Tuesday, December 18, 2007

History of Furniture

Introduction
Furniture are the equipments in a room, such as bed, chair, table and chests, that usually gives a room a particular function, such as that of bedrooms, dining rooms or kitchen. They are made according to the dimensions of the human figure.

Historically, the most common material for making furniture is wood, but other materials, such as metal and stone, have also been used. Furniture designs have reflected the fashion of every era from ancient times to today. Whereas in most periods a single style dominated, a diversity of old and new styles influences present-day design.

History of Furniture –
Furniture must have existed at least since the Neolithic period (7000 to 2000 BC), although none survives. A history of furniture therefore begins with the oldest surviving examples, those from the 4th to 6th Dynasty (2680-2255 BC) in Egypt of the old Kingdom.

Egyptian Furniture
The Egyptian bed carriage
The dry Egyptian climate and the elaborate burial practices of the ancient Egyptians both contributed to the preservation of their furniture, which includes stools, tables, chair, and couches. Egyptian wall paintings insight into the design and use of furniture in aristocratic Egyptian life. In both design and construction the methods used in ancient Egypt are followed wherever furniture is made today. In large pieces, particularly seating and tables, the mortise-and-tendon construction familiar in ancient Egypt is still in use, although the tendon may be replaced by a dowel to speed up production. In ancient Egypt the more delicate boxes and chests were constructed by dovetailing, a technique the persists in contemporary work. One ancient Egyptian stool illustrated on a wooden panel (c. 2800 BC Egyptian Museum, Cairo) from the tomb of Hesire has animal legs as the supports. It does not differ much from a chair (c. 1325 BC, Egyptian Museum) from the tomb of the New Kingdom pharaoh Tutankhamen.

A chair, table, couch, and canopy (c. 2600 BC, Egyptian Museum) from the tomb at Giza of the 4th-Dynasty Queen Hetepheres were reconstructed from remnants of their original gold sheathing. The chair has animal legs, a solid back, and arm supports of open work panels in papyrus patterns. The bed, higher at the head, has a headrest and a footboard. The relief decoration on some of the furniture consists of symbols of gods and scenes of religious significance. The design of other surviving tables and stools is restrained, with legs that are plain but beautifully made. It is conceivable that ornament could originally have been applied in the form of stamped metal sheathing; however, wall paintings do illustrate simple, upholstered pieces.

Extant examples and illustrations from wall paintings suggest the broad scope of decoration used on Egyptian furniture. Gold sheets were applied to legs of chair and tables; inlays of ivory and other materials were employed on panels of chests and other surfaces. The basic notion of forms with legs as anthropomorphic and of storage pieces as buildings in miniature was popular in ancient Egypt, and in succeeding cultures.

Mesopotamian Furniture
Although virtually no examples of Mesopotamian furniture have survived, an idea of the appearance of such pieces as tables, stools, and thrones can be formed from depictions in relief’s and inlays dating from about 3500 to 800 BC. A Sumerian standard – a box on a pole (c. 3500-3200 BC, Iraq Museum, Baghdad) – has shell inlays depicting very simple chairs and thrones. By contrast, a surviving Sumerian harp (c. 2685 BC, University of Pennsylvania Museum, Philadelphia) has rich, colourful inlays and a bearded bull’s head carved in the round and covered in gold foil. A stele made about 2300 BC shows a backless throne that appears to have been elegantly upholstered but had very plain straight legs. The furniture shown in a relief (9th century BC, British Museum, London) of Ashumasirpal II and his queen is more elaborate, with tables and thrones supported on both trumped-shaped and animal from legs and embellished with relief decoration.

Minoan and Mycernaean Furniture
Surviving examples of furniture in the roughly contemporaneous civilizations of the Mycenaeans on mainland Greece and the Minoans in the Aegean Islands are equally scarce. Representations in relief on Minoan rings and in the form of small bronze and terracotta pieces provide most of the evidence. One splendid exception is the gypsum throne in the Throne Room at Knossos (c. 1600-1400 BC). The extant exaples – stools, chairs, couches, benches, and chests – do not suggest the use of much elaborate decoration. One or two tablets have been discovered, however, that make reference to inlays and gold embellishments on furniture. A single ivory leg from Thebes is also elaborately ornamented.

