Part 2 out of 5
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.
[Illustration: Venetian Centre Table, Carved and Gilt. In the South
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."
[Illustration: Marriage Coffer in Carved Walnut. (Collection of Comte de
Briges.) Period: Renaissance (XVI. Century) Venetian.]
[Illustration: 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.
[Illustration: Pair of Italian Carved Bellows, in Walnut Wood. (_South
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.
[Illustration: Carved Italian Mirror Frame, 16th Century. (_In the South
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. 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.
[Illustration: A Sixteenth Century "Coffre-Fort."]
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
"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 a le dissimuler, chez nous a le faire
[Illustration: 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
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.
[Illustration: Carved Walnut Wood Italian Chairs. 16th Century. (_From
Photos of the originals in the South Kensington Museum._)]
[Illustration: 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
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.
[Illustration: 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._)]
The Renaissance In France.
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
Besides Fontainebleau, Francis I. built the Chateau of Chambord, 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.
[Illustration: Ornamental Panelling in St. Vincent's Church, Rouen.
Period: Early French Renaissance. Temp. Francois I.]
[Illustration: 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 a haut
dossier,"_ the arm chair "_chaire a 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
[Illustration: Carved Oak Panel, Dated 1577.]
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 Bonnaffe, 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 a 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 treteaux," "chandeliers de bois_" and other
[Illustration: 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
[Illustration: Carved Oak Bedstead of Jeanne D'albret. From the Chateau
of Pau. (Collection "Mobilier National.") Period: French Renaissance (Date
[Illustration: Carved Oak Cabinet. Made at Lyons. Period: Latter Part of
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.
[Illustration: Louis XIII. And His Court in a Hall, Witnessing a Play.
(_From a Miniature dated_ 1643.)]
[Illustration: Decoration for a Salon in Louis XIII. Style.]
The Renaissance in the Netherlands.
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, Andre 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.
[Illustration: 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.
[Illustration: 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
[Illustration: A Flemish Citizen at Meals. (_From a XVI, Century MS._)]
The Renaissance in Spain.
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.
[Illustration: 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 repousse 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
Borgona. 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."
[Illustration: 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." * * *
[Illustration: Chair of Walnut or Chesnut Wood, Covered in Leather with
embossed pattern. Spanish, (Collection of Baron de Valliere.) Period:
Early XVII. Century.]
[Illustration: Wooden Coffer. With wrought iron mounts and falling flap,
on carved stand. Spanish. (Collection of M. Monbrison.) Period: XVII.
"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.
The Renaissance in Germany.
German Renaissance may be said to have made its debut under Albrecht
Duerer. There was already in many of the German cities a disposition to
copy Flemish artists, but under Duerer'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. Bonnaffe has
described this work in a telling phrase: "_l'ensemble est tourmente,
laborieux, touffu tumultueux_."
[Illustration: The Steel Chair, At Longford Castle, Wiltshire.]
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.
[Illustration: German Carved Oak Buffet, 17th Century. (_From a Drawing by
The Renaissance In England.
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.
[Illustration: Carved Oak Chest in the Style of Holbein.]
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
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 "privee 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
[Illustration: 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.
[Illustration: Tudor Cabinet in the South Kensington Museum. (_Described
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 L500, and was an exceedingly judicious
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 L20 your present money.
Two formes covered with Turkey work to the same belonginge. xiij
shillings and iiij pence
A joyned frame xvj_d_.
A bord ij_s_. vj_d_.
A little side table upon a frame ij_s_. v_d_.
A pair of virginalls with the frame xxx_s_.
Sixe joyned stooles covr'd with nedle werke xv_s_.
Sixe other joyned stooles vj_s_.
One cheare of nedle worke iij_s_. iiij_d_.
Two little fote stooles iiij_d_.
One longe carpett of Turky werke vil_i_.
A shortte carpett of the same werke xiij_s_. iij_d_.
One cupbord carpett of the same x_s_.
Sixe quysshens of Turkye xij_s_.
Sixe quysshens of tapestree xx_s_.
And others of velvet "embroidered wt gold and silver armes in the
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.
[Illustration: 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
Indeed, there was no glass used for windows 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.
[Illustration: Carved Oak Elizabethan Bedstead.]
A later purchase by the Science and Art Department, which was only secured
last year for the extremely moderate price of L1,000, 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.
[Illustration: 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
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.
[Illustration: Dining Hall in the Charterhouse. Shewing Oak Screen and
front of Minstrels' Gallery, dated 1571. Period: Elizabethan.]
[Illustration: Screen in the Hall of Gray's Inn. With Table and Desks
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
dais, 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 dais), 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.
[Illustration: Three Carved Oak Panels. Now in the Court Room of the Hall
of the Carpenters' Company. Removed from the former Hall. Period:
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 iij_s_."
"Paide to the Carver for carvinge the Arms of the Companie xxiij_s_.
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
[Illustration: Part of an Elizabethan Staircase.]
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
[Illustration: 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
"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.
[Illustration: Shakespeare's Chair.]
[Illustration: 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.
[Illustration: The "Queen's Room," Penshurst Place. (_Reproduced from
"Historic Houses of the United Kingdom" by permission of Messrs. Cassell &
[Illustration: Carved Oak Chimney Piece in Speke Hall, Near Liverpool.
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.
In the chapter on "Renaissance" the great Art revival in England has been
noticed; in the Elizabethan oak work of chimney pieces, panelling, and
furniture, are to be found varying forms of the free classic style which
the Renaissance had brought about. These fluctuating changes in fashion
continued in England from the time of Elizabeth until the middle of the
eighteenth century, when, as will be shewn presently, a distinct
alteration in the design of furniture took place.
