Oct 15, 2010

Style - Lesson on the Louies!

Here's a brief history and style elements from French furniture including Louis XIII to XVI. As with our lesson on English, note the leg styles and motifs to help identify French style!

RENAISSANCE 1515 - 1560:  Also known as Gothic period. Pilasters and columns were accentuated. Cabinets replaced chests, chairs, were padded, and tables were highly sculptured. Characters from antiquity and mythology were the main subjects. Nymphs, satyrs, allegories of the seasons, friezes were popular. 
Louis XIII Cabinet.

LOUIS XIII  1610-1643:  Spiral and bead turning appeared. Furniture characterized by heavy carvings, and monumental in scale. Pieces like the bureau and sideboard featured molded paneling in geometric patterns. The cabinet placed on a stand was a new design for the period.  Other typical design themes were the diamond point, pyramid patterns, and large-bun feet on cabinetry.
Gilded Louis XIV desk.
LOUIS XIV  1642-1715: The period of Versailles. Form was rounded with curved lines. Baroque furniture is associated with this period. Masks, heads of sphinxes and satyrs were all fashionable motifs. Chair backs were made higher and the seat larger for more comfort. Gilded bronze decoration was popular. Faces of gods, bearded fauns, arabesques, nymphs, goddesses, allegories, cornucopia, and foliage abounded. The sun was the royal emblem in French furniture. 

Louis XV armchair with carved shell apron.
LOUIS XV 1723 -1774: Rococo period.  Curved lines and asymmetry became the rule. Elaboration of surface ornament. Rocks and shells with foliage and flowers dominated the theme of the ornament with blossoms, sprays and tendrils, reeds, branches of palm and laurel. Especially fashionable themes were musical instruments,  bows, arrows and torches, and pastoral emblems.  

LOUIS XVI  1774-1793 Pompeii, was excavated and brought interest in ancient Rome to Paris. Associated with Neoclassical style. Simpler, less ornate furniture design. Straight lines and simplicity are the guiding principles of this period. The most typical feature in the constructional details of Louis XVI furniture is the fluted leg and at the end.  The chair backs are usually oval, rectangular or shield form. Cabriole legs replaced with straight legs, often fluted, imitating the columns of ancient Rome. Typical motifs of this period the lyre and square blocks carved with rosettes at the top of legs, urns and columns.
Louis XVI with fluted straight legs.
Empire chair with bronzed eagle arms.

DIRECTOIRE 1789 - 1804
  Designs became simplified, marquetry was abandoned in favor of more austere decorations. Geometric patterns were prevalent but less extravagant than before. Greek designs became popular ornamental designs, with the sphinx, gryphon, and urns. Egyptian motifs emerged.

period (1804-1815)  Furniture made from heavy woods such as mahogany and ebony with dark finishes and decorative bronze mounts. Marble tops were popular as were Egyptian motifs like sphinxes, griffins, urns and eagles and the Napoleonic symbols, the eagle, the bee, the initials "I" and a large "N." 
LOUIS  PHILIPPE:1830 - 1848  Pieces take on a rounded shape as machine tools become widespread and allow easy and speedy execution of that shape, thus explaining why these pieces are more widely available and more affordable. The style combined the Gothic, Renaissance, Louis XIII and Louis XV periods. Mahogany and rosewoods were most common and marble tops were also used. The use of gesso (a kind of plaster) allows highly decorative frames to be produced easily then painted or gilded.

 1848-1870 . Borrowed elements from all the preceding styles. The furniture production in France moved from highly skilled craft to largely mechanized industry.