In the chapter on "Renaissance" the great Art revival in England has been noticed; in the Elizabethan oak work of chimney pieces, panelling, and furniture, are to be found varying forms of the free classic style which the Renaissance had brought about. These fluctuating changes in fashion continued in England from the time of Elizabeth until the middle of the eighteenth century, when, as will be shewn presently, a distinct alteration in the design of furniture took place.
The domestic habits of Englishmen were getting more established. We have seen how religious persecution during preceding reigns, at the time of the Reformation, had encouraged private domestic life of families, in the smaller rooms and apart from the gossiping retainer, who might at any time bring destruction upon the household by giving information about items of conversation he had overheard. There is a passage in one of Sir Henry Wootton's letters, written in 1600, which shews that this home life was now becoming a settled characteristic of his countrymen.
"Every man's proper mansion house and home, being the theatre of his hospitality, the seate of his selfe fruition, the comfortable part of his own life, the noblest of his son's inheritance, a kind of private princedom, nay the possession thereof an epitome of the whole world, may well deserve by these attributes, according to the degree of the master, to be delightfully adorned."
Oak Chimney Piece in Sir Walter Raleigh's House, Youghal, Ireland. Said to be the work of a Flemish Artist who was brought over for the purpose of executing this and other carved work at Youghal.
Sir Henry Wootton was ambassador in Venice in 1604, and is said to have been the author of the well-known definition of an ambassador's calling, namely, "an honest man sent abroad to lie for his country's good." This offended the piety of James I., and caused him for some time to be in disgrace. He also published some 20 years later "Elements of Architecture," and being an antiquarian and man of taste, sent home many specimens of the famous Italian wood carving.
It was during the reign of James I. and that of his successor that Inigo Jones, our English Vitruvius, was making his great reputation; he had returned from Italy full of enthusiasm for the Renaissance of Palladio and his school, and of knowledge and taste gained by a diligent study of the ancient classic buildings of Rome; his influence would be speedily felt in the design of woodwork fittings, for the interiors of his edifices. There is a note in his own copy of Palladio, which is now in the library of Worcester College, Oxford, which is worth quoting:—
In the following year he returned from Italy on his appointment as King's surveyor of works, and until his death in 1652 was full of work, though unfortunately for us, much that he designed was never carried out, and much that he carried out has been destroyed by fire. The Banqueting Hall of Whitehall, now Whitehall Chapel; St. Paul's, Covent Garden; the old water gate originally intended as the entrance to the first Duke of Buckingham's Palace, close to Charing Cross; Nos. 55 and 56, on the south side of Great Queen Street, Lincoln's Inn; and one or two monuments and porches, are amongst the examples that remain to us of this great master's work; and of interiors, that of Ashburnham House is left to remind us, with its quiet dignity of style, of this great master. It has been said in speaking of the staircase, plaster ornament, and woodwork of this interior, "upon the whole is set the seal of the time of Charles I." As the work was probably finished during that King's reign, the impression intended to be conveyed was that after wood carving had rather run riot towards the end of the sixteenth century, we had now in the interior designed by Inigo Jones, or influenced by his school, a more quiet and sober style.
The above woodcut shews a portion of the King's room in Ford Castle, which still contains souvenirs of Flodden Field—according to an article in the Magazine of Art. The room is in the northernmost tower, which still preserves externally the stern, grim character of the border fortress; and the room looks towards the famous battle-field. The chair shews a date 1638, and there is another of Dutch design of about fifty or sixty years later; but the carved oak bedstead, with tapestry hangings, and the oak press, which the writer of the article mentions as forming part of the old furniture of the room, scarcely appear in the illustration.
Mr. Hungerford Pollen tells us that the majority of so-called Tudor houses were actually built during the reign of James I., and this may probably be accepted as an explanation of the otherwise curious fact of there being much in the architecture and woodwork of this time which would seem to have belonged to the earlier period.
The illustrations of wooden chimney-pieces will show this change. There are in the South Kensington Museum some three or four chimney-pieces of stone, having the upper portions of carved oak, the dates of which have been ascertained to be about 1620; these were removed from an old house in Lime Street, City, and give us an idea of the interior decoration of a residence of a London merchant. The one illustrated is somewhat richer than the others, the columns supporting the cornice of the others being almost plain pillars with Ionic or Doric capitals, and the carving of the panels of all of them is in less relief, and simpler in character, than those which occur in the latter part of Elizabeth's time.
Carved Oak Centre Table. In the Hall of the Carpenters' Company.
The earliest dated piece of Jacobean furniture which has come under the writer's observation is the octagonal table belonging to the Carpenters' Company. The illustration, taken from Mr. Jupp's book referred to in the last chapter, hardly does the table justice; it is really a very handsome piece of furniture, and measures about 3 feet 3 inches in diameter. In the spandrils of the arches between the legs are the letters R.W., G.I., J.R., and W.W., being the initials of Richard Wyatt, George Isack, John Reeve, and William Willson, who were Master and Wardens of the Company in 1606, which date is carved in two of the spandrils. While the ornamental legs shew some of the characteristics of Elizabethan work, the treatment is less bold, the large acorn-shaped member has become more refined and attenuated, and the ornament is altogether more subdued. This is a remarkable specimen of early Jacobean furniture, and is the only one of the shape and kind known to the writer; it is in excellent preservation, save that the top is split, and it shews signs of having been made with considerable skill and care.
Carved Oak Chair. From Abingdon Park.
Carved Oak Chair. In the Carpenters' Hall From Photos in the S. Kensington Museum Album. Early XVII. Century. English.
