Furniture 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 Henri Quatre."
Besides Fontainebleau, Francis I. built the
Chateau of Chambord,7
that of Chenonceaux on the Loire, the Chateau de Madrid, and others, and
commenced the Louvre.
Following their King's example, the more
wealthy of his subjects rebuilt or altered their chateaux and hotels,
decorated them in the Italian style, and furnished them with the cabinets,
chairs, coffers, armoires, tables, and various other articles, designed
after the Italian models.
The character of the woodwork naturally
accompanied the design of the building. Fireplaces, which until the end of
the fifteenth century had been of stone, were now made of oak, richly carved
and ornamented with the armorial bearings of the "seigneur." The
Prie dieu chair, which Viollet le Due tells us came into use in the
fifteenth century, was now made larger and more ornate, in some cases
becoming what might almost be termed a small oratory, the back being carved
in the form of an altar, and the utmost care lavished on the work. It must
be remembered that in France, until the end of the fifteenth century, there
were no benches or seats in the churches, and, therefore, prayers were said
by the aristocracy in the private chapel of the chateau, and by the middle
classes in the chief room of the house.
The large high-backed chair of the sixteenth
century "chaire à haut dossier," the arm chair "chaire à bras," "chaire
tournante," for domestic use, are all of this time, and some
illustrations will show the highly finished carved work of Renaissance style
Besides the "chaire" which was
reserved for the "seigneur," there were smaller and more convenient
stools, the X form supports of which were also carved.
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 Bonnaffé, in his work on the
sixteenth century furniture of France, gives no less than 120 illustrations
of "tables, coffres, armoires, dressoirs, sieges, et bancs,
manufactured at Orleans, Anjou, Maine, Touraine, Le Berri, Lorraine,
Burgundy, Lyons, Provence, Auvergne, Languedoc, and other towns and
districts, besides the capital," which excelled in the reputation of her "menuisiers,"
and in the old documents certain articles of furniture are particularized as
"fait à Paris."
He also mentions that Francis I. preferred to
employ native workmen, and that the Italians were retained only to furnish
the designs and lead the new style; and in giving the names of the most
noted French cabinet makers and carvers of this time, he adds that Jacques
Lardant and Michel Bourdin received no less than 15,700 livres for a number
of "buffets de salles," "tables garnies de leurs tréteaux," "chandeliers
de bois" and other articles.
Facsimiles of Engravings on Wood, By J. Amman,
in the 16th century, showing interiors of Workshops of the period.
The bedstead, of which there is an
illustration, is a good representation of French Renaissance. It formed part
of the contents of the Chateau of Pau, and belonged to Jeanne d'Albret,
mother of Henri Quatre, who was born at Pau in 1553. The bedstead is of oak,
and by time has acquired a rich warm tint, the details of the carving
remaining sharp and clear. On the lower cornice moulding, the date 1562 is
This, like other furniture and contents of
Palaces in France, forms part of the State or National collection, of which
there are excellent illustrations and descriptions in M. Williamson's "Mobilier
National," a valuable contribution to the literature of this subject which
should be consulted.
Carved Oak Bedstead of Jeanne D'albret. From
the Chateau of Pau. (Collection "Mobilier National.") Period: French
Renaissance (Date 1562).
Carved Oak Cabinet. Made at Lyons. Period:
Latter Part of XVI. Century.
Another example of four-post bedsteads of
French sixteenth century work is that of the one in the Cluny Museum, which
is probably some years later than the one at Pau, and in the carved members
of the two lower posts, more resembles our English Elizabethan work.
Towards the latter part of Henri IV. the
style of decorative art in France became debased and inconsistent.
Construction and ornamentation were guided by no principle, but followed the
caprice of the individual. Meaningless pilasters, entablatures, and
contorted cornices replaced the simpler outline and subordinate enrichment
of the time of Henri II., and until the great revival of taste under the "grand
monarque," there was in France a period of richly ornamented but
ill-designed decorative furniture. An example of this can be seen at South
Kensington in the plaster cast of a large chimney-piece from the Chateau of
the Seigneur de Villeroy, near Menecy, by Germain Pillon, who died in 1590.
In this the failings mentioned above will be readily recognized, and also in
another example, namely, that of a carved oak door from the church of St.
Maclou, Rouen, by Jean Goujon, in which the work is very fine, but somewhat
overdone with enrichment. This cast is in the same collection.
During the 'Louis Treize' period chairs
became more comfortable than those of an earlier time. The word "chaise" as
a diminutive of "chaire" found its way into the French dictionary to denote
the less throne-like seat which was in more ordinary use, and, instead of
being at this period entirely carved, it was upholstered in velvet, tapestry
or needlework; the frame was covered, and only the legs and arms visible and
slightly carved. In the illustration here given, the King and his courtiers
are seated on chairs such as have been described. Marqueterie was more
common; large armoires, clients of drawers and knee-hole writing tables were
covered with an inlay of vases of flowers and birds, of a brownish wood,
with enrichments of bone and ivory, inserted in a black ground of stained
wood, very much like the Dutch inlaid furniture of some years later but with
less colour in the various veneers than is found in the Dutch work. Mirrors
became larger, the decoration of rooms had ornamental friezes with lower
portions of the walls panelled, and the bedrooms of ladies of position began
to be more luxuriously furnished.
It is somewhat singular that while Normandy
very quickly adopted the new designs in her buildings and her furniture, and
Rouen carvers and joiners became famous for their work, the neighbouring
province, Brittany, was conservative of her earlier designs. The sturdy
Breton has through all changes of style preserved much of the rustic
quaintness of his furniture, and when some three or four years ago the
writer was stranded in a sailing trip up the Ranee, owing to the shallow
state of the river, and had an opportunity of visiting some of the farm
houses in the country district a few miles from Dinan, there were still to
be seen many examples of this quaint rustic furniture. Curious beds,
consisting of shelves for parents and children, form a cupboard in the wall
and are shut in during the day by a pair of lattice doors of Moorish design,
with the wheel pattern and spindle perforations. These, with the armoire of
similar design, and the "huche" or chest with relief carving, of a design
part Moorish, part Byzantine, used as a step to mount to the bed and also as
a table, are still the garniture of a good farm house in Brittany.
The earliest date of this quaint furniture is
about the middle of the fifteenth century, and has been handed down from
father to son by the more well-to-do farmers. The manufacture of armoires,
cupboards, tables and doors, is still carried on near St. Malo, where also
some of the old specimens may be found.