Greek Furniture
As little Greek Furniture has survived, it is best known from paintings and sculpture. Its appearance can be reconstructed from details on vase paintings, grave stele (tombstones), and other relief sculpture such as that in the frieze from the Parthenon. A few marble thrones have survived, as have isolated wooden elements from actual Greek pieces. The available evidence suggests that Greek designers did not follow the free forms of the earlier Aegean examples. The tendency to base furniture ornament on architectural decoration, and the general symmetry and regularity of overall design, appear to follow Egyptian precedent Nevertheless, although they resemble each other, the Greek couch is quite different in function from the Egyptian bed. Used for eating as well as resting, the Greek couch was made with the horizontal reclining area at table height, rather than low off the ground and at an incline. The headrest was often curved to support pillows, no footrest was used. Although the animal form leg is seen occasionally, legs were more often a trumpet form or a rectangular design based on a columnar form. Various stools were used for sitting. Folding stools with X-shaped legs and fixed stools with straight legs were made at least from the 6th century BC to the Hellenistic era.

Functional and plain example were to be seen as well as the more elaborate. More distinctively and innovation of Greek designers is the chair known as the Klismos, a light (or easy) chair with a back. Comfortable and very popular, it was used most in the Archaic and Classical periods. The klismos is essentially plain, with legs curving out from the seat and a back support consisting of a simple rectangular panel curved inwards from sides to center. Tables depicted in paintings are generally small. Rectangular tops appear to have been the more popular type; most often the support consists of three legs – mostly simple and curved but sometimes carved in animal forms – that were at times reinforced with stretchers near the top. Literary references and illustrations suggest that typical tables were light. They were moved in to serve individuals at dinner and removed after the meal, to allow space for entertainers to perform Round tables of Greek origin were made in the Hellenistic period.

Chests in ancient Greece varied in size from those made on a miniature scale to monumental examples, and, in design, from those with plain flat tops to the more architectural style with gabled lids. They were made of wood, of bronze, and of ivory, with architectural decoration. The chest shapes are a long-lived phenomenon; they were first found in ancient Egypt and then became traditional, remaining evident in 19th-century folk examples.

Roman Furniture
Reconstruction of a Roman Couch
At first glance, Roman furniture design appears to have been based on Greek Prototypes. In the first century AD opulent Roman design reflected strong Greek influence. The ruins of Pompeii and Herculaneum provide clear evidence of handsome domestic architecture and show the setting that required furniture. Pompeiian frescoes illustrate the use of furniture and suggest that a wider variety of forms was known. The source and date of new storage pieces that had been introduced in Hellenistic Greece are questionable. No secure evidence confirms the theory that cupboards were introduced then. Roman frescoes featuring cupboards may be copies of Greek paintings, but a cupboard from the House of Lararium in Herculaneum has survived.

Extant examples indicate that more marble and bronze furniture was made in Roman that in Greek times; also, the designs were more complex, even though they employed the same basic vocabulary of ornament. In addition to the small tables common in Greece, larger, rectangular examples and round tables of various sizes were used. More practical designs were also introduced; tables that could be taken apart and others with folding bases. The richness of elegant inlays and elaborate work in ivory, bronze, marble, and wood are mentioned in Roman literature, and enough fragments exist to prove the accuracy of the early descriptions.

Byzantine and Early Modieval Furnture
Throne of Bishop Maximian
Although an abundant quantity of artifacts from Early Christian and Byzantine times survive, there is strangely little evidence of furniture either in the East of the West. Byzantine art has been much admired; the richness of imperial churches in Istanbut,, Turkey, and in Ravenna, Italy, indicates that there must have been a parallel magnificence in the furnishings of the palatial homes of ruling families. Byzantine mosaics suggest that, although classical ornament may have become stylized, it was still used between about AD 400 and 1000. A signle Byzantine monument, the Throne of Bishop Maximian (c. 550, Archiepiscopal Museum, Ravenna), a masterpiece of ivory relief sculpture completely coverning a wooden frame, was designed for ecclesiastical use, but the throne reveals the rich, stylized ornament of the period, and it suggests the manner in which secular Byzantine furniture design must have been conceived.

