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Of Decorated Furniture

DECORATED or “sumptuous” furniture is not merely furniture that is expensive to buy, but that which has been elaborated with much thought, knowledge, and skill. Such furniture cannot be cheap, certainly, but the real cost of it is sometimes borne by the artist who produces rather than by the man who may happen to buy it. Furniture on which valuable labour is bestowed may consist of—1. Large standing objects which, though actually movable, are practically fixtures, such as cabinets, presses, sideboards of various kinds; monumental objects. 2. Chairs, tables of convenient shapes, stands for lights and other purposes, coffers, caskets, mirror and picture frames. 3. Numberless small convenient utensils. Here we can but notice class 1, the large standing objects which most absorb the energies of artists of every degree and order in their construction or decoration.

Cabinets seem to have been so named as being little strongholds—”offices” of men of business for stowing papers and documents in orderly receptacles. They are secured with the best locks procurable. They often contain secret drawers and cavities, hidden from all eyes but those of the owner. Nor are instances wanting of owners leaving no information on these matters to their heirs, so that casual buyers sometimes come in for a windfall, or such a catastrophe as befell the owner of Richard the Third’s bed.

It is not to be expected that elaborate systems of secret drawers and hiding-places should be contrived in cabinets of our time. Money and jewels are considered safer when deposited in banks. But, ingenuity of construction in a complicated piece of furniture must certainly be counted as one of its perfections. Sound and accurate joinery with well-seasoned woods, properly understood as to shrinkage and as to the relations between one kind of timber and another in these respects, is no small merit.

Some old English cabinets are to be met with in the construction of which wood only is used, the morticing admirable, the boards, used to hold ends and divisions together from end to end, strained and secured by wedges that turn on pivots, etc. Furniture of this kind can be taken to pieces and set up, resuming proper rigidity toties quoties.

To look at the subject historically, it seems that the cabinet, dresser, or sideboard is a chest set on legs, and that the “press,” or cupboard (closet, not proper cup-board), takes the place of the panelled recess closed by doors, generally contrived, and sometimes ingeniously hidden, in the construction of a panelled room. The front of the elevated chest is hinged, and flaps down, while the lid is a fixture; the interior is more complicated than that of the chest, as its subdivisions are more conveniently reached.

Before leaving this part of the subject, it is worth notice that the architectural, or rather architectonic, character seems to have deeply impressed the makers of cabinets when the chest-type had gradually been lost. Italian, German, English, and other cabinets are often found representing a church front or a house front, with columns, doors, sometimes ebony and ivory pavements, etc.

Next as to methods of decorating cabinets, etc. The kind which deserves our first attention is that of sculpture. Here, undoubtedly, we must look to the Italians as our masters, and to that admirable school of wood-carving which maintained itself so long in Flanders, with an Italian grace grafted on the ingenuity, vigour, and playfulness of a northern race. Our English carvers, admirable craftsmen during the fifteenth and sixteenth centuries, seem to have been closely allied with the contemporary Flemings. Fronts of cabinets, dressers, chimney-pieces, etc., were imported from Belgium and were made up by English joiners with panelling, supplemented with carving where required, for our great houses. But the best Italian carving remains on chests and chest fronts which were made in great numbers in the sixteenth century.

Some of these chests are toilet chests; some have formed wall-seats, laid along the sides of halls and galleries to hold hangings, etc., when the house was empty, and have served as seats or as “monumental” pieces when company was received.

As the chest grew into the cabinet, or bureau, or dresser, great attention was paid to the supports. It need hardly be pointed out that, for the support of seats, tables, etc., animals, typical of strength or other qualities—the lion or the sphinx, the horse, sometimes the slave—have been employed by long traditional usage. And carvers of wood have not failed to give full attention to the use and decoration of conventional supports to the furniture now under discussion. They are made to unite the central mass to a shallow base, leaving the remaining space open.

Next to sculptured decoration comes incrusted. The most costly kinds of material, precious stones, such as lapis lazuli, agate, rare marbles, etc., have been employed on furniture surfaces. But such work is rather that of the lapidary than of the cabinetmaker. It is very costly, and seems to have been confined, in fact, to the factories kept up in Italy, Russia, and other states, at government expense. We do not produce them in this country; and the number of such objects is probably limited wherever we look for them.

