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Decorative Art


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302 Pages

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From the Middle Ages to contemporary times, decorative art can be defi ned by the artistic materials, designs and objects used in both architecture and interior design. Similar to many art forms decorative art continues to evolve, originating with pieces as simple as a chair, noted for its utility, to purely ornamental objects, celebrated for their aesthetic beauty.
Decorative Art aims to eulogize these often undervalued objects by giving praise to all mediums of decorative art throughout the centuries. Originally never considered as fi ne art, their artistic potential was not acknowledged until the twentieth century when industrial production replaced artisanal creation.
The age, authenticity and above all the uniqueness of these precious objects have now become the new standards of quality and beauty found in decorative art. Join us in discovering the evolution of decorative art through this enticing survey of major masterpieces throughout time.



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Albert Jacquemart

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ISBN: 978-1-78310-787-2Albert Jacquemart

Decorative Art

C o n t e n t s

Carved wooden furniture
Furniture inlaid with piqué
Ebony furniture inlaid with ivory or carved
Furniture inlaid with stones
Furniture styled with brass carving
Furniture overlaid with tortoise shell and metal
Furniture in marquetry of various woods
Furniture panelled with plaques of porcelain
Furniture lacquered in varnish or paint
Furniture in gilt or painted wood
Ornamental Art
Ornamental bronzes
Clocks and timepieces
Wrought iron, European arms, embossed brass, damascened metals
Repoussé coppers
Damascened metals
The goldsmith’s art
Tortoise shell, piqué, and posé d’or
Boxes and snuff boxes
Cloisonné and champlevé enamels
Painted enamels
Venetian enamels
Objects of Art Derived from Statuary
Marble, stone, alabaster
Plaquettes and medallions
WoodDrapes and Fabrics
The Gobelins
Embroidery and lace
Knitted fabric
Leather and wallpaper
NotesthDiptych, 8 century. Elephant ivory, 34.3 x 10.7 cm.
From the Beauvais Cathedral treasure. Musée de Cluny, Paris.

I n t r o d u c t i o n

In discussing furniture, we must begin by defining the value of the word according to the various
periods to which it is applied. In its literal and general meaning, furniture represents everything that is
moveable, transportable, and easy to put away.
In the early ages of our history, man was, to a certain extent, nomadic. If the necessity of defence
caused castles and fortresses to be erected, fitted for repelling a hostile incursion, and for protecting
the humble dwellings which gathered around them, lords and vassals, rich and poor, providing against
a victorious invasion, or the necessity of going to fight in distant parts for their country’s cause, held
themselves prepared to pack up, in chests kept ready for the purpose, all of their possessions. These
chests are, therefore, the first and most ancient furniture.
By degrees, as public security increased, and society, growing more condensed, found support in
its legal organisation, ease began to develop. Along with this came luxury, the innate want of
intelligent races who require the satisfaction of the eye in proportion to the enlightenment of the
mind. Strictly speaking, therefore, it was not until after the strife of the Middle Ages that furniture,
such as we understand it today, could have existed. That is, an assemblage of objects placed in the
principal divisions of the habitation to satisfy various requirements, and at the same time present an
agreeable, elegant and even splendid appearance.
It is difficult, therefore, in the present day to compose a truly historical set of furniture, even by
seeking its elements in the periods closest to us. Customs, habits, needs, and wants have changed;
ancient pieces have been destroyed in mass quantities, and even when they are discovered, these pieces
offer an incomplete match in regard to comfort as a modern invention but an absolute necessity in
every luxurious dwelling.
Some people have, it is true, conceived the idea of transforming old furniture so as to adapt it to
present exigencies; this is a barbaric concept, against which all sensible men will protest. Let us
respect the waifs of the past, and beware of touching them with sacrilegious hands. It is only thus that
valuable relics can retain their prestige, and add lustre to the galleries of their fortunate possessors.
Nor do we accept the compromise adopted by some, which consists in completing a furniture
characteristic of a particular period with modern imitations. Few people would be deceived by it, and
a false specimen introduced into a collection confuses visitors, and makes them doubt the authenticity
of the entire collection.
Let us now glance rapidly at the periods whence a connoisseur may seek, with some chance of
success, various parts of a choice set of furniture.
thIn the 14 century, Charles V and Jeanne of Bourbon had collected at the Louvre and in their
chateaux countless marvels, of which a detailed inventory has preserved us a description of the
contents. It was absolutely necessary that the flats should be suitable in order to contain these
treasures. Indeed, contemporary writings prove the admiration impressed upon and shared with their
guests by Holy Roman Emperor Charles IV and his son Wenceslas, King of the Romans, when they
came to Paris in 1378. They even felt great pleasure, writers say, in receiving magnificent jewels from
the king, “such as they are known to do in Paris.”
thThe 15 century offered nothing to add to this luxury. At most one could ask for items with which
to furnish an oratory or study, that is to say chairs, benches, desks, kneelers, bookshelves and cabinets,
thIn the 16 century, furniture that may be applied to our current uses becomes more common. The
necessity of easy transport still exists and everything must be made with the option of disassembly;
beds have their columns and other parts jointed, tables are on trestles or made to fold down on their
axis, cabinets are numerous and varied in materials and dimensions so that being filled with valuablesthey may be easily stored in the chests or trunks, chairs have hooks, fastenings or can be folded. In a
word, the camp furniture is ready to be packed together with the ornamental cushions, carpets and
moveable hangings that they attached wherever the dwelling-place of the moment was located.
At the end of the century, furniture becomes still more abundant, and already the more cumbrous
pieces cease to travel; at the moment of leaving the chateau such pieces are consigned to the garrets or
the wardrobe rooms, where they remain until the day of return. At this period, a taste for the sights
becomes more common; distant voyages procure objects from India, caskets painted in the Turkish
fashion, oriental carpets and porcelain from China, which was easily obtainable in Cairo. It is easy to
realise in the present day what kind of riches a palace of 1589 might contain; l’Inventaire des
meubles de Catherine de Médici, published by Edmond Bonnaffé, is, in this respect, as descriptive as
possible.Castle of Écouen, aerial view.Notre Dame de Paris, sculpture room. Musée de Cluny, Paris.

