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French Furniture: Distinctive Periods and Styles

Where design and craftsmanship artfully converge.

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French Furniture
Periods & Styles
Renaissance Through Louis XVl

The ceilings, wall-decorations and chimney-pieces proper to each period are described from contemporary authorities and illustrated from contemporary pictures and prints. The furniture is described from specimens existing in many collections and museums; and frequently in the words of the great makers and designers themselves. Included here are many partial inventories of representative homes and many descriptions of separate sumptuous beds and other pieces of furniture typical of each period. Any one can learn here how to drape a bed, or a window; what valances, curtains, lambrequins, cords and tassels are appropriate, and what materials, braids and nails may be used.

AUG, 11, 2023
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The age of Louis XIII. saw the transformation of Paris, and the application of the decorative arts to private life. The new manners in this period finally break with the Middle Ages and the Renaissance. It is a transitory, but decisive, period with its own originality. The feature of a Louis XIII room that formed one of its chief attractions was its tapestries and other hangings. It is an age of rich textiles: not only do we find tapestry with its mythological, Biblical, allegorical, historical and floral pictures, but damasks, silks, velvets, brocades, serges and Oriental goods occur in bewildering variety.

Louis Xlll Period: The General Characteristics
and Decorative Features

In decorative art, the form of Renaissance known as Henri II., which owed so much to the taste and influence of Diana of Poitiers, lasted for three quarters of a century. There was practically no change till the regency of Marie de’ Medici, when she invited Rubens to Paris. In 1625, he had completed his Luxembourg works, and the commencement of his visit is generally regarded as the date of the beginning of the pure Louis XIII style. Flemish influence, therefore, is the keynote of this modified Renaissance style. Marie de’ Medici called many of her own countrymen from Italy to design the new works, and Rubens himself had spent eight years in Mantua, and therefore Italian taste is often apparent in the Louis XIII style, but is quite secondary to that of Flanders. The great fame that Rubens enjoyed and his splendid reception in Paris gave his work unquestioned authority with the contemporary French decorative artists. His painting affected furniture with its luxuriant, robust and somewhat heavy qualities.

Vouet, during this period, occupied a somewhat similar position to that held by Le Brun during the Louis XIV period. It is interesting to note the importance now held by goldsmiths in decorative art. A great deal of the furniture of the day was designed by them. Architects also regarded furniture as an integral part of the interior decoration of their apartments, and therefore designed the important pieces. For instance, Crispin de Passe (1570–1642) shows, besides his chimney-pieces (which being the most important architectural feature in the room, always received careful artistic treatment from the architects), chairs and bedstead. The latter still retains a good deal of Renaissance feeling, with carved posts, open-carved colonnade in the high foot-board and bulb feet. It is somewhat reminiscent of Du Cerceau’s design.

One of the important decorative details and ornaments is the cartouche which also follows the prevailing taste: it is wider than it is high, and its field has always a somewhat exaggerated convex curve. The rounded form also predominates in the cut-work fringing the frame, and protuberance is also a noticeable feature of the balusters that are made use of in the various parts of furniture that require columns or supports. The characteristic chair of the period (see Plate l ) is short in the back. The larger pieces of furniture follow the same general form, being divided into two bodies by a horizontal cornice, shelf, or other line at above half the total height of the piece of furniture. The cabinets, architectural in form, have greater width than height, and rest on a frame or table with legs turned spirally and connected. This style of cabinet was introduced early in the period.

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The most characteristic chair of Louis Xlll period is the short, square and rather squat, yet well-proportioned chair and which in England is known as “the low leather,” or “Cromwell chair. 

The vases also are very corpulent in form, which effect is exaggerated by their very small bases. The faces of the mascarons are very chubby, and are unusually lacking in expression. The decorative garlands, which are composed almost exclusively of leaves and fruits, very seldom of flowers, are arranged in heavy swags, almost always disposed in a semi-circle. Pears, and more especially apples, are the fruits most frequently met with. They are usually accompanied with short leaves without serrated edges. The garlands are of uniform thickness throughout; they are quite heavy. Cornucopias symmetrically disposed are often found on the frontons. It is a peculiarity of these cornucopias that notwithstanding the considerable size and quantity of the fruits overflowing their mouths, they are so slender that they might almost be taken for curved trumpets. Though rich and very abundant in detail, this ornamentation does not show much relief, because the composition, as a rule, does not present any important or dominant motive. In the decoration it is seldom that the living form plays more than an entirely accessory part. The bold round mouldings now dispense with the ornaments and details of preceding styles. In many cases, these mouldings frame panels in which the square form predominates. When the square is extended into a rectangle, its dimensions are always greater horizontally than vertically. The hexagon, so much employed in the Henri II. style, is now supplanted by the octagon, which is frequently to be noticed.

Having now gone over the general characteristics and decorative features of this period, we may proceed to describe the separate pieces of furniture that are appropriate for a room of the Louis XIII style. First let it be said, however, that it is a mistake to suppose that a Louis XIII room need be in any sense bare, cheerless, or lacking in comfort or convenience. The impression gained from the charming engravings of Abraham Bosse is one of cosiness as well

as elegance. Read More

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