The domestic habits of Englishmen were getting more established. We have
seen how religious persecution during preceding reigns, at the time of the
Reformation, had encouraged private domestic life of families, in the
smaller rooms and apart from the gossiping retainer, who might at any time
bring destruction upon the household by giving information about items of
conversation he had overheard. There is a passage in one of Sir Henry
Wootton's letters, written in 1600, which shews that this home life was
now becoming a settled characteristic of his countrymen.
"Every man's proper mansion house and home, being the theatre of his
hospitality, the seate of his selfe fruition, the comfortable part of his
own life, the noblest of his son's inheritance, a kind of private
princedom, nay the possession thereof an epitome of the whole world, may
well deserve by these attributes, according to the degree of the master,
to be delightfully adorned."
[Illustration: Oak Chimney Piece in Sir Walter Raleigh's House, Youghal,
Ireland. Said to be the work of a Flemish Artist who was brought over for
the purpose of executing this and other carved work at Youghal.]
Sir Henry Wootton was ambassador in Venice in 1604, and is said to have
been the author of the well-known definition of an ambassador's calling,
namely, "an honest man sent abroad to lie for his country's good." This
offended the piety of James I., and caused him for some time to be in
disgrace. He also published some 20 years later "Elements of
Architecture," and being an antiquarian and man of taste, sent home many
specimens of the famous Italian wood carving.
It was during the reign of James I. and that of his successor that Inigo
Jones, our English Vitruvius, was making his great reputation; he had
returned from Italy full of enthusiasm for the Renaissance of Palladio
and his school, and of knowledge and taste gained by a diligent study of
the ancient classic buildings of Rome; his influence would be speedily
felt in the design of woodwork fittings, for the interiors of his
edifices. There is a note in his own copy of Palladio, which is now in the
library of Worcester College, Oxford, which is worth quoting:--
"In the name of God: Amen. The 2 of January, 1614, I being in Rome
compared these desines following, with the Ruines themselves.--INIGO
[Illustration: Chimney Piece in Byfleet House. Early Jacobean.]
In the following year he returned from Italy on his appointment as King's
surveyor of works, and until his death in 1652 was full of work, though
unfortunately for us, much that he designed was never carried out, and
much that he carried out has been destroyed by fire. The Banqueting Hall
of Whitehall, now Whitehall Chapel; St. Paul's, Covent Garden; the old
water gate originally intended as the entrance to the first Duke of
Buckingham's Palace, close to Charing Cross; Nos. 55 and 56, on the south
side of Great Queen Street, Lincoln's Inn; and one or two monuments and
porches, are amongst the examples that remain to us of this great master's
work; and of interiors, that of Ashburnham House is left to remind us,
with its quiet dignity of style, of this great master. It has been said in
speaking of the staircase, plaster ornament, and woodwork of this
interior, "upon the whole is set the seal of the time of Charles I." As
the work was probably finished during that King's reign, the impression
intended to be conveyed was that after wood carving had rather run riot
towards the end of the sixteenth century, we had now in the interior
designed by Inigo Jones, or influenced by his school, a more quiet and
[Illustration: The King's Chamber, Ford Castle.]
The above woodcut shews a portion of the King's room in Ford Castle, which
still contains souvenirs of Flodden Field--according to an article in the
_Magazine of Art_. The room is in the northernmost tower, which still
preserves externally the stern, grim character of the border fortress; and
the room looks towards the famous battle-field. The chair shews a date
1638, and there is another of Dutch design of about fifty or sixty years
later; but the carved oak bedstead, with tapestry hangings, and the oak
press, which the writer of the article mentions as forming part of the old
furniture of the room, scarcely appear in the illustration.
Mr. Hungerford Pollen tells us that the majority of so-called Tudor houses
were actually built during the reign of James I., and this may probably be
accepted as an explanation of the otherwise curious fact of there being
much in the architecture and woodwork of this time which would seem to
have belonged to the earlier period.
The illustrations of wooden chimney-pieces will show this change. There
are in the South Kensington Museum some three or four chimney-pieces of
stone, having the upper portions of carved oak, the dates of which have
been ascertained to be about 1620; these were removed from an old house in
Lime Street, City, and give us an idea of the interior decoration of a
residence of a London merchant. The one illustrated is somewhat richer
than the others, the columns supporting the cornice of the others being
almost plain pillars with Ionic or Doric capitals, and the carving of the
panels of all of them is in less relief, and simpler in character, than
those which occur in the latter part of Elizabeth's time.
[Illustration: Carved Oak Centre Table. _In the Hall of the Carpenters'
The earliest dated piece of Jacobean furniture which has come under the
writer's observation is the octagonal table belonging to the Carpenters'
Company. The illustration, taken from Mr. Jupp's book referred to in the
last chapter, hardly does the table justice; it is really a very handsome
piece of furniture, and measures about 3 feet 3 inches in diameter. In the
spandrils of the arches between the legs are the letters R.W., G.I., J.R.,
and W.W., being the initials of Richard Wyatt, George Isack, John Reeve,
and William Willson, who were Master and Wardens of the Company in 1606,
which date is carved in two of the spandrils. While the ornamental legs
shew some of the characteristics of Elizabethan work, the treatment is
less bold, the large acorn-shaped member has become more refined and
attenuated, and the ornament is altogether more subdued. This is a
remarkable specimen of early Jacobean furniture, and is the only one of
the shape and kind known to the writer; it is in excellent preservation,
save that the top is split, and it shews signs of having been made with
considerable skill and care.