To return to less exceptional things, let us go back to the Musée de Cluny, where the decorations
from the Château de Villepreux, belonging to Pierre de Gondy, bishop of Paris, will show the luxury
thof the 16 century in a simpler form, and allow us to observe a bed more appropriat for
contemporary use. We must also point out this important peculiarity, that the inventory of Catherine
de Médici shows a very extensive collection of ebony cabinets inlaid with ivory which are of German
fashion, that is, marquetry of various woods. However, it does not have pieces of wood-carved
furniture which must have still been in use, as may be proved by those bearing the monogram of
Henry II and the double crescent to be found in museums and among collections. It is an indication of
the possible mingling of these three kinds of furniture making one whole set.
thWe still keep to the genuine 16 century so long as we do not see the rather cumbrous pieces of
the time of Henry IV which lead directly to the style of Louis XIII. The furniture of this period of
transition, which is occasionally sombre from the abuse of ebony, has already a degree of pomp
announcing the century of Louis XIV. When we say furniture, we do not mean pieces of outward
show, more luxurious than useful; this is one of the characteristics of the period of the great king. A
more complete picture more clearly proving the absence of useful furniture could not be desired. In
order to find such, in an intimate and charming form, we must pass to the reign of Louis XV, the king
who deserted the state apartments to take refuge in places with secret doors and back staircases.
But here, if the “grandiose” style has disappeared, that of exaggerated caprice takes its place.
Everything is distorted, broken and complicated, exuberant, elaborately ornamented details appear in
everything; simplicity is unknown. It is the period above all others which is the most difficult for the
man of taste. Ugliness jostled with what is mere extravagance of style or elegance, while, by a
judicious choice, the exaggerations which are the evident work of artists of inferior merit who can
only be impressed with ideas from their extreme points of view discarded. Here begins the remarkable
era of metal carving with bronze being applied to cabinet work, torches, chandeliers and lamps, which
are often of admirable workmanship and talented design.
We will say little about the period of Louis XVI; public taste leads most in that direction, and it is
very well known. The charming simplicity of its style is an intelligent protest against the rocaille and
loose furniture preceding it. We find in it all that our present desires demand, united to even the mostdelicate designs. The only dangers that connoisseurs may encounter are scarcity, high prices and the
fear of forgeries.
It may be seen by this rapid sketch what difficulties exist in the reformation of a historical set of
furniture and what care and tact must be used in order to avoid anachronisms. From the earliest ages,
the love for rare and interesting things introduced an eclectic variety into private homes, which well
characterised the taste of the collector. The Romans liked to surround themselves with the valuable
objects afforded to them through conquest or distant commerce; the Middle Ages had the same
tendency, and the search for exotic treasures continued and increased over time. In France, the
crusades were a first revelation; the wars in Italy completed the work and gave rise to the
Renaissance.Alessandro Vittoria, Jupiter Holding his Thunderbolt,
c. 1580. Bronze, 72 cm. Castle of Écouen,
Musée national de la Renaissance.