The Science and Art Department keep for reference an album containing photographs, not only of many of the specimens in the different museums under its control, but also of some of those which have been lent for a temporary exhibition. The illustration of the above two chairs is taken from this source, the album having been placed at the writer's disposal by the courtesy of Mr. Jones, of the Photograph Department. The left-hand chair, from Abingdon Park, is said to have belonged to Lady Barnard, Shakespeare's grand-daughter, and the other may still be seen in the Hall of the Carpenters' Company.
Oak Chimney Piece. Removed from an old house in Lime Street, City. (South Kensington Museum.) Period: James I.
In the Hall of the Barbers' Company in Monkswell Street, the Court room, which is lighted with an octagonal cupola, was designed by Inigo Jones as a Theatre of Anatomy, when the Barbers and Surgeons were one corporation. There are some three or four tallies of this period in the Hall, having four legs connected by stretchers, quite plain; the moulded edges of the table tops are also without enrichment. These plain oak slabs, and also the stretchers, have been renewed, but in exactly the same style as the original work; the legs, however, are the old ones, and are simple columns with plain turned capitals and bases. Other tables of this period are to be found in a few old country mansions; there is one in Longleat, which, the writer has been told, has a small drawer at the end, to hold the copper coins with which the retainers of the Marquis of Bath's ancestors used to play a game of shovel penny. In the Chapter House in Westminster Abbey, there is also one of these plain substantial James I. tables, which is singular in being nearly double the width of those which were made at this time. As the Chapter House was, until comparatively recent years, used as a room for the storage of records, this table was probably made, not as a dining table, but for some other purpose requiring greater width.
Oak Sideboard in the S. Kensington Museum. Period: William III.
In the chapter on Renaissance there was an allusion to Charterhouse, which was purchased for its present purpose by Thomas Sutton in 1611, and in the chapel may be seen to-day the original communion table placed there by the founder. It is of carved oak, with a row of legs running lengthways underneath the middle, and four others at the corners; these, while being cast in the simple lines noticed in the tables in the Barbers' Hall, and the Chapter House, Westminster Abbey, are enriched by carving from the base to the third of the height of the leg, and the frieze of the table is also carved in low relief. The rich carved wood screen which supports the organ loft is also of Jacobean work.
There is in the South Kensington Museum a carved oak chest, with a centre panel representing the Adoration of the Magi, about this date, 1615-20; it is mounted on a stand which has three feet in front and two behind, much more primitive and quaint than the ornate supports of Elizabethan carving, while the only ornament on the drawer fronts which form the frieze of the stand are moulded panels, in the centre of each of which is a turned knob by which to open the drawer. This chest and the table which forms its stand were probably not intended for each other. The illustration on the previous page shows the stand, which is a good representation of the carving of this time, i.e., early seventeenth century. The round backed arm chair which the Museum purchased last year from the Hailstone collection, though dated 1614, is really more Elizabethan in design.
There is no greater storehouse for specimens of furniture in use during the Jacobean period than Knole, that stately mansion of the Sackville family, then the property of the Earls of Dorset. In the King's Bedroom, which is said to have been specially prepared and furnished for the visit of King James I., the public, owing to the courtesy and generous spirit of the present Lord Sackville, can still see the bed, originally of crimson silk, but now faded, elaborately embroidered with gold. It is said to have cost £8,000, and the chairs and seats, which are believed to have formed part of the original equipment of the room, are in much the same position as they then occupied.
In the carved work of this furniture we cannot help thinking the hand of the Venetian is to be traced, and it is probable they were either imported or copied from a pattern brought over for the purpose. A suite of furniture of that time appears to have consisted of six stools and two arm chairs, almost entirely covered with velvet, having the X form supports, which, so far as the writer's investigations have gone, appear to have come from Venice. In the "Leicester" gallery at Knole there is a portrait of the King;, painted by Mytens, seated on such a chair, and just below the picture is placed the chair which is said to be identical with the one portrayed. It is similar to the one reproduced on page 100 from a drawing of Mr. Charles Eastlake's.
Seats at Knole. Covered with Crimson Silk Velvet. Period: James I.
In the same gallery also are three sofas or settees upholstered with crimson velvet, and one of these has an accommodating rack, by which either end can be lowered at will, to make a more convenient lounge.
Arm Chair. Covered with Velvet, Ringed with Fringe and studded with Copper Nails. Early XVII. Century. (From a Drawing of the Original at Knole, by Mr. Charles Eastlake.)
This excellent example of Jacobean furniture has been described and sketched by Mr. Charles Eastlake in "Hints on Household Taste." He says: "The joints are properly 'tenoned' and pinned together in such a manner as to ensure its constant stability. The back is formed like that of a chair, with a horizontal rail only at its upper edge, but it receives additional strength from the second rail, which is introduced at the back of the seat." In Marcus Stone's well-known picture of "The Stolen Keys," this is the sofa portrayed. The arm chair illustrated above is part of the same suite of furniture. The furniture of another room at Knole is said to have been presented by King James to the first Earl of Middlesex, who had married into the Dorset family. The author has been furnished with a photograph of this room; and the illustration prepared from this will give the reader a better idea than a lengthy description.
The "Spangle" Bedroom At Knole. The Furniture of this room was presented by James I. to the Earl of Middlesex. (Front a Photo by Mr. Corke, of Sevenoaks.)
