It was during the reign of Henry
III., 1216-1272, that wood-panelling was first used for rooms, and
considerable progress generally appears to have been made about this period.
Eleanor of Provence, whom the King married in 1236, encouraged more luxury
in the homes of the barons and courtiers. Mr. Hungerford Pollen has quoted a
royal precept which was promulgated in this year, and it plainly shows that
our ancestors were becoming more refined in their tastes. The terms of this
precept were as follows, viz., "the King's great chamber at Westminster be
painted a green colour like a curtain, that in the great gable or
frontispiece of the said chamber, a French inscription should be painted,
and that the King's little wardrobe should be painted of a green colour to
imitate a curtain."
In another 100 or 150 years we find mediaeval
Art approaching its best period, not only in England, but in the great
Flemish cities, such as Bruges and Ghent, which in the thirteenth and
fourteenth centuries played so important a part in the history of that time.
The taste for Gothic architecture had now well set in, and we find that in
this as in every change of style, the fashion in woodwork naturally followed
that of ornament in stone; indeed, in many cases it is more than probable
that the same hands which planned the cathedral or monastery also drew the
designs for furniture, especially as the finest specimens of wood-carving
were devoted to the service of the church.
The examples, therefore, of the woodwork of
this period to which we have access are found to be mostly of Gothic
pattern, with quaint distorted conceptions of animals and reptiles, adapted
to ornament the structural part of the furniture, or for the enrichment of
To the end of the thirteenth century belongs
the Coronation chair made for King Edward I., 1296-1300, and now in
Westminster Abbey. This historic relic is of oak, and the woodcut on the
following page gives an idea of the design and decorative carving. It is
said that the pinnacles on each side of the gabled back were formerly
surmounted by two leopards, of which only small portions remain. The famous
Coronation stone which, according to ancient legend, is the identical one on
which the patriarch Jacob rested his head at Bethel, when "he tarried there
all night because the sun was set, and he took of the stones of that place
and put them up for his pillows," Gen. xxviii., can be seen through the
quatrefoil openings under the seat.4
The carved lions which support the chair are
not original, but modern work; and were regilt in honour of the Jubilee of
Her Majesty in 1887, when the chair was last used. The rest of the chair now
shows the natural colour of the oak, except the arms, which have a slight
padding on them. The wood was, however, formerly covered with a coating of
plaster, gilded over, and it is probably due to this protection that it is
now in such excellent preservation.
Standing by its side in Henry III.'s Chapel
in Westminster Abbey is another chair, similar, but lacking the trefoil
Gothic arches, which are carved on the sides of the original chair; this was
made for and used by Mary, daughter of James II. and wife of William III.,
on the occasion of their double coronation. Mr. Hungerford Pollen has given
us a long description of this chair, with quotations from the different
historical notices which have appeared concerning it. The following is an
extract which he has taken from an old writer:
"It appears that the King intended, in the
first instance, to make the chair in bronze, and that Eldam, the King's
workman, had actually begun it. Indeed, some parts were even finished, and
tools bought for the clearing up of the casting. However, the King changed
his mind, and we have accordingly 100s. paid for a chair in wood, made after
the same pattern as the one which was to be cast in copper; also 13s. 4d.
for carving, painting, and gilding two small leopards in wood, which were
delivered to Master Walter, the King's painter, to be placed upon and on
either side of the chair made by him. The wardrobe account of 29th Ed. I.
shows that Master Walter was paid £1 19s. 7d. 'for making a step at the foot
of the new chair in which the Scottish stone is placed; and for the wages of
the carpenters and of the painters, and for colours and gold employed, and
for the making a covering to cover the said chair.'"
Coronation Chair. Westminster Abbey.
In 1328, June 1, there is a royal writ
ordering the abbot to deliver up the stone to the Sheriff of London, to be
carried to the Queen-Mother; however, it never went. The chair has been used
upon the occasion of every coronation since that time, except in the case of
Mary, who is said to have used a chair specially sent by the Pope for the
Chair in the Vestry of York Minster. Late 14th
The above drawing of a chair in York Minster,
and the two more throne-like seats on the full-page illustration, will serve
to shew the best kind of ornamental Ecclesiastical furniture of the
fourteenth century. In the choir of Canterbury Cathedral there is a chair
which has played its part in history, and, although earlier than the above,
it may be conveniently mentioned here. This is the Archbishop's throne, and
it is also called the chair of St. Augustine. According to legend, the Saxon
kings were crowned therein, but it is probably not earlier than the
thirteenth century. It is an excellent piece of stonework, with a shaped
back and arms, relieved from being quite plain by the back and sides being
panelled with a carved moulding.