Oriental works, rich carpets and antiques therefore have a right to take their place amongst ancient
thfurniture, in order to heighten its charm; this is evident from the preceding descriptions. In the 17
century, India and China mingle their products with those of France’s national industry. Under Louis
XV, porcelain begins to intrude everywhere; it is time for its development in French manufactories,
which is made possible due to the discovery in Saxony of a hard paste similar to that of the Chinese.
Now, not only the table is composed of porcelain, but chimney pieces, furniture details, console
tables, vases, and candlesticks of novel invention, which does not, however, cause oriental works to
be proscribed. These novelties lose part of their popularity under Louis XVI and French porcelain
tends to take their place, with its delicate paintings, and soft, varied colouring. Sèvres porcelain
harmonised wonderfully with the rosewood veneering, and chasings rivalling jewellery, with matte
bronzes and the fine goldsmith works emulating antique styles. Art, then, or to say more, science,
consists of knowing how to choose these different elements, and combine them so that taste may be
satisfied without injury to historical accuracy; the impression is then complete, and the visitor can
imagine himself living during some other period.
There is no doubt that attaining this is difficult. Not only great sacrifices have been made, but a
combination of fortunate circumstances has enabled some connoisseurs to complete a salon, a
bedchamber, a boudoir, with things not only antique, but of a particular epoch. Thus everyone can
remember the Louis XIV salon of Leopold Double, as well as Rosalie Duthé’s charming boudoir, in
which the ceiling and painted panelling are accompanied by all the accessories of the same origin,
patiently collected, purchased under the excitement of public auctions, or snatched from the hammer
of demolitions. The sumptuous apartments of the Rothschild family are also much admired where
every moment one expects to see the sympathetic forms of Marie Antoinette and Madame de
Lamballe, who are most often recalled to one’s recollection.
These difficulties need not discourage those who desire to borrow objects from the past to
surround themselves with. If, from the severity of its demands, history should escape them, they can
make use of a compromise, which taste allows, by composing a purely eclectic set of furniture.
Let us here explain: among the connoisseurs of less contemporary times, there were some who,
like their ancestors of the Renaissance and the following centuries, openly assumed the title of
collector and their possession of an antique cabinet was well-known. In those days, as we know, the
cabinet, which was an appendage and ornament to a habitation, contained, besides jewellery and other
articles of personal ornament, silver coins, bronzes, weapons, marbles, medals, crystals, stones,
pictures, in short, all that constitutes a collection. In the present day, however, many who collect
relics of the past refuse, from modesty, to avow that they possess a cabinet. Are they less rich in
rarities than the old connoisseurs? Not so; but what they acquire is not grouped in a single gallery, in
the cabinet; it is scattered about everywhere, surrounding them wherever they may be, and their
enjoyment of it is increased because at every moment they have within reach one of the thousand
objects they love. This, therefore, is precisely what constitutes a set of eclectic furniture.
Can it be concluded from this that it is sufficient to possess valuable things and bring them
together by chance in order to come within the rules of eclecticism? A rich interior should not
resemble the well-furnished shop of a dealer, as ill-assorted objects are always disagreeable. Works
bearing the special date of their style possess obvious harmony; the credenzas[1] of the Middle Ages
and the sideboards with their delicate Gothic tracery would be out of place, if placed side by side with
tormented brass chests, glaring with twisted and intrusive brasswork. Solid French earthenware
would look coarse placed in contact with the furniture of Louis XVI and Sèvres porcelain would
thappear insipid on a crystal cabinet of the 17 century.
It will be asked, then, where is a rule to be found? We repeat, in taste. Let us declare to the credit
of our artists that it is principally to them that we may go for advice on the scientific assemblage of
these various objects. The choice of form, the true keynote in the assortment of colours, the supreme
elegance of the whole put together as one all denote the experience gained in their daily studies andhistorical knowledge, bringing all the power of this particular talent to light.
Examples of these particular talents include highlighting a tapestry from Arras or Flanders or
displaying a lacquered cabinet of Indian piqué or of ebony inlaid with ivory in their best light.
Including additionally, finding a suitable place for arms, porcelain and bronzes, exhibiting a terracotta
work by Clodion, an ivory piece by François Duquesnoy, or the goldsmith work of Baslin.
Furthermore, suspending in their right places a Persian embroidery, an Indian brocade, and a Japanese
rouleau could never be the work of a newcomer. The anachronisms between two ill-assorted pieces
may be as offensive to the eye as the mismatched parts of a complete set of furniture. The finest
pieces of armour will assume the look of old iron depending on the background which serves to set
them off. The true secret lies in finding transition pieces.Jean-François Oeben and Jean-Henri Riesener, Roll-top secrétaire
for Louis XV’s inner study in Versailles, 1760-1769. Bronze,
marquetry of a variety of fine woods, Sèvres porcelain,
147.3 x 192.5 x 105 cm. Palace of Versailles.Jean-François Dubut, Small Louis XV writing desk
(from a pair) violin-shaped, close view of the feet in
gilt bronze. Archives of the Didier Aaron Gallery, Paris.


The furniture of the Middle Ages must be divided into two different categories. The most important
examples are evidently those for religious use. Where else should the greatest splendour of art be
exhibited than in the house of the Almighty? Were not the workmen established in monastic houses
specially bound to devote all of their energies to the adornment of the Church? History proves it is
amongst the choir stalls where masterpieces of art and the ornaments of the sacristy must be sought.
However, we will dwell but little on this branch of furniture, which diverges slightly from the
specialty of this study. It will be sufficient for us to point out the pieces in our museums which
exhibit its characteristics. First, we will mention the sumptuous sacristy sideboard, preserved in the
Musée de Cluny, taken from the church of Saint-Pol-de-Léon. Its triple-staged construction, the
lacelike delicacy of its pierced canopies, its panels which hold the arms of France, Brittany, and those of a
donor stand in relief; its beautiful locks of wrought iron, decorated with emblazoned woodwork
bearing the same arms as the panels, make it one of the most interesting specimens of the cabinet
thwork of the 15 century. A no less important piece of the same period is the carved woodwork
forming the railing of one of the chapels of the church in Augerolles (Puy-de-Dôme). We should also
mention a large refectory bench with the arms of France, probably taken from some royal abbey, and
here we will stop on the threshold of the Renaissance when religious and secular furniture become
To discover the remnants of the latter, we must search manorial homes. The first craftsmen
employed in the construction of various containers of all sizes destined to contain and transport an
individual’s property were simply carpenters. It is interesting to review the various terms which have
served to qualify this primitive style of furniture. The b a h u t was originally a covering made of leather
or wicker and used to contain and protect a large box, in which other smaller boxes were lodged.
Through the course of time, the name passed from the covering to the box itself, and served to
designate even armoires and jewel boxes. The c o f f e r is subject to a still greater number of variations;
it is often confused with the bahut, or chest, and becomes synonymous with trunk, casket, and
moving, particularly when considering its capaciousness. A very large coffer was used as a receptacle
for other, smaller boxes when on a journey, and at home its interior served the same purpose as
today’s armoires. It was also used as a seat, and even as a table. As for the smaller chests or caskets,
they varied as much in shape as in material, and those made of gold, silver, precious woods, chased or
enamelled copper played an important part in the elegant life and the splendour of the Middle Ages.
The custom of locking not only valuable jewels, but also cash in coffers caused the name to be
adopted to express the finances of king or state.thSideboard, late 16 century. Golden walnut wood.