[Illustration: Carved Oak Chair. From Abingdon Park.
Carved Oak Chair. In the Carpenters' Hall
_From Photos in the S. Kensington Museum Album._ Early XVII. Century.
The Science and Art Department keep for reference an album containing
photographs, not only of many of the specimens in the different museums
under its control, but also of some of those which have been lent for a
temporary exhibition. The illustration of the above two chairs is taken
from this source, the album having been placed at the writer's disposal by
the courtesy of Mr. Jones, of the Photograph Department. The left-hand
chair, from Abingdon Park, is said to have belonged to Lady Barnard,
Shakespeare's grand-daughter, and the other may still be seen in the Hall
of the Carpenters' Company.
[Illustration: Oak Chimney Piece. Removed from an old house in Lime
Street, City. (_South Kensington Museum._) Period: James I.]
In the Hall of the Barbers' Company in Monkswell Street, the Court room,
which is lighted with an octagonal cupola, was designed by Inigo Jones as
a Theatre of Anatomy, when the Barbers and Surgeons were one
corporation. There are some three or four tallies of this period in the
Hall, having four legs connected by stretchers, quite plain; the moulded
edges of the table tops are also without enrichment. These plain oak
slabs, and also the stretchers, have been renewed, but in exactly the same
style as the original work; the legs, however, are the old ones, and are
simple columns with plain turned capitals and bases. Other tables of this
period are to be found in a few old country mansions; there is one in
Longleat, which, the writer has been told, has a small drawer at the end,
to hold the copper coins with which the retainers of the Marquis of Bath's
ancestors used to play a game of shovel penny. In the Chapter House in
Westminster Abbey, there is also one of these plain substantial James I.
tables, which is singular in being nearly double the width of those which
were made at this time. As the Chapter House was, until comparatively
recent years, used as a room for the storage of records, this table was
probably made, not as a dining table, but for some other purpose requiring
[Illustration: Oak Sideboard in the S. Kensington Museum. Period: William
In the chapter on Renaissance there was an allusion to Charterhouse,
which was purchased for its present purpose by Thomas Sutton in 1611, and
in the chapel may be seen to-day the original communion table placed there
by the founder. It is of carved oak, with a row of legs running lengthways
underneath the middle, and four others at the corners; these, while being
cast in the simple lines noticed in the tables in the Barbers' Hall, and
the Chapter House, Westminster Abbey, are enriched by carving from the
base to the third of the height of the leg, and the frieze of the table is
also carved in low relief. The rich carved wood screen which supports the
organ loft is also of Jacobean work.
There is in the South Kensington Museum a carved oak chest, with a centre
panel representing the Adoration of the Magi, about this date, 1615-20; it
is mounted on a stand which has three feet in front and two behind, much
more primitive and quaint than the ornate supports of Elizabethan carving,
while the only ornament on the drawer fronts which form the frieze of the
stand are moulded panels, in the centre of each of which is a turned knob
by which to open the drawer. This chest and the table which forms its
stand were probably not intended for each other. The illustration on the
previous page shows the stand, which is a good representation of the
carving of this time, i.e., early seventeenth century. The round backed
arm chair which the Museum purchased last year from the Hailstone
collection, though dated 1614, is really more Elizabethan in design.
There is no greater storehouse for specimens of furniture in use during
the Jacobean period than Knole, that stately mansion of the Sackville
family, then the property of the Earls of Dorset. In the King's Bedroom,
which is said to have been specially prepared and furnished for the visit
of King James I., the public, owing to the courtesy and generous spirit of
the present Lord Sackville, can still see the bed, originally of crimson
silk, but now faded, elaborately embroidered with gold. It is said to have
cost L8,000, and the chairs and seats, which are believed to have formed
part of the original equipment of the room, are in much the same position
as they then occupied.
In the carved work of this furniture we cannot help thinking the hand of
the Venetian is to be traced, and it is probable they were either imported
or copied from a pattern brought over for the purpose. A suite of
furniture of that time appears to have consisted of six stools and two arm
chairs, almost entirely covered with velvet, having the X form supports,
which, so far as the writer's investigations have gone, appear to have
come from Venice. In the "Leicester" gallery at Knole there is a portrait
of the King;, painted by Mytens, seated on such a chair, and just below
the picture is placed the chair which is said to be identical with the one
portrayed. It is similar to the one reproduced on page 100 from a drawing
of Mr. Charles Eastlake's.
[Illustration: Seats at Knole. Covered with Crimson Silk Velvet. Period:
In the same gallery also are three sofas or settees upholstered with
crimson velvet, and one of these has an accommodating rack, by which
either end can be lowered at will, to make a more convenient lounge.
[Illustration: Arm Chair. Covered with Velvet, Ringed with Fringe and
studded with Copper Nails. Early XVII. Century. (_From a Drawing of the
Original at Knole, by Mr. Charles Eastlake._)]
This excellent example of Jacobean furniture has been described and
sketched by Mr. Charles Eastlake in "Hints on Household Taste." He says:
"The joints are properly 'tenoned' and pinned together in such a manner as
to ensure its constant stability. The back is formed like that of a chair,
with a horizontal rail only at its upper edge, but it receives additional
strength from the second rail, which is introduced at the back of the
seat." In Marcus Stone's well-known picture of "The Stolen Keys," this is
the sofa portrayed. The arm chair illustrated above is part of the same
suite of furniture. The furniture of another room at Knole is said to have
been presented by King James to the first Earl of Middlesex, who had
married into the Dorset family. The author has been furnished with a
photograph of this room; and the illustration prepared from this will give
the reader a better idea than a lengthy description.