Chair. In St. Mary's Hall, Coventry.
Chair. From an Old English Monastery. Period:
Penshurst Place, near Tonbridge, the
residence of Lord de l'Isle and Dudley, the historic home of the Sydneys, is
almost an unique example of what a wealthy English gentleman's country house
was about the time of which we are writing, say the middle of the fourteenth
century, or during the reign of Edward III. By the courtesy of Lord de
l'Isle, the writer has been allowed to examine many objects of great
interest there, and from the careful preservation of many original fittings
and articles of furniture, one may still gain some idea of the "hall" as it
then appeared, when that part of the house was the scene of the chief events
in the life of the family—the raised daïs for host and honoured guests, the
better table which was placed there (illustrated) and the commoner ones for
the body of the hall; and though the ancient buffet which displayed the gold
and silver cups is gone, one can see where it would have stood. Penshurst is
said to possess the only hearth of the time now remaining in England, an
octagonal space edged with stone in the centre of the hall, over which was
once the simple opening for the outlet of smoke through the roof, and the
old andirons or firedogs are still there.
"Standing" Table at Penshurst, Still on the
Daïs in the Hall.
Bedroom in which a Knight and His Lady are
Seated. (From a Miniature in "Othea," a Poem by Christine de Pisan.
XIV. Century, French.)
An idea of the furniture of an apartment in
France during the fourteenth century is conveyed by the above illustration,
and it is very useful, because, although we have on record many descriptions
of the appearance of the furniture of state apartments, we have very few
authenticated accounts of the way in which such domestic chambers as the one
occupied by "a knight and his lady" were arranged. The prie dieu chair was
generally at the bedside, and had a seat which lifted up, the lower part
forming a box-like receptacle for devotional books then so regularly used by
a lady of the time.
Bedstead and Chair in Carved Oak. From
Miniatures in the Royal Library, Brussels. Period: XIV. Century.
Towards the end of the fourteenth century
there was in high quarters a taste for bright and rich colouring; we have
the testimony of an old writer who describes the interior of the Hotel de
Bohême, which after having been the residence of several great personages
was given by Charles VI. of France in 1388 to his brother the Duke of
Orleans. "In this palace was a room used by the duke, hung with cloth of
gold, bordered with vermilion velvet embroidered with roses; the duchess had
a room hung with vermilion satin embroidered with crossbows, which were on
her coat of arms; that of the Duke of Burgundy was hung with cloth of gold
embroidered with windmills. There were besides eight carpets of glossy
texture with gold flowers, one representing 'the seven virtues and seven
vices,' another the history of Charlemagne, another that of Saint Louis.
There were also cushions of cloth of gold, twenty-four pieces of vermilion
leather of Aragon, and four carpets of Aragon leather, 'to be placed on the
floor of rooms in summer.' The favourite arm-chair of the Princess is thus
described in an inventory—'a chamber chair with four supports, painted in
fine vermilion, the seat and arms of which are covered in vermilion morocco,
or cordovan, worked and stamped with designs representing the sun, birds,
and other devices bordered with fringes of silk and studded with nails.'"
The thirteenth and fourteenth centuries had
been remarkable for a general development of commerce: merchants of Venice,
Geneva, Florence, Milan, Ghent, Bruges, Antwerp, and many other famous
cities had traded extensively with the East and had grown opulent, and their
homes naturally showed signs of wealth and comfort that in former times had
been impossible to any but princes and rich nobles. Laws had been made in
answer to the complaints of the aristocracy to place some curb on the
growing ambition of the "bourgeoisie"; thus we find an old edict in the
reign of Philippe the Fair (1285-1314)—"No bourgeois shall have a chariot,
nor wear gold, precious stones, nor crowns of gold and silver. Bourgeois not
being prelates or dignitaries of state shall not have tapers of wax. A
bourgeois possessing 2,000 pounds (tournois) or more, may order for himself
a dress of 125
sous 6 deniers, and for his wife one worth 16 sous at the most," etc., etc.,
This and many other similar regulations were
made in vain; the trading classes became more and more powerful, and we
quote the description of a furnished apartment in P. Lacroix's "Manners and
Customs of the Middle Ages."