It seems from the Knole furniture, and a comparison of the designs with those of some of the tables and other woodwork produced during the same reign, bearing the impress of the more severe style of Inigo Jones, that there were then in England two styles of decorative furniture. One of these, simple and severe, showing a reaction from the grotesque freedom of Elizabethan carving, and the other, copied from Venetian ornamental woodwork, with cupids on scrolls forming the supports of stools, having these ornamental legs connected by stretchers the design of which is, in the case of those in the King's Bedchamber at Knole, a couple of cupids in a flying attitude holding up a crown. This kind of furniture was generally gilt, and under the black paint of those at Knole are still to be seen traces of the gold.
Mr. Eastlake visited Knole and made careful examination and sketches of the Jacobean furniture there, and has well described and illustrated it in his book just referred to; he mentions that he found a slip of paper tucked beneath the webbing of a settle there, with an inscription in Old English characters which fixed the date of some of the furniture at 1620. In a letter to the writer on this subject, Mr. Lionel Sackville West confirms this date by referring to the heirloom book, which also bears out the writer's opinion that some of the more richly-carved furniture of this time was imported from Italy.
In the Lady Chapel of Canterbury Cathedral there is a monument of Dean Boys, who died in 1625. This represents the Dean seated in his library, at a table with turned legs, over which there is a tapestry cover. Books line the walls of the section of the room shown in the stone carving; it differs little from the sanctum of a literary man of the present day. There are many other monuments which represent furniture of this period, and amongst the more curious is that of a child of King James I., in Westminster Abbey, close to the monument of Mary Queen of Scots. The child is sculptured about life size, in a carved cradle of the time.
In Holland House, Kensington, which is a good example of a Jacobean mansion, there is some oak enrichment of the seventeenth century, and also a garden bench, with its back formed of three shells and the legs shaped and ornamented with scroll work. Horace Walpole mentions this seat, and ascribes the design to Francesco Cleyn, who worked for Charles I. and some of the Court.
There is another Jacobean house of considerable interest, the property of Mr. T.G. Jackson, A.R.A. An account of it has been written by him, and was read to some members of the Surrey Archaeological Society, who visited Eagle House, Wimbledon, in 1890. It appears to have been the country seat of a London merchant, who lived early in the seventeenth century. Mr. Jackson bears witness to the excellence of the workmanship, and expresses his opinion that the carved and decorated enrichments were executed by native and not foreign craftsmen. He gives an illustration in his pamphlet of the sunk "Strap Work," which, though Jacobean in its date, is also found in the carved ornament of Elizabeth's time.
Another relic of this time is the panel of carved oak in the lych gate of St. Giles', Bloomsbury, dated 1638. This is a realistic representation of "The Resurrection," and when the writer examined it a few weeks ago, it seemed in danger of perishing for lack of a little care and attention.
It is very probable that had the reign of Charles I. been less troublous, this would have been a time of much progress in the domestic arts in England. The Queen was of the Medici family, Italian literature was in vogue, and Italian artists therefore would probably have been encouraged to come over and instruct our workmen. The King himself was an excellent mechanic, and boasted that he could earn his living at almost any trade save the making of hangings. His father had established the tapestry works at Mortlake; he himself had bought the Raffaele Cartoons to encourage the work—and much was to be hoped from a monarch who had the judgment to induce a Vandyke to settle in England. The Civil War, whatever it has achieved for our liberty as subjects, certainly hindered by many years our progress as an artistic people.
But to consider some of the furniture of this period in detail. Until the sixteenth century was well advanced, the word "table" in our language meant an index, or pocket book (tablets), or a list, not an article of furniture; it was, as we have noticed in the time of Elizabeth, composed of boards generally hinged in the middle for convenience of storage, and supported on trestles which were sometimes ornamented by carved work. The word trestle, by the way, is derived from the "threstule," i.e., three-footed supports, and these three-legged stools and benches formed in those days the seats for everyone except the master of the house. Chairs were, as we have seen, scarce articles; sometimes there was only one, a throne-like seat for an honoured guest or for the master or mistress of the house, and doubtless our present phrase of "taking the chair" is a survival of the high place a chair then held amongst the household gods of a gentleman's mansion. Shakespeare possibly had the boards and trestles in his mind when, about 1596, he wrote in "Romeo and Juliet"—
And as the scene in "King Henry the Fourth" is placed some years earlier than that of "Romeo and Juliet," it is probable that "table" had then its earlier meaning, for the Archbishop of York says:—
Mr. Maskell, in his handbook on "Ivories," tells us that the word "table" was also used in the fourteenth and fifteenth centuries to denote the religious carvings and paintings in churches; and he quotes Chaucer to show that the word was used to describe the game of "draughts."
Now, however, at the time of which we are writing, chairs were becoming more plentiful and the table was a definite article of furniture. In inventories of the time and for some twenty years previous, as has been already noticed in the preceding chapter, we find mention of "joyned table," framed table, "standing" and "dormant" table, and the word "board" had gradually disappeared, although it remains to us as a souvenir of the past in the name we still give to any body of men meeting for the transaction of business, or in its more social meaning, expressing festivity. The width of these earlier tables had been about 30 inches, and guests sat on one side only, with their backs to the wall, in order, it may be supposed, to be the more ready to resist any sudden raid, which might be made on the house, during the relaxation of the supper hour, and this custom remained long after there was any necessity for its observance.
In the time of Charles the First the width was increased, and a contrivance was introduced for doubling the area of the top when required, by two flaps which drew out from either end, and, by means of a wedge-shaped arrangement, the centre or main table top was lowered, and the whole table, thus increased, became level. Illustrations taken from Mr. G.T. Robinson's article on furniture in the "Art Journal" of 1881, represent a "Drawinge table," which was the name by which these "latest improvements" were known; the black lines were of stained pear tree, let into the oak, and the acorn shaped member of the leg is an imported Dutch design, which became very common about this time, and was applied to the supports of cabinets, sometimes as in the illustration, plainly turned, but frequently carved. Another table of this period was the "folding table," which was made with twelve, sixteen, or with twenty legs, as shewn in the illustration of this example, and which, as its name implies, would shut up into about one third its extended size. There is one of these tables in the Stationers' Hall.