Incrustation of precious woods is a more natural system of wood-decoration. Veneered wood, which is laid on a roughened surface with thin glue at immense pressure, if well made, is very long-lived. The woods used give a coloured surface, and are polished so as to bring the colour fully out, and to protect the material from damp. In fine examples the veneers form little pictures, or patterns, either by the arrangement of the grain of the pieces used, so as to make pictorial lines by means of the grain itself, or by using woods of various colours.

A very fine surface decoration was invented, or carried to perfection, by André Charles Boule, for Louis XIV. It is a veneer of tortoise-shell and brass, with occasional white metal. An important element in Boule decoration is noticeable in the chiselled angle mounts, lines of moulding, claws, feet, etc., all of which are imposed, though they have the general character of metal angle supports. In fact, the tortoise-shell is held by glue, and the metal by fine nails of the same material, the heads of which are filed down. Incrustation, or marquetry, of this kind is costly, and most of it is due to the labours of artists and craftsmen employed by the kings of France at the expense of the Government. A considerable quantity of it is still made in that country.

Now as to the way in which sculptors, or incrusters, should dispose of their decoration, and the fidelity to nature which is to be expected of them, whether in sculpture or wood mosaic, i.e. wood painting. First, we may suppose they will concentrate their more important details in recognisable divisions of their pieces, or in such ways that a proportion and rhythm shall be expressed by their dispositions of masses and fine details; placing their figures in central panels, on angles, or on dividing members; leaving some plain surface to set off their decorative detail; and taking care that the contours of running mouldings shall not be lost sight of by the carver. But how far is absolute natural truth, even absolute obedience to the laws of his art in every particular of his details, to be expected from the artist? We cannot doubt that such absolute obedience is sometimes departed from intentionally and with success. All Greek sculpture is not always absolutely true to nature nor as beautiful as the sculptor, if free, could have made it. Statues are conventionalised, decorative scrolls exaggerated, figures turned into columns for good reasons, and in the result successfully. In furniture, as in architecture, carved work or incrustation is not free, but is in service; and compromises with verisimilitude to nature, even violence, may sometimes be required on details in the interests of the entire structure.

Next let a word or two be reserved for Painted Furniture. Painting has been employed on furniture of all kinds at many periods. The ancients made theirs of bronze, or of ivory, carved or inlaid. In the Middle Ages wood-carving and many kinds of furniture were painted. The coronation chair at Westminster was so decorated. The chest fronts of Delli and other painters are often pictures of great intrinsic merit, and very generally these family chest fronts are valuable records of costumes and fashions of their day. In this country the practice of painting pianoforte cases, chair-backs, table-tops, panels of all sorts, has been much resorted to. Distinguished painters, Angelica Kauffmann and her contemporaries, and a whole race of coach-painters have left monuments of their skill in this line. It must suffice here to recall certain modern examples, e.g. a small dresser, now in the national collections, with doors painted by Mr. Poynter, with spirited figures representing the Beers and the Wines; the fine piano case painted by Mr. Burne-Jones; another by Mr. Alma Tadema; lastly, a tall clock-case by Mr. Stanhope, which, as well as other promising examples, have been exhibited by the Arts and Crafts Society.

J. H. Pollen.

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Quotations

If you governed you body by the rules of virtue you would have no desire in the world.

— Leonardo Da Vinci

The Treasure of Abbot Thomas – from Ghost Stories of M.R. James

I

Verum usque in præsentem diem multa garriunt inter se Canonici de abscondito quodam istius Abbatis Thomæ thesauro, quem sæpe, quanquam adhuc incassum, quæsiverunt Steinfeldenses. Ipsum enim Thomam adhuc florida in ætate existentem ingentem auri massam circa monasterium defodisse perhibent; de quo multoties interrogatus ubi esset, cum risu respondere solitus erat: “Job, [...] Read more →

The Age of Chivalry

CHAPTER 1 – Introduction

KING ARTHUR AND HIS KNIGHTS

On the decline of the Roman power, about five centuries after Christ, the countries of Northern Europe were left almost destitute of a national government. Numerous chiefs, more or less powerful, held local sway, as far as each [...] Read more →

The History of Witchcraft in England – The Beginnings

The Beginnings of English Witchcraft

It has been said by a thoughtful writer that the subject of witchcraft has hardly received that place which it deserves in the history of opinions. There has been, of course, a reason for this neglect—the fact that the belief in witchcraft is no longer [...] Read more →

