The prie dieu chair was generally at the bedside, and had a seat which lifted up, the lower part forming a box-like receptacle for devotional books then so regularly used by a lady of the time.
Towards the end of the fourteenth century there was in high quarters a taste for bright and rich colouring; we have the testimony of an old writer who describes the interior of the Hotel de Boheme, which after having been the residence of several great personages was given by Charles VI. of France in 1388 to his brother the Duke of Orleans. "In this palace was a room used by the duke, hung with cloth of gold, bordered with vermilion velvet embroidered with roses; the duchess had a room hung with vermilion satin embroidered with crossbows, which were on her coat of arms; that of the Duke of Burgundy was hung with cloth of gold embroidered with windmills. There were besides eight carpets of glossy texture with gold flowers, one representing 'the seven virtues and seven vices,' another the history of Charlemagne, another that of Saint Louis. There were also cushions of cloth of gold, twenty-four pieces of vermilion leather of Aragon, and four carpets of Aragon leather, 'to be placed on the floor of rooms in summer.' The favourite arm-chair of the Princess is thus described in an inventory—'a chamber chair with four supports, painted in fine vermilion, the seat and arms of which are covered in vermilion morocco, or cordovan, worked and stamped with designs representing the sun, birds, and other devices bordered with fringes of silk and studded with nails.'"
The thirteenth and fourteenth centuries had been remarkable for a general development of commerce: merchants of Venice, Geneva, Florence, Milan, Ghent, Bruges, Antwerp, and many other famous cities had traded extensively with the East and had grown opulent, and their homes naturally showed signs of wealth and comfort that in former times had been impossible to any but princes and rich nobles. Laws had been made in answer to the complaints of the aristocracy to place some curb on the growing ambition of the "bourgeoisie"; thus we find an old edict in the reign of Philippe the Fair (1285-1314)—"No bourgeois shall have a chariot, nor wear gold, precious stones, nor crowns of gold and silver. Bourgeois not being prelates or dignitaries of state shall not have tapers of wax. A bourgeois possessing 2,000 pounds (tournois) or more, may order for himself a dress of 12 sous 6 deniers, and for his wife one worth 16 sous at the most," etc., etc., etc.
This and many other similar regulations were made in vain; the trading classes became more and more powerful, and we quote the description of a furnished apartment in P. Lacroix's "Manners and Customs of the Middle Ages."
"The walls were hung with precious tapestry of Cyprus, on which the initials and motto of the lady were embroidered, the sheets were of fine linen of Rheims, and had cost more than 300 pounds, the quilt was a new invention of silk and silver tissue, the carpet was like gold. The lady wore an elegant dress of crimson silk, and rested her head and arms on pillows ornamented with buttons of oriental pearls. It should be remarked that this lady was not the wife of a great merchant, such as those of Venice and Genoa, but of a simple retail dealer who was not above selling articles for 4 sous; such being the case, we cannot wonder that Christine de Pisan should have considered the anecdote 'worthy of being immortalized in a book.'"
As we approach the end of the fourteenth century, we find canopies added to the "chaires" or "chayers a dorseret," which were carved in oak or chesnut, and sometimes elaborately gilded and picked out in color. The canopied seats were very bulky and throne-like constructions, and were abandoned towards the end of the fifteenth century; and it is worthy of notice that though we have retained our word "chair," adopted from the Norman French, the French people discarded their synonym in favour of its diminutive "chaise" to describe the somewhat smaller and less massive seat which came into use in the sixteenth century.
The skilled artisans of Paris had arrived at a very high degree of excellence in the fourteenth century, and in old documents describing valuable articles of furniture, care is taken to note that they are of Parisian workmanship. According to Lacroix, there is an account of the court silversmith, Etienne La Fontaine, which gives us an idea of the amount of extravagance sometimes committed in the manufacture and decorations of a chair, into which it was then the fashion to introduce the incrustation of precious stones; thus for making a silver arm chair and ornamenting it with pearls, crystals, and other stones, he charged the King of France, in 1352, no less a sum than 774 louis.