Couch, Arm Chair and Single Chair. Carved and Gilt. Upholstered in rich Silk Velvet. Part of Suite at Penshurst Place. Also an Italian Cabinet. Period: Charles II.
Folding Table at Penshurst Place. Period: Charles II. to James II.
"Drawing" Table with Black Lines Inlaid. Period: Charles II.
It was probably in the early part of the seventeenth century that the Couch became known in England. It was not common, nor quite in the form in which we now recognize that luxurious article of furniture, but was probably a carved oak settle, with cushions so arranged as to form a resting lounge by day, Shakespeare speaks of the "branch'd velvet gown" of Malvolio having come from a "day bed," and there is also an allusion to one in Richard III.
In a volume of "Notes and Queries" there is a note which would show that the lady's wardrobe of this time (1622) was a very primitive article of furniture. Mention is made there of a list of articles of wearing apparel belonging to a certain Lady Elizabeth Morgan, sister to Sir Nathaniel Rich, which, according to the old document there quoted, dated the 13th day of November, 1622, "are to be found in a great bar'd chest in my Ladie's Bedchamber." To judge from this list, Lady Morgan was a person of fashion in those days. We may also take it for granted that beyond the bedstead, a prie dieu chair, a bench, some chests, and the indispensable mirror, there was not much else to furnish a lady's bedroom in the reign of James I. or of his successor.
The "long settle" and "scrowled chair" were two other kinds of seats in use from the time of Charles I. to that of James II. The illustrations are taken from authenticated specimens in the collection of Mr. Dalton, of Scarborough. They are most probably of Yorkshire manufacture, about the middle of the seventeenth century. The ornament in the panel of the back of the chair is inlaid work box or ash stained to a greenish black to represent green ebony, with a few small pieces of rich red wood then in great favour; and, says Mr. G. T. Robinson, to whose article mentioned above we are indebted for the description, "probably brought by some buccaneer from the West." Mr. Robinson mentions another chair of the Stuart period, which formed a table, and subsequently became the property of Theodore Hook, who carefully preserved its pedigree. It was purchased by its late owner, Mr. Godwin, editor of "The Builder." A woodcut of this chair is on p. 106.
Another chair which played an important part in history is the one in which Charles I. sat during his trial; this was exhibited in the Stuart Exhibition in London in 1889. The illustration is taken from a print in "The Illustrated London News" of the time.
In addition to the chairs of oak, carved, inlaid, and plain, which were in some cases rendered more comfortable by having cushions tied to the backs and seats, the upholstered chair, which we have seen had been brought from Venice in the early part of the reign of James I., now came into general use. Few appear to have survived, but there are still to be seen in pictures of the period a chair represented as covered with crimson velvet, studded with brass nails, the seat trimmed with fringe, similar to that at Knole, illustrated on p. 100.
There is in the Historical Portrait Gallery in Bethnal Green Museum, a painting by an unknown artist, but dated 1642, of Sir William Lenthall, who was Speaker of the House of Commons, on the memorable occasion when, on the 4th of January in that year, Charles I. entered the House to demand the surrender of the five members. The chair on which Sir William is seated answers this description, and is very similar to the one used by Charles I.
Carved Oak Chair. Said to have been used by Cromwell. (The original in the possession of T. Knollys Parr, Esq.)
Carved Oak Chair, Jacobean Style. (The original in the Author's possession.)
Inlaid work, which had been crude and rough in the time of Elizabeth, became more in fashion as means increased of decorating both the furniture and the woodwork panelling of the rooms of the Stuart period. Mahogany had been discovered by Raleigh as early as 1595, but did not come into general use until the middle of the eighteenth century.
The importation of scarce foreign woods in small quantities gave an impetus to this description of work, which in the marqueterie of Italy, France, Holland, Germany, and Spain, had already made great progress.
Settle of Carved Oak. Probably made in Yorkshire. Period: Charles II.
Within the past year, owing to the extensions of the Great Eastern Railway premises at Bishopsgate Street, an old house of antiquarian interest was pulled down, and generously presented by the Company to the South Kensington Museum. It will shortly be arranged so as to enable the visitor to see a good example of the exterior as well as some of the interior woodwork of a quaint house of the middle of the seventeenth century. This was the residence of Sir Paul Pindar, diplomatist, during the time of Charles I., and it contained a carved oak chimney-piece, with some other good ornamental woodwork of this period. The quaint and richly-carved chimney-piece, which was dated 1600, and other decorative work, was removed early in the present century, when the possessors of that time were making "improvements."
Staircase in General Ireton's House, Dated 1630.
In the illustration of a child's chair, which is said to have been actually used by Cromwell, can be seen an example of carved oak of this time; it was lent to the writer by its present owner, in whose family it was an heirloom since one of his ancestors married the Protector's daughter. The ornament has no particular style, and it may be taken for granted that the period of the Commonwealth was not marked by any progress in decorative art. The above illustration, however, proves that there were exceptions to the prevalent Puritan objection to figure ornament. In one of Mrs. S.C. Hall's papers, "Pilgrimages to English Shrines," contributed in 1849 to "The Art Journal," she describes the interior of the house which was built for Bridget, the Protector's daughter, who married General Ireton. The handsome oak staircase had the newels surmounted by carved figures, representing different grades of men in the General's army—a captain, common soldier, piper, drummer, etc, etc., while the spaces between the balustrades were filled in with devices emblematical of warfare, the ceiling being decorated in the fashion of the period. At the time Mrs. Hall wrote, the house bore Cromwell's name and the date 1630.