[Illustration: The "Spangle" Bedroom At Knole. The Furniture of this room
was presented by James I. to the Earl of Middlesex. (_Front a Photo by Mr.
Corke, of Sevenoaks._)]
It seems from the Knole furniture, and a comparison of the designs with
those of some of the tables and other woodwork produced during the same
reign, bearing the impress of the more severe style of Inigo Jones, that
there were then in England two styles of decorative furniture. One of
these, simple and severe, showing a reaction from the grotesque freedom of
Elizabethan carving, and the other, copied from Venetian ornamental
woodwork, with cupids on scrolls forming the supports of stools, having
these ornamental legs connected by stretchers the design of which is, in
the case of those in the King's Bedchamber at Knole, a couple of cupids in
a flying attitude holding up a crown. This kind of furniture was generally
gilt, and under the black paint of those at Knole are still to be seen
traces of the gold.
Mr. Eastlake visited Knole and made careful examination and sketches of
the Jacobean furniture there, and has well described and illustrated it in
his book just referred to; he mentions that he found a slip of paper
tucked beneath the webbing of a settle there, with an inscription in Old
English characters which fixed the date of some of the furniture at 1620.
In a letter to the writer on this subject, Mr. Lionel Sackville West
confirms this date by referring to the heirloom book, which also bears out
the writer's opinion that some of the more richly-carved furniture of this
time was imported from Italy.
In the Lady Chapel of Canterbury Cathedral there is a monument of Dean
Boys, who died in 1625. This represents the Dean seated in his library, at
a table with turned legs, over which there is a tapestry cover. Books line
the walls of the section of the room shown in the stone carving; it
differs little from the sanctum of a literary man of the present day.
There are many other monuments which represent furniture of this period,
and amongst the more curious is that of a child of King James I., in
Westminster Abbey, close to the monument of Mary Queen of Scots. The child
is sculptured about life size, in a carved cradle of the time.
In Holland House, Kensington, which is a good example of a Jacobean
mansion, there is some oak enrichment of the seventeenth century, and also
a garden bench, with its back formed of three shells and the legs shaped
and ornamented with scroll work. Horace Walpole mentions this seat, and
ascribes the design to Francesco Cleyn, who worked for Charles I. and some
of the Court.
There is another Jacobean house of considerable interest, the property of
Mr. T.G. Jackson, A.R.A. An account of it has been written by him, and was
read to some members of the Surrey Archaeological Society, who visited
Eagle House, Wimbledon, in 1890. It appears to have been the country seat
of a London merchant, who lived early in the seventeenth century. Mr.
Jackson bears witness to the excellence of the workmanship, and expresses
his opinion that the carved and decorated enrichments were executed by
native and not foreign craftsmen. He gives an illustration in his pamphlet
of the sunk "Strap Work," which, though Jacobean in its date, is also
found in the carved ornament of Elizabeth's time.
Another relic of this time is the panel of carved oak in the lych gate of
St. Giles', Bloomsbury, dated 1638. This is a realistic representation of
"The Resurrection," and when the writer examined it a few weeks ago, it
seemed in danger of perishing for lack of a little care and attention.
It is very probable that had the reign of Charles I. been less troublous,
this would have been a time of much progress in the domestic arts in
England. The Queen was of the Medici family, Italian literature was in
vogue, and Italian artists therefore would probably have been encouraged
to come over and instruct our workmen. The King himself was an excellent
mechanic, and boasted that he could earn his living at almost any trade
save the making of hangings. His father had established the tapestry works
at Mortlake; he himself had bought the Raffaele Cartoons to encourage the
work--and much was to be hoped from a monarch who had the judgment to
induce a Vandyke to settle in England. The Civil War, whatever it has
achieved for our liberty as subjects, certainly hindered by many years our
progress as an artistic people.
But to consider some of the furniture of this period in detail. Until the
sixteenth century was well advanced, the word "table" in our language
meant an index, or pocket book (tablets), or a list, not an article of
furniture; it was, as we have noticed in the time of Elizabeth, composed
of boards generally hinged in the middle for convenience of storage, and
supported on trestles which were sometimes ornamented by carved work. The
word trestle, by the way, is derived from the "threstule," i.e.,
three-footed supports, and these three-legged stools and benches formed in
those days the seats for everyone except the master of the house. Chairs
were, as we have seen, scarce articles; sometimes there was only one, a
throne-like seat for an honoured guest or for the master or mistress of
the house, and doubtless our present phrase of "taking the chair" is a
survival of the high place a chair then held amongst the household gods of
a gentleman's mansion. Shakespeare possibly had the boards and trestles in
his mind when, about 1596, he wrote in "Romeo and Juliet"--
"Come, musicians, play!
A hall! a hall! give room and foot it, girls,
More light, ye knaves, and turn the tables up."
And as the scene in "King Henry the Fourth" is placed some years earlier
than that of "Romeo and Juliet," it is probable that "table" had then its
earlier meaning, for the Archbishop of York says:--
"... The King is weary
Of dainty and such picking grievances;
And, therefore, will he wipe his tables clean
And keep no tell-tale to his memory."
Mr. Maskell, in his handbook on "Ivories," tells us that the word "table"
was also used in the fourteenth and fifteenth centuries to denote the
religious carvings and paintings in churches; and he quotes Chaucer to
show that the word was used to describe the game of "draughts."
"They dancen and they play at chess and tables."