"The walls were hung with precious tapestry
of Cyprus, on which the initials and motto of the lady were embroidered, the
sheets were of fine linen of Rheims, and had cost more than 300 pounds, the
quilt was a new invention of silk and silver tissue, the carpet was like
gold. The lady wore an elegant dress of crimson silk, and rested her head
and arms on pillows ornamented with buttons of oriental pearls. It should be
remarked that this lady was not the wife of a great merchant, such as those
of Venice and Genoa, but of a simple retail dealer who was not above selling
articles for 4 sous; such being the case, we cannot wonder that Christine de
Pisan should have considered the anecdote 'worthy of being immortalized in a
"The New Born Infant." Shewing the interior of
an Apartment at the end of the 14th or commencement of the 15th century. (From
a Miniature in "Histoire de la Belle Hélaine," National Library of Paris)
As we approach the end of the fourteenth
century, we find canopies added to the "chaires" or "chayers á dorseret,"
which were carved in oak or chesnut, and sometimes elaborately gilded and
picked out in color. The canopied seats were very bulky and throne-like
constructions, and were abandoned towards the end of the fifteenth century;
and it is worthy of notice that though we have retained our word "chair,"
adopted from the Norman French, the French people discarded their synonym in
favour of its diminutive "chaise" to describe the somewhat smaller and less
massive seat which came into use in the sixteenth century.
Portrait of Christine de Pisan, Seated on a
Canopied Chair of carved wood, the back lined with tapestry. (From
Miniature on MS., in the Burgundy Library, Brussels.) Period: XV.
The skilled artisans of Paris had arrived at
a very high degree of excellence in the fourteenth century, and in old
documents describing valuable articles of furniture, care is taken to note
that they are of Parisian workmanship. According to Lacroix, there is an
account of the court silversmith, Etienne La Fontaine, which gives us an
idea of the amount of extravagance sometimes committed in the manufacture
and decorations of a chair, into which it was then the fashion to introduce
the incrustation of precious stones; thus for making a silver arm chair and
ornamenting it with pearls, crystals, and other stones, he charged the King
of France, in 1352, no less a sum than 774 louis.
The use of rich embroideries at state
banquets and on grand occasions appears to have commenced during the reign
of Louis IX.—Saint Louis, as he is called—and these were richly emblazoned
with arms and devices. Indeed, it was probably due to the fashion for rich
stuffs and coverings of tables, and of velvet embroidered cushions for the
chairs, that the practice of making furniture of the precious metals died
out, and carved wood came into favour.
State Banquet, with Attendant Musicians. (From
Miniatures in the National Library, Paris.) Period: XV. Century.
Chairs of this period appear only to have
been used on very special occasions; indeed they were too cumbersome to be
easily moved from place to place, and in a miniature from some MSS. of the
early part of the fifteenth century, which represents a state banquet, the
guests are seated on a long bench with a back carved in the Gothic ornament
of the time. In Skeat's Dictionary, our modern word "banquet" is said to be
derived from the banes or benches used on these occasions.
A High Backed Chair, in Carved Oak (Gothic
Style). Period: XV. Century. French.
Mediaeval Bed and Bedroom. (From
Viollet-le-Duc.) Period: XIV. to XV. Century. French.
The great hall of the King's Palace, where
such an entertainment as that given by Charles V. to the Emperor Charles of
Luxemburg would take place, was also furnished with three "dressoirs" for
the display of the gold and silver drinking cups, and vases of the time; the
repast itself was served upon a marble table, and above the seat of each of
the princes present was a separate canopy of gold cloth embroidered with
fleur de lis.
Scribe or Copyist. Working at his desk in a
room in which are a reading desk and a chest with manuscript. (From an
Old Minature) Period: XV. Century.
The furniture of ordinary houses of this
period was very simple. Chests, more or less carved, and ornamented with
iron work, settles of oak or of chestnut, stools or benches with carved
supports, a bedstead and a prie dieu chair, a table with plain slab
supported on shaped standards, would nearly supply the inventory of the
furniture of the chief room in a house of a well-to-do merchant in France
until the fourteenth century had turned. The table was narrow, apparently
not more than some 30 inches wide, and guests sat on one side only, the
service taking place from the unoccupied side of the table. In palaces and
baronial halls the servants with dishes were followed by musicians, as shewn
in an old-miniature of the time, reproduced on p. 39.