We may date from the Commonwealth the more general use of chairs; people sat as they chose, and no longer regarded the chair as the lord's place. A style of chair, which we still recognise as Cromwellian, was also largely imported from Holland about this time—plain square backs and seats covered with brown leather, studded with brass nails. The legs, which are now generally turned with a spiral twist, were in Cromwell's time plain and simple.
The residence of Charles II. abroad, had accustomed him and his friends to the much more luxurious furniture of France and Holland. With the Restoration came a foreign Queen, a foreign Court, French manners, and French literature. Cabinets, chairs, tables, and couches, were imported into England from the Netherlands, France, Spain, and Portugal; and our craftsmen profited by new ideas and new patterns, and what was of equal consequence, an increased demand for decorative articles of furniture. The King of Portugal had ceded Bombay, one of the Portuguese Indian stations, to the new Queen, and there is a chair of this Indo-Portuguese work, carved in ebony, now in the museum at Oxford, which was given by Charles II. either to Elias Ashmole or to Evelyn: the illustration on the next page shews all the details of the carving. Another woodcut, on a smaller scale, represents a similar chair grouped with a settee of a like design, together with a small folding chair which Mr. G.T. Robinson, in his article on "Seats," has described as Italian, but which we take the liberty of pronouncing Flemish, judging by one now in the South Kensington Museum.
In connection with this Indo-Portuguese furniture, it would seem that spiral turning became known and fashionable in England during the reign of Charles II., and in some chairs of English make, which have come under the writer's notice, the legs have been carved to imitate the effect of spiral turning—an amount of superfluous labour which would scarcely have been incurred, but for the fact that the country house-carpenter of this time had an imported model, which he copied, without knowing how to produce by the lathe the effect which had just come into fashion. There are, too, in some illustrations in "Shaw's Ancient Furniture," some lamp-holders, in which this spiral turning is overdone, as is generally the case when any particular kind of ornament comes into vogue.
Settee And Chair. In carved ebony, part of Indo-Portuguese suite at Penshurst Place, with Flemish folding chair. Period: Charles II.
Carved Ebony Chair of Indo-portuguese Work, Given by Charles II. to Elias Ashmole, Esq. (In the Museum at Oxford).
Probably the illustrated suite of furniture at Penshurst Place, which comprises thirteen pieces, was imported about this time; two of the smaller chairs appear to have their original cushions, the others have been lately re-covered by Lord de l'Isle and Dudley. The spindles of the backs of two of the chairs are of ivory: the carving, which is in solid ebony, is much finer on some than on others.
We gather a good deal of information about the furniture of this period from the famous diary of Evelyn. He thus describes Hampton Court Palace, as it appeared to him at the time of its preparation for the reception of Catherine of Braganza, the bride of Charles II., who spent the royal honeymoon in this historic building, which had in its time sheltered for their brief spans of favour the six wives of Henry VIII. and the sickly boyhood of Edward VI.:—
"It is as noble and uniform a pile as Gothic architecture can make it. There is incomparable furniture in it, especially hangings designed by Raphael, very rich with gold. Of the tapestries I believe the world can show nothing nobler of the kind than the stories of Abraham and Tobit.11 ... The Queen's bed was an embroidery of silver on crimson velvet, and cost £8,000, being a present made by the States of Holland when his majesty returned. The great looking-glass and toilet of beaten massive gold were given by the Queen Mother. The Queen brought over with her from Portugal such Indian cabinets as had never before been seen here."
Evelyn wrote of course before Wren made his Renaissance additions to the Palace.
After the great fire which occurred in 1666, and destroyed some 13,000 houses and no less than 80 churches, Sir Christopher Wren was given an opportunity, unprecedented in history, of displaying his power of design and reconstruction. Writing of this great architect, Macaulay says, "The austere beauty of the Athenian portico, the gloomy sublimity of the Gothic arcade, he was, like most of his contemporaries, incapable of emulating, and perhaps incapable of appreciating; but no man born on our side of the Alps has imitated with so much success the magnificence of the palace churches of Italy. Even the superb Louis XIV. has left to posterity no work which can bear a comparison with St. Paul's."
From the Original by Sir Peter Lely, presented to Dr. Busby by King Charles "Sedes Busbiana" From a Print in the possession of J. C. THYNNE, Esq. Period: Charles II.
Wren's great masterpiece was commenced in 1675, and completed in 1710, and its building therefore covers a period of 35 years, carrying us through the reigns of James II., William III. and Mary, and well on to the end of Anne's. The admirable work which he did during this time, and which has effected so much for the adornment of our Metropolis, had a marked influence on the ornamental woodwork of the second half of the seventeenth century: in the additions which he made to Hampton Court Palace, in Bow Church, in the hospitals of Greenwich and of Chelsea, there is a sumptuousness of ornament in stone and marble, which shew the influence exercised on his mind by the desire to rival the grandeur of Louis XIV.; the Fountain Court at Hampton being in direct imitation of the Palace of Versailles. The carved woodwork of the choir of St. Paul's, with fluted columns supporting a carved frieze; the richly carved panels, and the beautiful figure work on both organ lofts, afford evidence that the oak enrichments followed the marble and stone ornament. The swags of fruit and flowers, the cherubs' heads with folded wings, and other details in Wren's work, closely resemble the designs executed by Gibbons, whose carving is referred to later on.
