Furniture 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, André Rash and Roger de Smet.
There is in the South Kensington Museum a full-sized plaster cast of this
gigantic chimney piece, the lower part being coloured black to indicate the
marble of which it was composed, with panels of alabaster carved in relief,
while the whole of the upper portion and the richly carved ceiling of the
room is of oak. The model, including the surrounding woodwork, measures
thirty-six feet across, and should not be missed by any one who is
interested in the subject of furniture, for it is noteworthy historically as
well as artistically, being a monument in its way, in celebration of the
victory gained by Charles V. over Francis I. of France, in 1529, at Pavia,
the victorious sovereign being at this time not only Emperor of Germany, but
also enjoying amongst other titles those of Duke of Burgundy, Count of
Flanders, King of Spain and the Indies, etc., etc. The large statues of the
Emperor, of Ferdinand and Isabella, with some thirty-seven heraldic shields
of the different royal families with which the conqueror claimed connection,
are prominent features in the intricate design.
There is in the same part of the Museum a
cast of the oak door of the Council Chamber of the Hotel de Ville at
Audenarde, of a much less elaborate character. Plain mullions divide sixteen
panels carved in the orthodox Renaissance style, with cupids bearing
tablets, from which are depending floral scrolls, and at the sides the
supports are columns, with the lower parts carved and standing on square
pedestals. The date of this work is 1534, somewhat later than the Bruges
carving, and is a representative specimen of the Flemish work of this
The clever Flemish artist so thoroughly
copied the models of his different masters that it has become exceedingly
difficult to speak positively as to the identity of much of the woodwork,
and to distinguish it from German, English, or Italian, although as regards
the latter we have seen that walnut wood was employed very generally,
whereas in Flanders, oak was nearly always used for figure work.
After the period of the purer forms of the
first Renaissance, the best time for carved woodwork and decorative
furniture in the Netherlands was probably the seventeenth century, when the
Flemish designers and craftsmen had ceased to copy the Italian patterns, and
had established the style we recognise as "Flemish Renaissance."
Lucas Faydherbe, architect and sculptor
(1617-1694)—whose boxwood group of the death of John the Baptist is in the
South Kensington Museum—both the Verbruggens, and Albert Bruhl, who carved
the choir work of St. Giorgio Maggiore in Venice, are amongst the most
celebrated Flemish wood carvers of this time. Vriedman de Vriesse and
Crispin de Passe, although they worked in France, belong to Flanders and to
the century. Some of the most famous painters—Francis Hals, Jordaens,
Rembrandt, Metsu, Van Mieris—all belong to this time, and in some of the
fine interiors represented by these Old Masters, in which embroidered
curtains and rich coverings relieve the sombre colors of the dark carved oak
furniture, there is a richness of effect which the artist could scarcely
have imagined, but which he must have observed in the houses of the rich
burghers of prosperous Flanders.
A Barber's Shop. From a Wood Engraving by J.
Amman. 16th Century. Shewing a Chair of the time.
In the chapter on Jacobean furniture, we
shall see the influence and assistance which England derived from Flemish
woodworkers; and the similarity of the treatment in both countries will be
noticed in some of the South Kensington Museum specimens of English
marqueterie, made at the end of the seventeenth century. The figure work in
Holland has always been of a high order, and though as the seventeenth
century advanced, this perhaps became less refined, the proportions have
always been well preserved, and the attitudes are free and unconstrained.
A very characteristic article of seventeenth
century Dutch furniture is the large and massive wardrobe, with the doors
handsomely carved, not infrequently having three columns, one in the centre
and one at each side, and these generally form part of the doors, which are
also enriched with square panels, carved in the centre and finished with
mouldings. There are specimens in the South Kensington Museum, of these and
also of earlier Flemish work when the Renaissance was purer in style and, as
has been observed, of less national character.
The marqueterie of this period is extremely
rich, the designs are less severe, but the colouring of the woods is varied,
and the effect heightened by the addition of small pieces of mother of pearl
and ivory. Later, this marqueterie became florid, badly finished, and the
colouring of the veneers crude and gaudy. Old pieces of plain mahogany
furniture were decorated with a thin layer of highly coloured veneering, a
meretricious ornamentation altogether lacking refinement.
There is, however, a peculiarity and
character about some of the furniture of North Holland, in the towns of
Alkmaar, Hoorn, and others in this district, which is worth noticing. The
treatment has always been more primitive and quaint than in the Flemish
cities to which allusion has been made—and it was here that the old farm
houses of the Nord-Hollander were furnished with the rush-bottomed chairs,
painted green; the three-legged tables, and dower chests painted in flowers
and figures of a rude description, with the colouring chiefly green and
bright red, is extremely effective.