The hutch is, again, another type of coffer or bahut, sometimes called a r c h e, h u c e a u, h u c h e a u,
h u c h e l, and b u f f e t. The hucheau was not as large as the huche, and nothing enables us to distinguish
whether the other varieties of the name indicated a difference of form or use.
To return to our primitive workmen, the carpenters naturally held art as a secondary rank. Solidity,
it may well be imagined, was the first qualification for these chests, which were destined for frequent
journeys on the back of powerful sumpter horses, to circulate through the winding staircases and
narrow passages of the feudal towers, and bear the weight of those who used them as a seat.
Accordingly, one of the most ancient decorations consisted in the application of complicated iron
mounts, which added strength to skilfully fashioned woods. The Musée Carnavalet of Paris possesses
one of these coffers, iron-bound in the same way and perhaps by the same hand as the celebrated
thentrance doors of Notre Dame de Paris, one of the masterpieces of the 18 century.
thFrom the close of the 11 century, however, the necessity of embellishing with ornaments in relief
became understood and such objects were constantly placed within sight. This was required in order
to create a greater harmony with the splendour of hangings and dress. They even went farther by
covering broad surfaces with gold backgrounds, embellished by paintings. In the following century
elegance of form came into consideration. It ushered rounded wood into the construction of
thfurniture, and then in the 13 century the grounds were ornamented with sculptures of low relief.
During these two centuries, however, furniture remained within very narrow limits. As we have
just observed, hutches and bahuts constituted its basis having clothing, linen, valuables, and money as
their main consignment. The bed came next, then the chair of the master of the house, high-backed
benches, some stools, the cabinet, which was moveable and permitted circulation around it for the
convenience of service, and the sideboard in the form of a shelf, on which tablecloths were spread at
meals, and the most valuable plates were laid out on the narrow shelves which rose in steps at the
back. The beds were surrounded with curtains suspended by a system of cords, and the larger pieces of
furniture were ornamented with portable cushions and Saracenic carpets.Octagonal table, c. 1480-1500.
Oak wood, 75 x 90.5 x 79 cm.
Musée de Cluny, Paris.

thThe 13 century, while bringing more advanced developmental tools, also caused a separation
amongst the workmen specially employed in the construction of furniture, who thenceforth
were divided into two different classes: carpenters and joiners. The first applied themselves solely to
massive works; the others, advancing further and further into the domain of art, became assimilated
with the y m a i g i e r s or sculptors themselves. They traced flowery patterns with elegant scrolls of
foliage on the pliant wood to form the framework of personages and scenes from sacred or profane
history, or else representing in Gothic or square compartments subjects of fables or legendary songs.
th thIn the 14 century and early years of the 15 , elegant luxury was primarily displayed in rich
fabrics and tapestries made to cover furniture, seats and benches. The flowing draperies of the beds
partook of this taste, which originated with the Crusades, and was initially inspired by the sight of the
magnificent fabrics of the East. Sculpture, nevertheless, continued its progress, and even Italian
woodwork began to show Oriental derivation.
thIn the 15 century, the appearance of a bedroom is thus represented. The curtains of the bedstead
are tied back in order to display its costly coverlets; on one side sits the master’s chair, then the
devotional picture or small domestic altar attached to the wall. The armoire and other small pieces of
furniture were arranged around the room, and often in front of an immense fireplace was a
highbacked seat where one came to seek warmth. This arrangement, which can be seen in miniatures and
tapestries taken from various sources, proves the uniformity of lifestyles in the different classes of
society. Here we find figures whose dress and elegance denote their high position; here, again, are
plain citizens surrounded by their serving men and a number of objects which allow us to judge that
the room is in one moment the bedroom, the reception room in another, and also the family refectory.
If we enter the study of a statesman or writer, we find the monumental high-backed chair, a revolving
desk with a turning wheel intended to keep a number of books close within reach, lecterns, and
various other types of desks for writing.
This age also corresponds with the complete expansion of Gothic architecture and furniture. The
furniture is divided into flamboyant Gothic cloisters, crowned by fine needle-shaped sticks and
flourishing leaves; their niches contain elegantly quaint figures, and the panels, with their bas-reliefs,
rival the perfection of altarpieces and religious triptychs of intricate workmanship. Accordingly, no
part of these articles of furniture was covered so that the artist’s ingenious conceptions could be
easily viewed, unless a covering was absolutely necessary. Much of this furniture served only for
luxurious display, while that which was destined for travelling remained simple in form and was
modestly concealed in those parts of the dwelling reserved for private life.
thWe will not extend this brief sketch any further, for, from the 16 century, both public and private
life is pictured in so large a number of monuments, paintings, tapestries, engravings and manuscripts
that it would be superfluous to attempt an analysis essentially colourless beside the originals. Now,
rather than study furniture as a whole, we will view it broken down into genre so as to show its
progress, connections and appreciate its styles in their successive transformations.“Joinville” sideboard, c. 1524.
Carved wood, 144 cm. Castle of Écouen,
Musée national de la Renaissance.“Harpys” sideboard, c. 1560-1570.
Carved wood, 147 cm. Castle of Écouen,
Musée national de la Renaissance.