It may be mentioned here that amongst the few churches in the city which escaped the great fire, and contain woodwork of particular note, are St. Helen's, Bishopgate, and the Charterhouse Chapel, which contain the original pulpits of about the sixteenth century.
The famous Dr. Busby, who for 55 years was head master of Westminster School, was a great favourite of King Charles, and a picture painted by Sir Peter Lely, is said to have been presented to the Doctor by His Majesty; it is called "Sedes Busbiana." Prints from this old picture are scarce, and the writer is indebted to Mr. John C. Thynne for the loan of his copy, from which the illustration is taken. The portrait in the centre, of the Pedagogue aspiring to the mitre, is that of Dr. South, who succeeded Busby, and whose monument in Westminster Abbey is next to his. The illustration is interesting, as although it may not have been actually taken from a chair itself, it shews a design in the mind of a contemporary artist.
Of the Halls of the City Guilds, there is none more quaint, and in greater contrast to the bustle of the neighbourhood, than the Hall of the Brewers' Company, in Addle Street, City. This was partially destroyed, like most of the older Halls, by the Great Fire, but was one of the first to be restored and refurnished. In the kitchen are still to be seen the remains of an old trestle and other relics of an earlier period, but the hall or dining room, and the Court room, are complete, with very slight additions, since the date of their interior equipment in 1670 to 1673. The Court room has a richly carved chimney-piece in oak, nearly black with age, the design of which is a shield with a winged head, palms, and swags of fruit and flowers, while on the shield itself is an inscription, stating that this room was wainscoted by Alderman Knight, master of the Company and Lord Mayor of the City of London, in the year 1670. The room itself is exceedingly quaint, with its high wainscoting and windows on the opposite side to the fireplace, reminding one of the port-holes of a ship's cabin, while the chief window looks out on to the old-fashioned garden, giving the beholder altogether a pleasing illusion, carrying him back to the days of Charles II.
The chief room or Hall is still more handsomely decorated with carved oak of this time. The actual date, 1673, is over the doorway on a tablet which bears the names, in the letters of the period, of the master, "James Reading, Esq.," and the wardens, "Mr. Robert Lawrence," "Mr. Samuel Barber," and "Mr. Henry Sell."
The names of other masters and wardens are also written over the carved escutcheons of their different arms, and the whole room is one of the best specimens in existence of the oak carving of this date. At the western end is the master's chair, of which by the courtesy of Mr. Higgins, clerk to the Company, we are able to give an illustration on p. 115—the shield-shaped back, the carved drapery, and the coat-of-arms with the company's motto, are all characteristic features, as are also the Corinthian columns and arched pediments, in the oak decoration of the room. The broken swan-necked pediment, which surmounts the cornice of the room over the chair, is probably a more recent addition, this ornament having come in about 30 years later.
There are also the old dining tables and benches; these are as plain and simple as possible. In the court room, is a table, which was formerly in the Company's barge, with some good inlaid work in the arcading which connects the two end standards, and some old carved lions' feet; the top and other parts have been renewed. There is also an old oak fire-screen of about the end of the seventeenth century.
Another city hall, the interior woodwork of which dates from just after the Great Fire, is that of the Stationers' Company, in Ave Maria Lane, close to Ludgate Hill. Mr. Charles Robert Rivington, the present clerk to the Company, has written a pamphlet, full of very interesting records of this ancient and worshipful corporation, from which the following paragraph is a quotation:—"The first meeting of the court after the fire was held at Cook's Hall, and the subsequent courts, until the hall was re-built, at the Lame Hospital Hall, i.e., St. Bartholomew's Hospital. In 1670 a committee was appointed to re-build the hall; and in 1674 the Court agreed with Stephen Colledge (the famous Protestant joiner, who was afterwards hanged at Oxford in 1681) to wainscot the hall 'with well-seasoned and well-matched wainscot, according to a model delivered in for the sum of £700.' His work is now to be seen in excellent condition."
The Master's Chair. (Hall of the Brewers' Company.)
Mr. Rivington read his paper to the London and Middlesex Archaeological Society in 1881; and the writer can with pleasure confirm the statement as to the condition, in 1892, of this fine specimen of seventeenth century work. Less ornate and elaborate than the Brewers' Hall, the panels are only slightly relieved with carved mouldings; but the end of the room, or main entrance, opposite the place of the old daïs (long since removed), is somewhat similar to the Brewers', and presents a fine architectural effect, which will be observed in the illustration on p. 117.<
Carved Oak Livery Cupboard. In the Hall of the Stationers'Company. Made in 1674, the curved pediment added later, probably in 1788.
Carved Oak Napkin Press Lent to the S. Kensington Museum by H. Farrer, Esq. Early XVII. Century.
There is above, an illustration of one of the two livery cupboards, which formerly stood on the daïs, and these are good examples of the cupboards for display of plate of this period. The lower part was formerly the receptacle of unused viands, distributed to the poor after the feast. In their original state these livery cupboards finished with a straight cornice, the broken pediments with the eagle (the Company's crest) having most probably been added when the hall was, to quote an inscription on a shield, "repaired and beautified in the mayoralty of the Right Honourable William Gill, in the year 1788," when Mr. Thomas Hooke was master, and Mr. Field and Mr. Rivington (the present clerk's grandfather) wardens.
Chair upholstered in Spitalfields silk. Hampton Court Palace.
Carved and upholstered Chair. Hardwick Hall.
Chair upholstered in Spitalfields silk. Knole, Sevenoaks.
Period: William III. To Queen Anne.