Penal Methods of the Middle Ages

CHAPTER I

PENAL METHODS OF THE MIDDLE AGES

Prisons as places of detention are very ancient institutions. As soon as men had learned the way to build, in stone, as in Egypt, or with bricks, as in Mesopotamia, when kings had many-towered fortresses, and the great barons castles [...] Read more →

Country House Essays Book Now in Print

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Clarivoyance by C.W. Leadbeater

Theosophical Society, Adyar, Madras, India, 1890

CLAIRVOYANCE

by C. W. Leadbeater

Adyar, Madras, India: Theosophical Pub. House

[1899]

CHAPTER IX

METHODS OF DEVELOPMENT

When a men becomes convinced of the reality of the valuable [...] Read more →

Westminster Confession of Faith – 1646

CHAPTER I. Of the Holy Scripture.

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Growing Muscadine Grapes in Tennessee

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Platform of the American Institute of Banking in 1919

Resolution adapted at the New Orleans Convention of the American Institute of Banking, October 9, 1919:

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Parting Words to Kate from The Sloop of War, Jamestown

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Much like scrap books of today, these books were used to keep [...] Read more →

Historic authenticity of the Spanish SAN FELIPE of 1690

Model of San Felipe

Reprinted from FineModelShips.com with the kind permission of Dr. Michael Czytko

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The Late Rev. H.M. Scarth

H. M. Scarth, Rector of Wrington

By the death of Mr. Scarth on the 5th of April, at Tangier, where he had gone for his health’s sake, the familiar form of an old and much valued Member of the Institute has passed away. Harry Mengden Scarth was bron at Staindrop in Durham, [...] Read more →

Classic Restoration of a Spring Tied Upholstered Chair

This video by AT Restoration is the best hands on video I have run across on the basics of classic upholstery. Watch a master at work. Simply amazing.

Tools:

Round needles: https://amzn.to/2S9IhrP Double pointed hand needle: https://amzn.to/3bDmWPp Hand tools: https://amzn.to/2Rytirc Staple gun (for beginner): https://amzn.to/2JZs3x1 Compressor for pneumatic [...] Read more →

A History of the Use of Arsenicals in Man

The arsenicals (compounds which contain the heavy metal element arsenic, As) have a long history of use in man – with both benevolent and malevolent intent. The name ‘arsenic’ is derived from the Greek word ‘arsenikon’ which means ‘potent'”. As early as 2000 BC, arsenic trioxide, obtained from smelting copper, was used [...] Read more →

Books Condemned to be Burnt

BOOKS CONDEMNED TO BE BURNT.

By

JAMES ANSON FARRER,

LONDON

ELLIOT STOCK, 62, PATERNOSTER ROW

1892

———-

WHEN did books first come to be burnt in England by the common hangman, and what was [...] Read more →

U.S. Plant Variety Protection Act – Full Text

UNITED STATES PLANT VARIETY PROTECTION ACT

TITLE I – PLANT VARIETY PROTECTION OFFICE Chapter Section 1. Organization and Publications . 1 2. Legal Provisions as to the Plant Variety Protection Office . 21 3. Plant Variety Protection Fees . 31

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The Master of Hounds

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Here’s Many a Year to You

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The Hunt Saboteur

The Hunt Saboteur is a national disgrace barking out loud, black mask on her face get those dogs off, get them off she did yell until a swift kick from me mare her voice it did quell and sent the Hunt Saboteur scurrying up vale to the full cry of hounds drowning out her [...] Read more →

The Billesden Coplow Run

Smith, Charles Loraine; The Billesdon Coplow Run, Leicestershire

*note – Billesdon and Billesden have both been used to name the hunt.

BILLESDEN COPLOW POEM

[From “Reminiscences of the late Thomas Assheton Smith, Esq”]

The run celebrated in the following verses took place on the 24th of February, 1800, [...] Read more →

The Kalmar War

The Kalmar War

From The Historian’s History of the World (In 25 Volumes) by Henry Smith William L.L.D. – Vol. XVI.(Scandinavia) Pg. 308-310

The northern part of the Scandinavian peninsula, as already noticed, had been peopled from the remotest times by nomadic tribes called Finns or Cwenas by the Norwegians and Lapps [...] Read more →