Carved wooden furniture

What we said previously about the uses of primitive furniture renders it needless to insist on the fact
that the greater part of it was made of oak. Nothing less than this solid material assembled by robust
carpenters could serve for resisting the endless jolting of constant journeys. Understandably, it is
unnecessary to dwell long on the subject of the first chests, the majority of which must have
disappeared. It is when art begins to manifest itself that interest commences. We have already
mentioned the iron-bound coffer of the Musée Carnavalet of Paris. We will also examine, as a
thcharacteristic of the end of the 13 century, the curious piece purchased by the Musée de Cluny. It is
a bahut of which the sides are ornamented with arches framing figures of men-at-arms in full armour
and jugglers. One end exhibits a riding warrior and the other has a tree with diverging branches laden
with leaves. The top, slightly rounded, is of squared medallions containing scenes illustrative of both
customs and military figures. The ironwork is in a more advanced style of art than the wood; indeed
thwe may set the beginning of the 13 century as the peak of ironwork.
thA sort of gap occurs between this period and the 15 century when examples become plentiful, a
gap which is filled with works in sculpture and sufficiently manifests the trial and error of art. During
this period of transition, the various names by which furniture workers were associated is obvious
proof of the indecision existing in the exercise of their trade; few are called carpenters, others are
huchiers and coffer makers, finally the title carpenter appears to encompass them all, so to speak, with
the new form of art and elegancies. To find cabinet makers, we must pass over another century and
enter the full period of the Renaissance.
A similar chest from the same collection is also valuable on more than one account. Of undeniable
Italian origin, it is sculpted with ornaments of an elegant Gothic style, which are curiously combined
with certain antique and Romanesque reminiscences. The upper frieze is a classic p a s t e[2] arranged in
the Gothic style; the four front compartments are composed of elliptic shaped arches, trefoiled
interiorly, and supported by small twisted columns. This structure is done with coloured backgrounds
which completely frame the subject, each of which represents the same young man presenting himself
successively before men in religious costumes. Next the young man’s presence is announced in a
castle by men sounding the trumpet while women advance to receive him and introduce him into the
interior of the dwelling. The final picture represents a room in which the young man is seated between
a matron and a young girl, who has appeared in the two preceding pictures; musicians are sounding
thtrumpets and everything suggests that it is a betrothal ceremony. Thus, the bahut of the 15 century is
already the c a s s o n e, or marriage coffer, which was presented with the wedding gifts, a custom we
will see reproduced throughout the whole of the following century in Italy, and which has been
adopted in many other countries, where the splendidly furnished c o r b e i l l e is still an object of great
luxury.thThrone, 16 century.
Carved wood, 174 cm. Castle of Écouen,
Musée national de la Renaissance.

What confirms our opinion that it is a marriage coffer is another painted specimen, belonging to the
Cernuschi collection , which forces this title upon itself. On this, appliqué ornaments of antique style
are gilded to form three compartments. The middle one contains a painted coat of arms in relief,
while the other two represent a young married couple followed by a cavalcade, accompanied by
musicians, arriving at the paternal dwelling where they ask for admittance; they are received, and the
mother embraces the young wife in a columned vestibule in the presence of the assembled family. The
train of attendants has disappeared and all we can see near the doorway is the sumpter mule laden
thwith the baggage of the married pair. This piece is also of the 15 century, as the costumes show, but
its style of ornament already gives us foresight into the Renaissance. We will not even attempt to list
the Italian artists who were able to devote their chisel to the embellishment of furniture;
contemporaries themselves were content to say that the most illustrious among the sculptors did not
disdain this branch of art.

thIt is extremely difficult to specify the dates of 15 century works. The oldest and most numerous are
derived from the Gothic style; buttresses, mullions, trefoils and rosettes form their most common
ornament. However, this style lasted, more or less, for such a considerable time because it was
modified according to various centres and tastes of the changing times; the Gothic of the north of
France is not that of the south nor of Italy, rather, the pieces with figures have yielded to still more
variable influences. There are some pieces of furniture without analogy to any others which defy all
classification; of such is a magnificent cedar chest belonging to Edmond Bonnaffé. Figures wearing
ththe costume of the Court of Burgundy towards the middle of the 15 century represent scenes from
Jean de La Fontaine’s fable of love, framed in a rich scroll border with animals running among the
foliage. This border is specifically reminiscent of the precious Sicilian-Byzantine fabrics executed at
Palermo. Yet, in regards to workmanship, the piece is still mere carpenter’s work, particularly when
considering the simplicity of its joining; the lid, plain and without moulding, is bordered by a crossed
pattern of small hollow triangles, imitating the setting of Oriental marquetry piqué. The subject itself
is deeply engraved rather than sculpted.“Clairvaux” cupboard, c. 1570.
Carved wood, 246 cm. Castle of Écouen,
Musée national de la Renaissance.thChest panel, 16 century. Carved wood, 150 cm.
Castle of Écouen, Musée national de la Renaissance.“Farnèse” wardrobe, c. 1530.
Carved walnut, 230 cm. Castle of Écouen,
Musée national de la Renaissance.thFan-shaped table, 16 century.
Carved wood, 82 cm. Castle of Écouen,
Musée national de la Renaissance.