The use of rich embroideries at state banquets and on grand occasions appears to have commenced during the reign of Louis IX.—Saint Louis, as he is called—and these were richly emblazoned with arms and devices. Indeed, it was probably due to the fashion for rich stuffs and coverings of tables, and of velvet embroidered cushions for the chairs, that the practice of making furniture of the precious metals died out, and carved wood came into favour.
Chairs of this period appear only to have been used on very special occasions; indeed they were too cumbersome to be easily moved from place to place, and in a miniature from some MSS. of the early part of the fifteenth century, which represents a state banquet, the guests are seated on a long bench with a back carved in the Gothic ornament of the time. In Skeat's Dictionary, our modern word "banquet" is said to be derived from the banes or benches used on these occasions.
The great hall of the King's Palace, where such an entertainment as that given by Charles V. to the Emperor Charles of Luxemburg would take place, was also furnished with three "dressoirs" for the display of the gold and silver drinking cups, and vases of the time; the repast itself was served upon a marble table, and above the seat of each of the princes present was a separate canopy of gold cloth embroidered with fleur de lis.
The furniture of ordinary houses of this period was very simple. Chests, more or less carved, and ornamented with iron work, settles of oak or of chestnut, stools or benches with carved supports, a bedstead and a prie dieu chair, a table with plain slab supported on shaped standards, would nearly supply the inventory of the furniture of the chief room in a house of a well-to-do merchant in France until the fourteenth century had turned. The table was narrow, apparently not more than some 30 inches wide, and guests sat on one side only, the service taking place from the unoccupied side of the table. In palaces and baronial halls the servants with dishes were followed by musicians, as shewn in an old-miniature of the time, reproduced on p. 39.
Turning to German work of the fifteenth century, there is a cast of the famous choir stalls in the Cathedral of Ulm, which are considered the finest work of the Swabian school of German wood carving. The magnificent panel of foliage on the front, the Gothic triple canopy with the busts of Isaiah, David, and Daniel, are thoroughly characteristic specimens of design; and the signature of the artist, Jorg Syrlin, with date 1468, are carved on the work. There were originally 89 choir stalls, and the work occupied the master from the date mentioned, 1468, until 1474.
The illustrations of the two chairs of German Gothic furniture formerly in some of the old castles, are good examples of their time, and are from drawings made on the spot by Prof. Heideloff.
There are in our South Kensington Museum some full-sized plaster casts of important specimens of woodwork of the fifteenth and two previous centuries, and being of authenticated dates, we can compare them with the work of the same countries after the Renaissance had been adopted and had completely altered design. Thus in Italy there was, until the latter part of the fifteenth century, a mixture of Byzantine and Gothic of which we can see a capital example in the casts of the celebrated Pulpit in the Baptistry of Pisa, the date of which is 1260. The pillars are supported by lions, which, instead of being introduced heraldically into the design, as would be the case some two hundred years later, are bearing the whole weight of the pillars and an enormous superstructure on the hollow of their backs in a most impossible manner. The spandril of each arch is filled with a saint in a grotesque position amongst Gothic foliage, and there is in many respects a marked contrast to the casts of examples of the Renaissance period which are in the Museum.
This transition from Mediaeval and Gothic, to Renaissance, is clearly noticeable in the woodwork of many cathedrals and churches in England and in continental cities. It is evident that the chairs, stalls, and pulpits in many of these buildings have been executed at different times, and the change from one style to another is more or less marked. The Flemish buffet here illustrated is an example of this transition, and may be contrasted with the French Gothic buffet referred to in the following paragraph. There is also in the central hall of the South Kensington Museum a plaster cast of a carved wood altar stall in the Abbey of Saint Denis, France: the pilasters at the sides have the familiar Gothic pinnacles, while the panels are ornamented with arabesques, scrolls, and an interior in the Renaissance style; the date of this is late in the fifteenth century.