Now, however, at the time of which we are writing, chairs were becoming
more plentiful and the table was a definite article of furniture. In
inventories of the time and for some twenty years previous, as has been
already noticed in the preceding chapter, we find mention of "joyned
table," framed table, "standing" and "dormant" table, and the word "board"
had gradually disappeared, although it remains to us as a souvenir of the
past in the name we still give to any body of men meeting for the
transaction of business, or in its more social meaning, expressing
festivity. The width of these earlier tables had been about 30 inches, and
guests sat on one side only, with their backs to the wall, in order, it
may be supposed, to be the more ready to resist any sudden raid, which
might be made on the house, during the relaxation of the supper hour, and
this custom remained long after there was any necessity for its
In the time of Charles the First the width was increased, and a
contrivance was introduced for doubling the area of the top when required,
by two flaps which drew out from either end, and, by means of a
wedge-shaped arrangement, the centre or main table top was lowered, and
the whole table, thus increased, became level. Illustrations taken from
Mr. G.T. Robinson's article on furniture in the "Art Journal" of 1881,
represent a "Drawinge table," which was the name by which these "latest
improvements" were known; the black lines were of stained pear tree, let
into the oak, and the acorn shaped member of the leg is an imported Dutch
design, which became very common about this time, and was applied to the
supports of cabinets, sometimes as in the illustration, plainly turned,
but frequently carved. Another table of this period was the "folding
table," which was made with twelve, sixteen, or with twenty legs, as shewn
in the illustration of this example, and which, as its name implies, would
shut up into about one third its extended size. There is one of these
tables in the Stationers' Hall.
[Illustration: Couch, Arm Chair and Single Chair. Carved and Gilt.
Upholstered in rich Silk Velvet. Part of Suite at Penshurst Place. Also an
Italian Cabinet. Period: Charles II.]
[Illustration: Folding Table at Penshurst Place. Period: Charles II. to
[Illustration: "Drawing" Table with Black Lines Inlaid. Period: Charles
It was probably in the early part of the seventeenth century that the
Couch became known in England. It was not common, nor quite in the form in
which we now recognize that luxurious article of furniture, but was
probably a carved oak settle, with cushions so arranged as to form a
resting lounge by day, Shakespeare speaks of the "branch'd velvet gown"
of Malvolio having come from a "day bed," and there is also an allusion to
one in Richard III.
In a volume of "Notes and Queries" there is a note which would show that
the lady's wardrobe of this time (1622) was a very primitive article of
furniture. Mention is made there of a list of articles of wearing apparel
belonging to a certain Lady Elizabeth Morgan, sister to Sir Nathaniel
Rich, which, according to the old document there quoted, dated the 13th
day of November, 1622, "are to be found in a great bar'd chest in my
Ladie's Bedchamber." To judge from this list, Lady Morgan was a person of
fashion in those days. We may also take it
for granted that beyond the bedstead, a prie dieu chair, a bench, some
chests, and the indispensable mirror, there was not much else to furnish a
lady's bedroom in the reign of James I. or of his successor.
[Illustration: Theodore Hook's Chair.]
[Illustration: Scrowled Chair in Carved Oak.]
The "long settle" and "scrowled chair" were two other kinds of seats in
use from the time of Charles I. to that of James II. The illustrations are
taken from authenticated specimens in the collection of Mr. Dalton, of
Scarborough. They are most probably of Yorkshire manufacture, about the
middle of the seventeenth century. The ornament in the panel of the back
of the chair is inlaid work box or ash stained to a greenish black to
represent green ebony, with a few small pieces of rich red wood then in
great favour; and, says Mr. G. T. Robinson, to whose article mentioned
above we are indebted for the description, "probably brought by some
buccaneer from the West." Mr. Robinson mentions another chair of the
Stuart period, which formed a table, and subsequently became the property
of Theodore Hook, who carefully preserved its pedigree. It was purchased
by its late owner, Mr. Godwin, editor of "The Builder." A woodcut of this
chair is on p. 106.
Another chair which played an important part in history is the one in
which Charles I. sat during his trial; this was exhibited in the Stuart
Exhibition in London in 1889. The illustration is taken from a print in
"The Illustrated London News" of the time.
[Illustration: Chair Used by King Charles I. During His Trial.]
In addition to the chairs of oak, carved, inlaid, and plain, which were in
some cases rendered more comfortable by having cushions tied to the backs
and seats, the upholstered chair, which we have seen had been brought
from Venice in the early part of the reign of James I., now came into
general use. Few appear to have survived, but there are still to be seen
in pictures of the period a chair represented as covered with crimson
velvet, studded with brass nails, the seat trimmed with fringe, similar to
that at Knole, illustrated on p. 100.
There is in the Historical Portrait Gallery in Bethnal Green Museum, a
painting by an unknown artist, but dated 1642, of Sir William Lenthall,
who was Speaker of the House of Commons, on the memorable occasion when,
on the 4th of January in that year, Charles I. entered the House to demand
the surrender of the five members. The chair on which Sir William is
seated answers this description, and is very similar to the one used by
Charles I. (illustrated on p. 107.)
[Illustration: Carved Oak Chair. Said to have been used by Cromwell. (_The
original in the possession of T. Knollys Parr, Esq._)]
[Illustration: Carved Oak Chair, Jacobean Style. (_The original in the
Inlaid work, which had been crude and rough in the time of Elizabeth,
became more in fashion as means increased of decorating both the furniture
and the woodwork panelling of the rooms of the Stuart period. Mahogany had
been discovered by Raleigh as early as 1595, but did not come into general
use until the middle of the eighteenth century.