There is still preserved in a lumber room one of the old benches of seventeenth century work—now replaced in the hall by modern folding chairs. This is of oak, with turned skittle-shaped legs slanting outwards, and connected and strengthened by plain stretchers. The old tables are still in their places.
Carved Oak Screen. In the Hall of the Stationers' Company, erected in 1674: the Royal Coat of Arms has been since added.
Another example of seventeenth century oak panelling is the handsome chapel of the Mercers' Hall—the only city Company possessing their own chapel—but only the lining of the walls and the reredos are of the original work, the remainder having been added some ten or twelve years ago, when some of the original carving was made use of in the new work. Indeed, in this magnificent hall, about the most spacious of the old City Corporation Palaces, there is a great deal of new work mixed with old—new chimney-pieces and old overmantels—some of Grinling Gibbons' carved enrichments, so painted and varnished as to have lost much of their character; these have been applied to the oak panels in the large dining hall.
The woodwork lining of living rooms had been undergoing changes since the commencement of the period of which we are now writing. In 1638 a man named Christopher had taken out a patent for enamelling and gilding leather, which was used as a wall decoration over the oak panelling. This decorated leather hitherto had been imported from Holland and Spain; when this was not used, and tapestry, which was very expensive, was not obtainable, the plaster was roughly ornamented. Somewhat later than this, pictures were let into the wainscot to form part of the decoration, for in 1669 Evelyn, when writing of the house of the "Earle of Norwich," in Epping Forest, says, "A good many pictures put into the wainstcot which Mr. Baker, his lordship's predecessor, brought from Spaine." Indeed, subsequently the wainscot became simply the frame for pictures, and we have the same writer deploring the disuse of timber, and expressing his opinion that a sumptuary law ought to be passed to restore the "ancient use of timber." Although no law was enacted on the subject, yet, some twenty years later, the whirligig of fashion brought about the revival of the custom of lining rooms with oak panelling.
It is said that about 1670 Evelyn found Grinling Gibbons in a small thatched house on the outskirts of Deptford, and introduced him to the King, who gave him an appointment on the Board of Works, and patronised him with extensive orders. The character of his carving is well known; generally using lime-tree as the vehicle of his designs, the life-like birds and flowers, the groups of fruit, and heads of cherubs, are easily recognised. One of the rooms in Windsor Castle is decorated with the work of his chisel, which can also be seen in St. Paul's Cathedral, Hampton Court Palace, Chatsworth, Burleigh, and perhaps his best, at Petworth House, in Sussex. He also sculptured in stone. The base of King Charles' statue at Windsor, the font of St. James', Piccadilly (round the base of which are figures of Adam and Eve), are his work, as is also the lime-tree border of festoon work over the communion table. Gibbons was an Englishman, but appears to have spent his boyhood in Holland, where he was christened "Grinling." He died in 1721. His pupils were Samuel Watson, a Derbyshire man, who did much of the carved work at Chatsworth, Drevot of Brussels, and Lawreans of Mechlin. Gibbons and his pupils founded a school of carving in England which has been continued by tradition to the present day.
Silver Furniture at Knole. (From a Photo by Mr. Corke, of Sevenoaks.)
A somewhat important immigration of French workmen occurred about this time owing to the persecutions of Protestants in France, which followed, the revocation of the Edict of Nantes in 1685, by Louis XIV., and these refugees bringing with them their skill, their patterns and ideas, influenced the carving of our frames and the designs of some of our furniture. This influence is to be traced in some of the contents of Hampton Court Palace, particularly in the carved and gilt centre tables and the torchères of French design but of English workmanship. It is said that no less than 50,000 families left France, some thousands of whom belonged to the industrial classes, and settled in England and Germany, where their descendants still remain. They introduced the manufacture of crystal chandeliers, and founded our Spitalfields silk industry and other trades, till then little practised in England.
The beautiful silver furniture at Knole belongs to this time, having been made for one of the Earls of Dorset, in the reign of James II. The illustration is from a photograph taken by Mr. Corke, of Sevenoaks. Electrotypes of the originals are in the South Kensington Museum. From two other suites at Knole, consisting of a looking glass, a table, and a pair of torchères, in the one case of plain walnut wood, and in the other of ebony with silver mountings, it would appear that a toilet suite of furniture of the time of James II. generally consisted of articles of a similar character, more or less costly, according to circumstances. The silver table bears the English Hall mark of the reign.
As we approach the end of the seventeenth century and examine specimens of English furniture about 1680 to 1700, we find a marked Flemish influence. The Stadtholder, King William III., with his Dutch friends, imported many of their household goods12, and our English craftsmen seem to have copied these very closely. The chairs and settees in the South Kensington Museum, and at Hampton Court Palace, have the shaped back with a wide inlaid or carved upright bar, the cabriole leg and the carved shell ornament on the knee of the leg, and on the top of the back, which are still to be seen in many of the old Dutch houses.
There are a few examples of furniture of this date, which it is almost impossible to distinguish from Flemish, but in some others there is a characteristic decoration in marqueterie, which may be described as a seaweed scroll in holly or box wood, inlaid on a pale walnut ground, a good example of which is to be seen in the upright "grandfather's clock" in the South Kensington Museum, the effect being a pleasing harmony of colour.
In the same collection there is also a walnut wood centre table, dating from about 1700, which has twisted legs and a stretcher, the top being inlaid with intersecting circles relieved by the inlay of some stars in ivory.
As we have observed with regard to French furniture of this time, mirrors came more generally into use, and the frames were both carved and inlaid. There are several of these at Hampton Court Palace, all with bevelled edged plate glass; some have frames entirely of glass, the short lengths which make the frame, having in some cases the joints covered by rosettes of blue glass, and in others a narrow moulding of gilt work on each side of the frame. In one room (the Queen's Gallery) the frames are painted in colors and relieved by a little gilding.