The so-called Throne of Dagobert 1 (c. 600, Bibiotheque Nationale, Paris), a bronze folding stool, has animal legs familiar from Roman examples but rendered far more boldly. Manuscripts and an occasional mosaic dating from between the 5th and the 9th century provide evidence that, although Roman influence persisted, changes in taste inspired artisans to render detail more abstractly and simply. Flat patterns replaced the high relief of Roman times. Conservatism, a strong element in the manuscript illuminations of the period, was also evident in its furniture.

The years 1000 to about 1200 – the Romanesque period – are known for the regeneration of spirituality and for the large number of new churches built in western Europe, but little evidence exists of the actual furniture of the period. Romanesque furniture design is best known from the assortment of 12th-century ornament are used. A few surviving, in which simplified, schematic interpretations of Graeco-Roman ornament are used. A few surviving turned-post (lathe-turned) chairs from 12th-cetury Scandinavia are Romanesque in spirit Wooden chests, made somewhat later, are carved in schematic, geometric pattern that continue the Romanesque style.

Gothic Furniture
Gothic architecture involved view, dramatic conceptions of space through the use of pointed arches, flying buttresses, and other radical innovations, but 12th-century furniture design was not influenced by the new style. The new cathedrals were expressions of affluence, but for their interiors the rich patrons of the Church appear to have enjoyed simple, functional oak furniture draped with tapestries. The decorative elements of the Gothic, particularly the pointed arch, were not seen in the design of furniture unit about 1400. Then, for more than a century, tracery and arches were carved on the panels of chairs, on chests, and on tables of every size.

In the 15th century a few new forms were introduced. One was a type of sideboard, with a small storage area set on tall legs; it had display space on the top of the enclosure as well as on a shelf below it. Cupboards were made with either one or two tiers of storage areas enclosed by doors. Another important storage piece was the armoire, with tall doors enclosing a 1.5 to 2-m (4 to 6 ft) area. Along with such architectural motifs as arches, columns, and foliate patterns, appeared decorative carving based on hanging textiles, a motif known as line fold. The Gothic style, primarily a northern European phenomenon, remained significant in furniture design into the early 16th century.

Renaissance Furniture
By contrast to the skill and invention lavished on painting, sculpture, and architecture in Renaissance Italy, Italian furniture design in the 15th tendered to be simple and functional.

Italy
Italian Reraissance Cessone
The first innovation in Italian Renaissance furniture was the elaborately decorated chest known as the cassone, with its gilt, stucco, and painted decoration based on Classical prototypes. The form of the cassone was to some degree inspired by Roman sarcophagi; some early examples, however, had scenes illustrating the international Gothic romance, Le Roman de la rose. Interiors in 15th-century paintings, such as those in the Dream of St Ursula (1490-1495, Accademia, Venice) by Vittore Carpaccio and the Birth of the Virgin (1485-1494, Santa Maria Novella, Florence) by Domenico Ghirlandaio, suggest the restraint of Italian furniture design before the High Renaissance at the end of the 15th centure.

Rich marquetry, imaginative carving, and the use of walnut in place of oak (which has been preferred for earlier work) characterized the more flamboyant efforts of the 1500s. A greater variety of forms and richer ornament were employed than in earlier periods. Portable folding chairs, with seats of tapestry or leather, were revived. New solid-backed side chairs were developed; these have carved backs and instead of legs, solid carved panels as supports.