The importation of scarce foreign woods in small quantities gave an
impetus to this description of work, which in the marqueterie of Italy,
France, Holland, Germany, and Spain, had already made great progress.
[Illustration: Settle of Carved Oak. Probably made in Yorkshire. Period:
Within the past year, owing to the extensions of the Great Eastern
Railway premises at Bishopsgate Street, an old house of antiquarian
interest was pulled down, and generously presented by the Company to the
South Kensington Museum. It will shortly be arranged so as to enable the
visitor to see a good example of the exterior as well as some of the
interior woodwork of a quaint house of the middle of the seventeenth
century. This was the residence of Sir Paul Pindar, diplomatist, during
the time of Charles I., and it contained a carved oak chimney-piece, with
some other good ornamental woodwork of this period. The quaint and
richly-carved chimney-piece, which was dated 1600, and other decorative
work, was removed early in the present century, when the possessors of
that time were making "improvements."
[Illustration: Staircase in General Ireton's House, Dated 1630.]
[Illustration: Pattern of a Chinese Lac Screen. (_In the South Kensington
In the illustration of a child's chair, which is said to have been
actually used by Cromwell, can be seen an example of carved oak of this
time; it was lent to the writer by its present owner, in whose family it
was an heirloom since one of his ancestors married the Protector's
daughter. The ornament has no particular style, and it may be taken for
granted that the period of the Commonwealth was not marked by any progress
in decorative art. The above illustration, however, proves that there were
exceptions to the prevalent Puritan objection to figure ornament. In one
of Mrs. S.C. Hall's papers, "Pilgrimages to English Shrines," contributed
in 1849 to "The Art Journal," she describes the interior of the house
which was built for Bridget, the Protector's daughter, who married General
Ireton. The handsome oak staircase had the newels surmounted by carved
figures, representing different grades of men in the General's army--a
captain, common soldier, piper, drummer, etc, etc., while the spaces
between the balustrades were filled in with devices emblematical of
warfare, the ceiling being decorated in the fashion of the period. At the
time Mrs. Hall wrote, the house bore Cromwell's name and the date 1630.
We may date from the Commonwealth the more general use of chairs; people
sat as they chose, and no longer regarded the chair as the lord's place. A
style of chair, which we still recognise as Cromwellian, was also largely
imported from Holland about this time--plain square backs and seats
covered with brown leather, studded with brass nails. The legs, which are
now generally turned with a spiral twist, were in Cromwell's time plain
The residence of Charles II. abroad, had accustomed him and his friends to
the much more luxurious furniture of France and Holland. With the
Restoration came a foreign Queen, a foreign Court, French manners, and
French literature. Cabinets, chairs, tables, and couches, were imported
into England from the Netherlands, France, Spain, and Portugal; and our
craftsmen profited by new ideas and new patterns, and what was of equal
consequence, an increased demand for decorative articles of furniture. The
King of Portugal had ceded Bombay, one of the Portuguese Indian stations,
to the new Queen, and there is a chair of this Indo-Portuguese work,
carved in ebony, now in the museum at Oxford, which was given by Charles
II. either to Elias Ashmole or to Evelyn: the illustration on the next
page shews all the details of the carving. Another woodcut, on a smaller
scale, represents a similar chair grouped with a settee of a like design,
together with a small folding chair which Mr. G.T. Robinson, in his
article on "Seats," has described as Italian, but which we take the
liberty of pronouncing Flemish, judging by one now in the South Kensington
In connection with this Indo-Portuguese furniture, it would seem that
spiral turning became known and fashionable in England during the reign of
Charles II., and in some chairs of English make, which have come under the
writer's notice, the legs have been carved to imitate the effect of spiral
turning--an amount of superfluous labour which would scarcely have been
incurred, but for the fact that the country house-carpenter of this time
had an imported model, which he copied, without knowing how to produce by
the lathe the effect which had just come into fashion. There are, too, in
some illustrations in "Shaw's Ancient Furniture," some lamp-holders, in
which this spiral turning is overdone, as is generally the case when any
particular kind of ornament comes into vogue.
[Illustration: Settee And Chair. In carved ebony, part of Indo-Portuguese
suite at Penshurst Place, with Flemish folding chair. Period: Charles II.]
[Illustration: Carved Ebony Chair of Indo-portuguese Work, Given by
Charles II. to Elias Ashmole, Esq. (_In the Museum at Oxford_).]
Probably the illustrated suite of furniture at Penshurst Place, which
comprises thirteen pieces, was imported about this time; two of the
smaller chairs appear to have their original cushions, the others have
been lately re-covered by Lord de l'Isle and Dudley. The spindles of the
backs of two of the chairs are of ivory: the carving, which is in solid
ebony, is much finer on some than on others.
We gather a good deal of information about the furniture of this period
from the famous diary of Evelyn. He thus describes Hampton Court Palace,
as it appeared to him at the time of its preparation for the reception of
Catherine of Braganza, the bride of Charles II., who spent the royal
honeymoon in this historic building, which had in its time sheltered for
their brief spans of favour the six wives of Henry VIII. and the sickly
boyhood of Edward VI.:--
"It is as noble and uniform a pile as Gothic architecture can make it.
There is incomparable furniture in it, especially hangings designed by
Raphael, very rich with gold. Of the tapestries I believe the world can
show nothing nobler of the kind than the stories of Abraham and Tobit.