The taste for importing old Dutch furniture, also lacquer cabinets from Japan, not only gave relief to the appearance of a well furnished apartment of this time, but also brought new ideas to our designers and workmen. Our collectors, too, were at this time appreciating the Oriental china, both blue and white, and colored, which had a good market in Holland, so that with the excellent silversmith's work then obtainable, it was possible in the time of William and Mary to arrange a room with more artistic effect than at an earlier period, when the tapestry and panelling of the walls, a table, the livery cupboard previously described, and some three or four chairs, had formed almost the whole furniture of reception rooms.
The first mention of corner cupboards appears to have been made in an advertisement of a Dutch joiner in "The Postman" of March 8th, 1711; these cupboards, with their carved pediments being part of the modern fittings of a room in the time of Queen Anne.
The oak presses common to this and earlier times are formed of an upper and lower part, the former sometimes being three sides of an octagon with the top supported by columns, while the lower half is straight, and the whole is carved with incised ornament. These useful articles of furniture, in the absence of wardrobes, are described in inventories of the time (1680-1720) as "press cupboards," "great cupboards," "wainscot," and "joyned cupboards."
The first mention of a "Buerow," as our modern word "Bureau" was then spelt, is said by Dr. Lyon, in his American book, "The Colonial Furniture of New England," to have occurred in an advertisement in "The Daily Post" of January 4th, 1727. The same author quotes Bailey's Dictionarium Britannicum, published in London, 1736, as defining the word "bureau" as "a cabinet or chest of drawers, or 'scrutoir' for depositing papers or accounts."
In the latter half of the eighteenth century those convenient pieces of furniture came into more general use, and illustrations of them as designed and made by Chippendale and his contemporaries will be found in the chapter dealing with that period.
Dr. Lyon also quotes from an American newspaper, "The Boston News Letter" of April 16th, 1716, an advertisement which was evidently published when the tall clocks, which we now call "grandfathers' clocks," were a novelty, and as such were being introduced to the American public. We have already referred to one of these which is in the South Kensington Museum, date 1700, and no doubt the manufacture of similar ones became more general during the first years of the eighteenth century. The advertisement alluded to runs, "Lately come from London, a parcel of very fine clocks—they go a week and repeat the hour when pulled" (a string caused the same action as the pressing of the handle of a repeating watch) "in Japan cases or wall-nut."
The style of decoration in furniture and woodwork which we recognise as "Queen Anne," apart from the marqueterie just described, appears, so far as the writer's investigations have gone, to be due to the designs of some eminent architects of the time. Sir James Vanbrugh was building Blenheim Palace for the Queen's victorious general, and also Castle Howard. Nicholas Hawksmoor had erected St. George's. Bloomsbury, and James Gibbs, a Scotch architect and antiquary, St. Martin's-in-the-Fields, and the Royal Library at Oxford; a ponderous style characterises the woodwork interior of these buildings. We give an illustration of three designs for chimney-pieces and overmantels by James Gibbs, the centre one of which illustrates the curved or "swan-necked" pediment, which became a favourite ornament about this time, until supplanted by the heavier triangular pediment which came in with "the Georges."
The contents of Hampton Court Palace afford evidence of the transition which the design of woodwork and furniture has undergone from the time of William III. until that of George II. There is the Dutch chair with cabriole leg, the plain walnut card table also of Dutch design, which probably came over with the Stadtholder; then, there are the heavy draperies, and chairs almost completely covered by Spitalfields silk velvet, to be seen in the bedroom furniture of Queen Anne. Later, as the heavy Georgian style predominated, there is the stiff ungainly gilt furniture, console tables with legs ornamented with the Greek key pattern badly applied, and finally, as the French school of design influenced our carvers, an improvement may be noticed in the tables and torchéres, which but for being a trifle clumsy, might pass for the work of French craftsmen of the same time. The State chairs, the bedstead, and some stools, which are said to have belonged to Queen Caroline, are further examples of the adoption of French fashion.
Three Chimneypieces. Designed by James Gibes, Architect, in 1739.
Nearly all writers on the subject of furniture and woodwork are agreed in considering that the earlier part of the period discussed in this chapter, that is, the seventeenth century, is the best in the traditions of English work. As we have seen in noticing some of the earlier Jacobean examples already illustrated and described, it was a period marked by increased refinement of design through the abandonment of the more grotesque and often coarse work of Elizabethan carving, and by soundness of construction and thorough workmanship.
Oak furniture made in England during the seventeenth century, is still a credit to the painstaking craftsmen of those days, and even upholstered furniture, like the couches and chairs at Knole, after more than 250 years' service, are fit for use.
In the ninth and last chapter, which will deal with furniture of the present day, the methods of production which are now in practice will be noticed, and some comparison will be made which must be to the credit of the Jacobean period.
In the foregoing chapters an attempt has been made to preserve, as far as possible, a certain continuity in the history of the subject matter of this work from the earliest times until after the Renaissance had been generally adopted in Europe. In this endeavour a greater amount of attention has been bestowed upon the furniture of a comparatively short period of English history than upon that of other countries, but it is hoped that this fault will be forgiven by English readers.
It has now become necessary to interrupt this plan, and before returning to the consideration of European design and work, to devote a short chapter to those branches of the Industrial Arts connected with furniture which flourished in China and Japan, in India, Persia, and Arabia, at a time anterior and subsequent to the Renaissance period in Europe.