France
Even richer decoration is found on 16th-century French furniture, which reflected Renaissance influence. Renaissance styles and ideas were brought to France by Italian artists working at the courts of Francis I and his son Henry II. During the region of Henry II, designs by the architect Jacques du Cerceau were adapted for furniture. His complex juxtapositions of classical motifs were used for decorating furniture panels in the new Renaissance taste. A major figure, the cabinet marker Hugues Sambin, published an influential folio of designs that featured works richly carved with ingenious designs. Distinctive examples reveal a basic understanding of the new classicism.

The impetus of designers working in the 16th century carried the style into the 17th century. Characteristic tables with thin columnar legs and chairs with paneled backs, first made in the 1560s and 1570s, contined to be made after 1600. In the first decades of the 17th century, changes in design became subtle. During the reign (1610-1643) of Louis XIII, furniture forms followed 16th-century models but with greater delicacy and with an increased use of rate ebony and rich tortoiseshell veneers instead of carving.

England
Englished Renaissance deign was essentially simpler than that of France. Characteristic were less elegant carved detail, simpler decoration in turned parts, and flatter, more stylized foliate motifs. Oak contined to be the predominant wood for furniture making in England in the 16th century. As in France, interest in Renaissance design persisted until about the mid-17th century in England.

The Netherlands
This general interest is documented in several 17th-century publications. Two books of designs influential in the early 17th century were published in Amsterdam by Jan Vredeman de Vries and Crispin van de Passe. Dutch cabinetmakers created furniture closer in spirit to English examples than to French ones. The Dutch were conservative, and Renaissance desidens were still popular in the 1650s and later.. One special form – the armoire, with a bold overhanging cornice crowing it and with doors decorated with deep moldings – is characteristically. Dutch and continued to be made over a long period by Dutch settlers in North America. Dutch influence – probably because of the design books – can be seen in other northern European furniture, although each area developed distinctive designs for popular forms.

Spain
In Spain influences were more varied. There, design was guided as much by Renaissance new ideas as by the long local Moorish tradition. Although Spain has long been free of direct connections with Islam, the delicate patterns on tiles and leather, and the bold combinations of wood, iron, and gold (or gilding) that remained popular there in the 16th and 17th centuries, bear out the continuation of Moorish Influence.


Chinese Furniture of the Ming Dynasty
The 17th century was a period of growing cosmopolitanism. Trade routes had opened a century earlier and were becoming sources for new ideas and new materials. The 16th and 17th centuries were an idoal time for the West to discover Chinese furniture, for during the Ming dynasty (1368-1644) Chinese furniture making was at its height. Tall cabinets, graceful tables, chairs, and benches were made in subtle designs. Straight legs on tables and chairs were often finished with delicately curved edges. Brackets and stretchers used as reinforcements added special decorative elements, these were restrained but showed to advantage the cabinetmaker’s understanding of the beauty of wood. Oriental decoration was well known in the 17th century and was probably and important influence on later Western design. Lacquer chests were used extensively in Western settings, beginning in the 17th century. A number of examples have gilt stands, which were made in the West to adapt the lacquer chest to Western needs.

Baroque Furniture
Baroque Antwerp Cabinet
Baroque design are most evident in furniture of the late 17th century, decades after the Italian Baroque architects Gianlorenzo Bernini and Francesco Borromini had first introduced their innovative approaches in Rome. In the early part of the century the new style had influenced surfaces but not shapes. In the last quarter, however, a growing number of changes took place. Among these was an increased use of caryatids as supports, along with scroll-shaped and spiral-turned legs that were different from the earlier Renaissan models.

At the very end of the 17th century, curved fronts were first used on large pieces of case furniture such as wardrobes and chests of drawers, reflecting the new Baroque architecture. In chairs, rich carving on new high-backed froms came into fashion. Both English and Continental examples were made with caned seats and backs as alternative to upholstery. Simple variations of these chairs were made with turned parts in place of the carved areas, but the same tall backs were used.
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43 comments:

yafitts said...

thanks for the article as I found out recently there are many people interested in antiques that just enjoy the feeling of old furnitures with history but don't really understand the characteristics of the items.
Such articles are helping to build the needed knowledge.
___
http://www.myantiquefurniturecollection.com/

Nate G said...
This comment has been removed by the author.
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