... The Queen's bed was an embroidery of silver on crimson velvet, and
cost L8,000, being a present made by the States of Holland when his
majesty returned. The great looking-glass and toilet of beaten massive
gold were given by the Queen Mother. The Queen brought over with her from
Portugal such Indian cabinets as had never before been seen here."
Evelyn wrote of course before Wren made his Renaissance additions to the
After the great fire which occurred in 1666, and destroyed some 13,000
houses and no less than 80 churches, Sir Christopher Wren was given an
opportunity, unprecedented in history, of displaying his power of design
and reconstruction. Writing of this great architect, Macaulay says, "The
austere beauty of the Athenian portico, the gloomy sublimity of the Gothic
arcade, he was, like most of his contemporaries, incapable of emulating,
and perhaps incapable of appreciating; but no man born on our side of the
Alps has imitated with so much success the magnificence of the palace
churches of Italy. Even the superb Louis XIV. has left to posterity no
work which can bear a comparison with St. Paul's."
Sedes, ecce tibi? quae tot produxit alumnos
Quot gremio nutrit Granta, quot. Isis habet.
_From the Original by Sir Peter Lely, presented to Dr. Busby by King
Charles_ "Sedes Busbiana" From a Print in the possession of J. C. THYNNE,
Esq. Period: Charles II.]
Wren's great masterpiece was commenced in 1675, and completed in 1710,
and its building therefore covers a period of 35 years, carrying us
through the reigns of James II., William III. and Mary, and well on to the
end of Anne's. The admirable work which he did during this time, and which
has effected so much for the adornment of our Metropolis, had a marked
influence on the ornamental woodwork of the second half of the seventeenth
century: in the additions which he made to Hampton Court Palace, in Bow
Church, in the hospitals of Greenwich and of Chelsea, there is a
sumptuousness of ornament in stone and marble, which shew the influence
exercised on his mind by the desire to rival the grandeur of Louis XIV.;
the Fountain Court at Hampton being in direct imitation of the Palace of
Versailles. The carved woodwork of the choir of St. Paul's, with fluted
columns supporting a carved frieze; the richly carved panels, and the
beautiful figure work on both organ lofts, afford evidence that the oak
enrichments followed the marble and stone ornament. The swags of fruit and
flowers, the cherubs' heads with folded wings, and other details in Wren's
work, closely resemble the designs executed by Gibbons, whose carving is
referred to later on.
It may be mentioned here that amongst the few churches in the city which
escaped the great fire, and contain woodwork of particular note, are St.
Helen's, Bishopgate, and the Charterhouse Chapel, which contain the
original pulpits of about the sixteenth century.
The famous Dr. Busby, who for 55 years was head master of Westminster
School, was a great favourite of King Charles, and a picture painted by
Sir Peter Lely, is said to have been presented to the Doctor by His
Majesty; it is called "Sedes Busbiana." Prints from this old picture are
scarce, and the writer is indebted to Mr. John C. Thynne for the loan of
his copy, from which the illustration is taken. The portrait in the
centre, of the Pedagogue aspiring to the mitre, is that of Dr. South, who
succeeded Busby, and whose monument in Westminster Abbey is next to his.
The illustration is interesting, as although it may not have been actually
taken from a chair itself, it shews a design in the mind of a contemporary
Of the Halls of the City Guilds, there is none more quaint, and in greater
contrast to the bustle of the neighbourhood, than the Hall of the Brewers'
Company, in Addle Street, City. This was partially destroyed, like most of
the older Halls, by the Great Fire, but was one of the first to be
restored and refurnished. In the kitchen are still to be seen the remains
of an old trestle and other relics of an earlier period, but the hall or
dining room, and the Court room, are complete, with very slight additions,
since the date of their interior equipment in 1670 to 1673. The Court room
has a richly carved chimney-piece in oak, nearly black with age, the
design of which is a shield with a winged head, palms, and swags of fruit
and flowers, while on the shield itself is an inscription, stating that
this room was wainscoted by Alderman Knight, master of the Company and
Lord Mayor of the City of London, in the year 1670. The room itself is
exceedingly quaint, with its high wainscoting and windows on the opposite
side to the fireplace, reminding one of the port-holes of a ship's cabin,
while the chief window looks out on to the old-fashioned garden, giving
the beholder altogether a pleasing illusion, carrying him back to the days
of Charles II.
The chief room or Hall is still more handsomely decorated with carved oak
of this time. The actual date, 1673, is over the doorway on a tablet which
bears the names, in the letters of the period, of the master, "James
Reading, Esq.," and the wardens, "Mr. Robert Lawrence," "Mr. Samuel
Barber," and "Mr. Henry Sell."
The names of other masters and wardens are also written over the carved
escutcheons of their different arms, and the whole room is one of the best
specimens in existence of the oak carving of this date. At the western end
is the master's chair, of which by the courtesy of Mr. Higgins, clerk to
the Company, we are able to give an illustration on p. 115--the
shield-shaped back, the carved drapery, and the coat-of-arms with the
company's motto, are all characteristic features, as are also the
Corinthian columns and arched pediments, in the oak decoration of the
room. The broken swan-necked pediment, which surmounts the cornice of the
room over the chair, is probably a more recent addition, this ornament
having come in about 30 years later.
There are also the old dining tables and benches; these are as plain and
simple as possible. In the court room, is a table, which was formerly in
the Company's barge, with some good inlaid work in the arcading which
connects the two end standards, and some old carved lions' feet; the top
and other parts have been renewed. There is also an old oak fire-screen of
about the end of the seventeenth century.