The close of the century is mainly a compromise between the past and the ideas of the Renaissance.
thAfter Louis XIII we have to look for very specific clues in order to distinguish what is of the 15 or
th16 century, French or Italian. On all sides, people sacrificed taste for antiquity; palmette ornaments,
branches of coiled flowers, and acanthus with its spiny decorative leaves replaced the western flora. In
some old centres, however, they maintained the carvings of flamboyant arches and Gothic canopies;
the new designs often led the artist to mix the styles indicative of the transition in ideas and operation.
Already furniture becomes complicated; the credenza, a simple buffet table for tasting dishes,
becomes a tall elegant cupboard, often with flaps and a small shelf underneath, it is completed by a
back piece and a shelf, thus passing on to the new form of the credenza. What was this to be called?
At first the name was given to the room destined to contain the most valuable plate; later, it was
applied to a piece of furniture meant to serve the same purpose, and by extension to the other articles
which decorated it. The sideboard differed little from the buffet. It also displayed large gold plates,
jewellery, and any other flattering items worth showing; the number of shelves was fixed according to
the rank and importance of the people with things to display. The credenza was, therefore, the buffet
of reception rooms, as the buffet was the sideboard of the banqueting hall.
Where it is necessary for us to pause a moment, is at the word cabinet. The Marquis de Laborde
th thconsiders this piece of furniture, so prevalent in the 16 and 17 centuries, to be a bahut: raised on
four legs, filled with small drawers, all shut together behind a double, sometimes quadruple, folding
door, with locks. An architectural disposition was given to this piece, both inside and outside, and
thus the cabinet was formed. The learned archaeologist has overlooked the transition which took
thplace in the 16 century between the cabinet, properly so called, and the armoire, a piece of furniture
composed of two superimposed bodies and crowned by an elegant pediment. The fact is that the
armoire is a cabinet in which the support table has been replaced by a closed base with folding doors
and thus utilised.Apollonio di Giovanni, Marriage chest,
A Tournament on Santa Croce Square in Florence,
thmid-15 century. Carved and gilt poplar wood,
oil painting decoration. The National Gallery, London.

Moreover, it would be a hopeless task to describe these different pieces of furniture, which are
clear to the connoisseur based on their splendid figures, medallions with busts almost in relief, and
arabesques of the finest taste. Such cabinets and credenzas are masterpieces in every respect. A series
of the coffers, or cassoni of Italian origin, offer an interesting subject of study in regard to history
and art. There is one in the Musée Cernuschi with plain moulding and entirely ornamented with
thpaintings; one would be tempted to attribute it to the beginning of the 15 century if the costumes of
the figures did not indicate the period of Louis XII. Those from Baron Gustave de Rothschild’s
collection are nearly of the same period, yet their magnificent sculptures in relief, broken at intervals
by the coat of arms, griffin supporters, and elegant arabesques which stand out boldly from the gilded
piqué background, would seem to make them nearly a century younger. These gilded backgrounds are
a relic of the customs of the Middle Ages; a majority of the furniture which our museums possess,
which shine with the warm colouring of old polished oak, were once illuminated in their backgrounds
as well as in their reliefs. The Musée de Cluny still has a coffer representing the twelve apostles
which has retained its ancient paint.
It is to the Renaissance, therefore, that we owe the progress which substituted the simple force of
relief for the artificial glow of blue or vermilion. To strengthen this force they began to choose fine
wood which was more accessible to the delicacy of touch than oak with its rough fibres. France
especially gave the preference to walnut, raising figures borrowed from the School of Fontainebleau
on its smooth surface figures. The choice of material and the style of workmanship enable us to
determine a certain number of schools. The school of the north of France, faithful to its ancient
traditions, retains oak and covers it with scenes in which the figures, though rather short, assume a
harsh energy; the abundant embellishments remind us of those of Rouen and other Norman edifices.
The schools of Touraine and Lyons, nearer to the sources of the Renaissance, use fine-grained wood
and rich arabesques, putting winged sphinxes as support for tables, or for the basements of their small
buildings and carve upon them elegant scenes inspired by Jean Goujon and Germain Pilon. As for the
Burgundian school, it possesses all the perfections for it stands in the very centre of progress; since
Philip the Good, it has known all the splendours of luxury and received all the encouragement that
can enhance art.Guidoccio Cozzarelli, Ulysses’ Departure,
detail: Farewell between Penelope and Ulysses,
1480-1481. Poplar wood, cut on the first or
last board of the trunk, 34 x 121.5 x 2.5 cm.
Castle of Écouen, Musée national de la Renaissance.Guidoccio Cozzarelli, Ulysses’ Departure,
1480-1481. Poplar wood, cut on the first or last
board of the trunk, 34 x 121.5 x 2.5 cm.
Castle of Écouen, Musée national de la Renaissance.