Turning to German work of the fifteenth
century, there is a cast of the famous choir stalls in the Cathedral of Ulm,
which are considered the finest work of the Swabian school of German wood
carving. The magnificent panel of foliage on the front, the Gothic triple
canopy with the busts of Isaiah, David, and Daniel, are thoroughly
characteristic specimens of design; and the signature of the artist, Jorg
Syrlin, with date 1468, are carved on the work. There were originally 89
choir stalls, and the work occupied the master from the date mentioned,
1468, until 1474.
The illustrations of the two chairs of German
Gothic furniture formerly in some of the old castles, are good examples of
their time, and are from drawings made on the spot by Prof. Heideloff.
Two German Chairs (Late 15th Century). (From
Drawings made in Old German Castles by Prof. Heideloff.)
There are in our South Kensington Museum some
full-sized plaster casts of important specimens of woodwork of the fifteenth
and two previous centuries, and being of authenticated dates, we can compare
them with the work of the same countries after the Renaissance had been
adopted and had completely altered design. Thus in Italy there was, until
the latter part of the fifteenth century, a mixture of Byzantine and Gothic
of which we can see a capital example in the casts of the celebrated Pulpit
in the Baptistry of Pisa, the date of which is 1260. The pillars are
supported by lions, which, instead of being introduced heraldically into the
design, as would be the case some two hundred years later, are bearing the
whole weight of the pillars and an enormous superstructure on the hollow of
their backs in a most impossible manner. The spandril of each arch is filled
with a saint in a grotesque position amongst Gothic foliage, and there is in
many respects a marked contrast to the casts of examples of the Renaissance
period which are in the Museum.
Carved Oak Buffet in Gothic Style (Viollet le
Duc). Period: XV. Century. French.
This transition from Mediaeval and Gothic, to
Renaissance, is clearly noticeable in the woodwork of many cathedrals and
churches in England and in continental cities. It is evident that the
chairs, stalls, and pulpits in many of these buildings have been executed at
different times, and the change from one style to another is more or less
marked. The Flemish buffet here illustrated is an example of this
transition, and may be contrasted with the French Gothic buffet referred to
in the following paragraph. There is also in the central hall of the South
Kensington Museum a plaster cast of a carved wood altar stall in the Abbey
of Saint Denis, France: the pilasters at the sides have the familiar Gothic
pinnacles, while the panels are ornamented with arabesques, scrolls, and an
interior in the Renaissance style; the date of this is late in the fifteenth
The buffet on page 43 is an excellent
specimen of the best fifteenth century French Gothic oak work, and the
woodcut shows the arrangement of gold and silver plate on the white linen
cloth with embroidered ends, in use at this time.
Carved Oak Table. Period: Late XV. or Early
XVI. Century. French.
Flemish Buffet. Of Carved Oak; open below with
panelled cupboards above. The back evidently of later work, after the
Renaissance had set in. (From a Photo, by Messrs. R. Sutton & Co. from
the Original in the S. Kensington Museum.) Period: Gothic To
Renaissance, XV. Century.
A Tapestried Room in a French Chateau, With
Oak Chests as Seats.
Carved Oak Seat,
With moveabls Backrest, in front of Fireplace. Period: Late XV. Century.
We have now arrived at a period in the
history of furniture which is confused, and difficult to arrange and
classify. From the end of the fourteenth century to the Renaissance is a
time of transition, and specimens may be easily mistaken as being of an
earlier or later date than they really are. M. Jacquemart notices this
"gap," though he fixes its duration from the thirteenth to the fifteenth
century, and he quotes as an instance of the indecision which characterised
this interval, that workers in furniture were described in different terms;
the words coffer maker, carpenter, and huchier (trunk-maker) frequently
occurring to describe the same class of artisan.
It is only later that the word "menuisier,"
or joiner, appears, and we must enter upon the period of the Renaissance
before we find the term "cabinet maker," and later still, after the end of
the seventeenth century, we have such masters of their craft as Riesener
described as "ebenistes," the word being derived from ebony, which, with
other eastern woods, came into use after the Dutch settlement in Ceylon.
Jacquemart also notices the fact that as early as 1360 we have record of a
specialist, "Jehan Petrot," as a "chessboard maker."