Another city hall, the interior woodwork of which dates from just after
the Great Fire, is that of the Stationers' Company, in Ave Maria Lane,
close to Ludgate Hill. Mr. Charles Robert Rivington, the present clerk to
the Company, has written a pamphlet, full of very interesting records of
this ancient and worshipful corporation, from which the following
paragraph is a quotation:--"The first meeting of the court after the fire
was held at Cook's Hall, and the subsequent courts, until the hall was
re-built, at the Lame Hospital Hall, i.e., St. Bartholomew's Hospital.
In 1670 a committee was appointed to re-build the hall; and in 1674 the
Court agreed with Stephen Colledge (the famous Protestant joiner, who was
afterwards hanged at Oxford in 1681) to wainscot the hall 'with
well-seasoned and well-matched wainscot, according to a model delivered in
for the sum of L300.' His work is now to be seen in excellent condition."
[Illustration: The Master's Chair. (_Hall of the Brewers' Company._)]
Mr. Rivington read his paper to the London and Middlesex Archaeological
Society in 1881; and the writer can with pleasure confirm the statement as
to the condition, in 1892, of this fine specimen of seventeenth century
work. Less ornate and elaborate than the Brewers' Hall, the panels are
only slightly relieved with carved mouldings; but the end of the room, or
main entrance, opposite the place of the old dais (long since removed), is
somewhat similar to the Brewers', and presents a fine architectural
effect, which will be observed in the illustration on p. 117.
[Illustration: Carved Oak Livery Cupboard. In the Hall of the
Stationers'Company. Made in 1674, the curved pediment added later,
probably in 1788.]
[Illustration: Carved Oak Napkin Press Lent to the S. Kensington Museum by
H. Farrer, Esq. Early XVII. Century.]
There is above, an illustration of one of the two livery cupboards, which
formerly stood on the dais, and these are good examples of the cupboards
for display of plate of this period. The lower part was formerly the
receptacle of unused viands, distributed to the poor after the feast. In
their original state these livery cupboards finished with a straight
cornice, the broken pediments with the eagle (the Company's crest) having
most probably been added when the hall was, to quote an
inscription on a shield, "repaired and beautified in the mayoralty of the
Right Honourable William Gill, in the year 1788," when Mr. Thomas Hooke
was master, and Mr. Field and Mr. Rivington (the present clerk's
[Illustration: Arm Chairs.
Chair upholstered in Spitalfields silk. Hampton Court Palace.
Carved and upholstered Chair. Hardwick Hall.
Chair upholstered in Spitalfields silk. Knole, Sevenoaks.
Period: William III. To Queen Anne.]
There is still preserved in a lumber room one of the old benches of
seventeenth century work--now replaced in the hall by modern folding
chairs. This is of oak, with turned skittle-shaped legs slanting outwards,
and connected and strengthened by plain stretchers. The old tables are
still in their places.
[Illustration: Carved Oak Screen. In the Hall of the Stationers' Company,
erected in 1674: the Royal Coat of Arms has been since added.]
Another example of seventeenth century oak panelling is the handsome
chapel of the Mercers' Hall--the only city Company possessing their own
chapel--but only the lining of the walls and the reredos are of the
original work, the remainder having been added some ten or twelve years
ago, when some of the original carving was made use of in the new work.
Indeed, in this magnificent hall, about the most spacious of the old City
Corporation Palaces, there is a great deal of new work mixed with old--new
chimney-pieces and old overmantels--some of Grinling Gibbons' carved
enrichments, so painted and varnished as to have lost much of their
character; these have been applied to the oak panels in the large dining
The woodwork lining of living rooms had been undergoing changes since the
commencement of the period of which we are now writing. In 1638 a man
named Christopher had taken out a patent for enamelling and gilding
leather, which was used as a wall decoration over the oak panelling. This
decorated leather hitherto had been imported from Holland and Spain; when
this was not used, and tapestry, which was very expensive, was not
obtainable, the plaster was roughly ornamented. Somewhat later than this,
pictures were let into the wainscot to form part of the decoration, for in
1669 Evelyn, when writing of the house of the "Earle of Norwich," in
Epping Forest, says, "A good many pictures put into the wainstcot which
Mr. Baker, his lordship's predecessor, brought from Spaine." Indeed,
subsequently the wainscot became simply the frame for pictures, and we
have the same writer deploring the disuse of timber, and expressing his
opinion that a sumptuary law ought to be passed to restore the "ancient
use of timber." Although no law was enacted on the subject, yet, some
twenty years later, the whirligig of fashion brought about the revival of
the custom of lining rooms with oak panelling.
It is said that about 1670 Evelyn found Grinling Gibbons in a small
thatched house on the outskirts of Deptford, and introduced him to the
King, who gave him an appointment on the Board of Works, and patronised
him with extensive orders. The character of his carving is well known;
generally using lime-tree as the vehicle of his designs, the life-like
birds and flowers, the groups of fruit, and heads of cherubs, are easily
recognised. One of the rooms in Windsor Castle is decorated with the work
of his chisel, which can also be seen in St. Paul's Cathedral, Hampton
Court Palace, Chatsworth, Burleigh, and perhaps his best, at Petworth
House, in Sussex. He also sculptured in stone. The base of King Charles'
statue at Windsor, the font of St. James', Piccadilly (round the base of
which are figures of Adam and Eve), are his work, as is also the lime-tree
border of festoon work over the communion table. Gibbons was an
Englishman, but appears to have spent his boyhood in Holland, where he was
christened "Grinling." He died in 1721. His pupils were Samuel Watson, a
Derbyshire man, who did much of the carved work at Chatsworth, Drevot of