thThe 16 century, therefore, presents us a most varied and interesting series in furniture; coffers,
credenzas, cabinets, double-bodied presses or armoires, tables, beds, seats and gates can all be
obtained from it, and all in perfection. We must make a distinction, however, and not bring the simple
and light compositions of France in contact with the redundant productions of Germany. Some
amongst these, notwithstanding the science of their workmanship, sculpture exuberant garlands,
protruding consols and caryatids, whose structures seem barely sturdy enough to maintain the balance
of the piece. This degeneration will reach its final limits in what is called a kunstschrank (cabinet).
The cabinet-makers of Dresden, Augsburg and Nuremberg not only utilise various woods and stones,
they also request the aid of goldsmiths. Thus, in 1585, Johann Kellerthaler of Nuremburg covers the
smallest surfaces of the wood with embossed silver and various gems. Yes, it is the close of the
thRenaissance and the threshold of the 17 century; however, in France during this time, the decline
only manifested itself in the application of marble on panels and the intervention of ebony.
We should consider the variety of wood carved during the Renaissance which had designs sketched
out on it, was covered with a preparation of stucco moulded in relief and finally painted and gilded,
as was done in the case of frames, consoles, etc. What we find most frequently in this style are small
jewel boxes and other minor items as accessories to luxurious furniture. The disappearance of many
principal pieces should be attributed, for the most part, to their fragility alone. At the time of the
Sechan collection sale a cassone, belonging to the best period was to be seen, the exterior of which,
discoloured and defaced by time, scarcely conveyed any idea of its original splendour. In the form of
an ancient sarcophagus, supported and divided by elegant caryatids, its reliefs represented wreaths
hanging from the heads of cherubs, with palmette friezes separated by tritons with coiled ends. The
upper part showed traces of a semé which was impossible to distinguish due to the severity of damage
suffered by the details. Upon raising the lid, all was explained; its interior, like the top, was a
gridpattern of golden roses set against a red background. All the threads of the gold trim, bordered by a
succession of beading, were ornamented with arabesques of a matte blue. The circumference of the
chest, being furnished with closed compartments, served as a receptacle for valuables which were
thus kept separate from the large cavity appropriated for clothing. These dark green boxes shone with
the enhancement of fine gold arabesques. Using these elements of ornamentation, the imagination
could easily complete the restoration of the outer walls, at which point one could easily realise what
degree of opulence would be necessary in order to obtain a piece of furniture of this description.
th thWe will pause here, thought that is not to say that the 17 and 18 centuries were wanting for
armoires, buffets, or even dressers of carved walnut. However, these articles, reserved mainly for the
middle classes, were infrequent and can scarcely be found in the present day. It is among other styles
of work, therefore, that we must seek out the various branches of luxurious furnishings.

Furniture inlaid with piqué

What the Italians call tarsia, inlay work, would be, if we accept Tommaso Garzoni’s definition in his
Piazza Universale, the same thing as the work designated by Pliny, under the name of cerostrotum.
According to this etymology, therefore, this word indicates a combination of wood with inlaid piecesof horn and more especially designates the species which is called piqué when it comes from the East
and certosino when it is of Italian origin. The intarsiatori, or inlay workers, made their appearance in
thItaly in the 13 century. It is without a doubt that this work was completed by numerous brethren
trained in religious communities; this style is known as, lavoro alia certosa (Carthusian work), or by
abbreviation, certosino.
In their eagerness to push wood inlay work beyond its rational limits, artists sought to make it
representative of scenes and landscapes, as many celebrated churches can testify. It was a senseless
attempt which would end in nothing durable which we would ultimately see renewed in France in
later centuries.
The real certosino, which we will now discuss, originated in Venice, and was an Oriental
th thimitation. From the 13 century to the end of the 14 , the inlays were made of black and white
wood, sometimes accented with ivory; it was not until later that the frequency of stained wood and
use of ivory in its natural tint or a stained green began to increase; sometimes small metallic plaques
were added to the work. These primitive labours are almost always of small dimensions, consisting of
boxes and jewel cases of rather hasty construction. When the inlaid work is applied to furniture, it is
at first with a certain reserve. A bahut belonging to Henry Cernuschi is simply decorated with nets
around its circumference, and each side has a circle of diamond encrusted bone on brown wood. This
thchest dates from the 15 century. Later come the cassoni, the cabinets, the folding tables, the seats
with backs in the shape of an X, as well as elegantly carved high-backed chairs in which coloured
woods are combined with ivory and form geometrical designs of great richness. Often in circular
medallions or in the middle of panels a vase appears from which flowering stems of a blossoming
bouquet of fireworks appears. Nothing can be more elegant than this style of furniture, the only defect
of which is its uniformity. Notwithstanding some small flowers and rare coiled bouquets, what
chiefly predominates in the decoration is a repetition of circles, stars, diamonds and other common
geometric figures.
Nearly all the furniture in piqué, alia certosa, comes from Italy; but some may be met with, among
the most striking, those which have been manufactured in Portugal. They are generally to be
recognised by the abundance of copper sconces used as garnish. The cabinets have complicated
corners and keyholes which the gilding renders peculiarly bright.Guidoccio Cozzarelli, Ulysses’ Departure,
detail: The Boatmen, 1480-1481. Poplar wood,
cut on the first or last board of the trunk,
34 x 121.5 x 2.5 cm. Castle of Écouen,
Musée national de la Renaissance.

Ebony furniture inlaid with ivory or carved

The period in which ebony came to be used in cabinet work remains to be decided, but which is of
little importance. Oak and walnut already satisfied the wants of sculpture and gave a suitable ground
to inlays of coloured wood; ebony made its appearance precisely at the time when these inlays
appeared to gain favour and show themselves accompanied by brilliant stones. Know as a rebellious
material to work, ebony created a sombre effect and, especially when associated with ivory, assumes a
truly mournful aspect. Yet it is Italy, the land of supreme elegance, which gives the first impetus, not
only in the working of this wood, but also in the idea of those white inlays on a black ground called
scagliola, which formed the tops of tables similar to that of which a fragment exists at Musée de
thIt is at the end of the 16 century that we must place this unusual manifestation of art. What, then,
could have been passing through the minds of the people? Was it not around this period that the court
of France adopted funereal trinkets and the skull and crossbones appeared on the dresses of ladies
devoted to the pursuit of pleasure?
Whatever may be the cause of this innovation, its first manifestations are of exquisite delicacy and
taste. The charming stipo cabinet, originating in Italy and lent by Baron Alphonse de Rothschild to the
Exhibition of the Corps législatif, will not be forgotten. Its architectural structure, like all the
furniture of the period, had a projecting centre with triple pediment, supported by engaged columns;
numerous drawers filled both sides, and were hidden by the middle door. The refined beauty of its
construction is lost, so to say, as compared with the details of its ivory inlays of incredible delicacy.
Every frieze and panel, however small, represented episodes of mythology or of sacred or profane
history; there was even a place for simple hunting scenes. These subjects, cleverly cut and heightened
by engraving of remarkable talent, seemed to have been treated by the young Renaissance masters
themselves, so elegant was their freedom of style, so firm and pure their design. The cabinet of the
Musée de Cluny represents this genre on a more ordinary level; however, one of its details seems to
say more of the character of melancholy which we spoke of at the beginning, its bronze fittings are
silver. Nevertheless, this particular cabinet contains an interesting variety of ebony and ivory work.
The two materials are equally balanced, which makes the general aspect softer to the eye. Ivory
figures placed in the niches or on the rise of the pediments first attract the light and illuminate the
whole while the columns, with their fine engraving, assume a grey shade which harmonises between
the black of the ebony background and the base, boldly overlaid with ivory with black inlays. This
curious piece is Italian as the door panel bears a map of the peninsula and plans of Rome and Naples.
Is this inlaid ebony work special to Italy? We do not think so; we have seen many works which
appeared to indicate the taste and style of France. Still, the monuments are too scarce and the duration
of the fashion too ephemeral to announce it positively in this regard.
Should we connect a neighbouring invention which contained the seed of Boulle marquetry with
the period and idea of ivory inlays? We mean the rare furniture in ebony inlaid with large scrolls and
arabesques in engraved pewter or white metal. The effect is still more melancholy than that of ivory,
the two shades contrasting more harshly with each other. We have seen pieces in this style, the elegant
decoration of which might equally express Italian style or French spirit. The foliage was abundant and
sought after, the masses well poised; it was not the Renaissance with its ancient reminiscences and it
was not yet the art of the age of Louis XIV with its palmettes, shells, and hanging festoons, nor its
canopies and draped masks. It seems possible, therefore, to attribute these works to the beginning of
ththe reign of Louis XIII and to see the dawn of a taste special to the 17 century.
This is one of the difficulties inherent to archaeological research; at every step intermediary
specimens are to be met, leading from one style to another, verging on the same periods andpreventing a clear and positive classification. We wish to discover the inventors of styles, determine
the character of new decorations as a whole and we find that an uninterrupted chain connects human
conceptions, that nothing has been conceived from scratch. Time, from one modification to another
and from progress to progress, is the great artisan of these changes, the complete evolution of which
constitutes fashion as it adapts to the wants and tendencies of each age.
Ebony inlaid with ivory represents the last expression of the Renaissance; engraved pewter was
analogous, employed for inlaid work in furniture of large dimensions. Ebony alone, carved and
engraved, is a sort of transition between different customs and a new art. When it makes its
appearance, under Henry IV and Louis XIII, furniture begins to acquire stability and development; the
cabinet becomes a cupboard, the bahut, furnished with doors, has increased in bulk and will soon
receive the name of commode. Seeing examples of this at Musée de Cluny, these masses which are as
heavy in reality as they are ponderous in appearance, it can be understood that it is no longer a
question of removing all of this on the backs of mules. Amongst them, one can also see some works
which are very remarkable for their skilful sculpture: animated combats framed with garlands carved
with a boldness which seems to defy the rigidity of the material. In the larger pieces of furniture we
trace the influence of contemporary architecture; there are the twisted columns brought into fashion
by the famous altar of St Peter’s in Rome, also in the columns, fluted at the top and covered at the
base with capricious vegetation, which we found at the Tuileries and in the Louvre of Catherine de
Hans Schwanhardt, a German artist (died in 1621), invented the undulated mouldings which
became multiplied in excess. Large bouquets of natural flowers, including tulips and anemones,
appear on the lateral panels of the furniture in deep cut engraving; we see such represented in
jewellery, enamelling, and in embroidery, in everything connected with furniture or costume.
It bears repeating that carved ebony inlaid with ivory has a melancholy appearance; therefore,
ththroughout the first third of the 17 century, the idea to lighten up the interior of cabinets with
veneered tortoise shell frames for paintings came about. If we are to believe some writers, Rubens did
not hesitate to use his brush; we have seen many pieces of furniture which, if they were not his, at
least belonged to his school. It was in Flanders that this description of furniture was most common,
and it is quite natural to the style and gorgeous colouring of the greatest artists of the age.